Thursday, February 17, 2011

Navigating the Bad Review Blues

As a music, movie and book critic for the better part of a decade, I should've known this day was coming...

But after remaining mostly unscathed in the ol' reviews department when my novels released, it finally happened.

Cue ominous music.

Yep, after so many thoughtful and generous affirmations of my work from fellow writers, readers and critics, I found a couple of really bad reviews online—one star for both of my titles—and from the same reader, no less.

Now when you're a writer, you can't help but develop a pretty thick skin along the way. After all, rejection is often part of the getting-published process, and if you crumbled to pieces every time someone said "no, that's not really my speed, try again," there wouldn't be much of you left to actually finish a manuscript.

Still, I'm not a robot, so when I read that my characters, especially my protagonists, weren't "very inspired or quirky enough" and that "my story didn't go anywhere," basically leading to said reader skipping straight to the end, that definitely hurt. Truth be told, when you spend that much time—you know, the better part of 14 hours a day, especially during those last few weeks before deadline—carefully crafting your characters and their respective storylines, and someone says that, it's basically the literary equivalent of saying your baby is ugly.

Naturally, my first instinct was to type something very snide in reply, asking her why she bothered even checking out my second novel if the first was such a disaster. And then I wanted to inquire about whether she'd ever written a book herself. Of course, my snap judgment was that she was merely enjoying the role of the proverbial armchair quarterback, lots of opinions, but no actual grasp of what goes into writing something so close to your heart.

But as any writer worth his/her salt already knows, writing a blog entry, e-mail or letter when you're a bit of an emotional basket case is downright dangerous, so I wisely stepped away from the keyboard and started folding laundry instead, hoping I'd magically forget what she said.

Yeah, that didn't work, but at least I had freshly laundered clothes in the dresser, right?

After a little more sulking, however, I eventually had sort of an a-ha moment. It wasn't this crazy revelation that warranted the skywriting treatment, but it was reassuring all the same. Whenever you offer something to the masses, you're not going to please everyone—pure and simple. I mean even Stephanie Meyer's much-beloved sparkly vampire debut Twilight got 606 one-star reviews on Amazon.

Even though your novel (or that unpublished WIP) is your baby, some people are still going to think it's ugly. So take it from someone who's been there now, you'll feel bad, and then you'll inevitably feel inspired to keep getting better at your craft. There's always something that every writer can improve on, no matter how experienced he/she is, and sometimes reviews—even the really bad ones—can help push us forward.


  1. I am not published so i don't know what it's like to get a bad review but i know what it feels like to hear a friend say your idea is bad! I have a hard time talking about writing bc I'm afraid of people criticizing it. I opened up to a few people & most were supported but one said it'd never fly bc " it was a warped, low level version of sex and the city" that hurt for a while & then I was like who gave her ALL the authority? & have decided to ignore it.
    One dislike doesn't make it reality, I saw on tv the other day in an interview with Lady Antebellum that the girl was rejected more than once from American Idol!!!! Look at her now with all the Grammys :)

  2. You're right, Petunia, any form of art is so subjective. Paintings, drawings, writing, dance, etc. There will always be someone who thinks its genius and someone who thinks its awful. We have to build that thick skin and most importantly realize our only true audience is an Audience of 1 - Jesus Christ! If we're writing for Him and leaving the results in His capable hands, there is no need to dread bad reviews or feedback.

  3. Betsy, I have to remember the audience of 1 next time someone dislikes an idea or something Ive written
    Do you guys get bored of your story in the middle of it? How do you deal with it?

  4. Tonya the "sagging middle" is a frequently asked question and the topic of many conference workshops. :)

    In suspense, they say "throw in another dead body" in the middle to keep the conflict going, jar the reader, give a thrill of "oh no!"

    In romance, we can't necessarily actually have a dead body but we can still accomplish the same concept - shock, surprise, a jolt of extra conflict. A lot of times, authors feel the character's big story "secret" must be revealed at the end of the story. It's actually better in a lot of cases to reveal it in the middle to avoid a sagging middle. There's no set rule to follow though, eveything will depend on your specific story and what will work best. Just think "conflict conflict conflict". Take your character's worse nightmare, make it come true, and then up it a notch. Is her worst fear performing on a stage and afraid of failing? Then why not force her on stage AND happen to have the person she'd least want to disappoint in the audience. (ex-boyfriend, father, critic, etc.)

    Any of that make sense? lol I'm rambling. Been pottytraining my 2 year old for two days and I'm a little "done" mentally.