Dealing With Bad Reviews
Okay, so, you're published. Your book is "out there." It's "in the world" and "up for grabs." People can "read it" and "peruse it" at their "leisure" (I like quotation marks).
And at first, things seem all right. Fairly predictable. The book doesn't become an instant bestseller, but it is selling. Your mom bought it, and your dad bought two copies, and so did that slightly weird person who sits in your closet and mumbles a lot. Or maybe that's just what happens to me.
Regardless, your work is now on its own. Living, breathing, and (hopefully) being passed from hand to hand by readers who are -- slowly but surely -- going to become Your People. Your Followers. Your Army.
And then it happens. Among the four- and five-star reviews that have made you feel higher than a kite on meth, suddenly this rears its ugly head on Amazon:
A TERRIBLE read
I picked this boock up because of all the good revuews. But I guess the revuews were all dun by, like, the writers' parents and stuff. Because the book stunk. It stunk a lot. It stunk like a dead skunk that has severe dysintary and then drowns in its own poop. Also, the author is a ca-ca doodie head and probably has lice and kix baby seals and stuff. Dont read this book, it will give you cooties.
- 1 star
You read it. And the questions start. Is my work really that bad? How could this reviewer have so completely missed the point of my book? Where did he learn to spell? What if I do have lice?
And, most urgently . . . how do I respond?
To that last, I have three little words: Ig. Nore. It.
Okay, maybe that's four words, I don't know. I'm a writer, not an accountant.
Seriously, though, when you get a review like the above, you must simply rejoice within yourself. Why? Because it means your book is being read. It's getting out into the world, meeting new people, getting beyond the closed circles of your family, friends, and writers groups. It will inevitably meet up with people that hate it -- because it's not their style, because you did an objectively terrible job writing the piece (it does happen), or even for no good reason at all.
And like any good parent, you will have the urge to rush to your "child's" defense.
There are really only two likely outcomes if you choose to wage war on the review or (even worse) on the reviewer himself.
1) You try to show the review is "wrong." The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You now have a dedicated enemy who will attack you at every possible turn, giving you low ratings wherever possible and urging his/her friends and family to avoid your work like a sack of rotten meat. You have just accomplished nothing more nor less than magnifying the effect and range of the viewer's bile and hatred. Result: you lose.
2) You try to show the review is wrong. The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You mobilize your friends and followers and fight back. A comment war ensues! You beat back the scummy, evil, poor-spelling reviewer. He/she is silenced forever. Huzzah! But wait . . . those comments are there forever. And you look like nothing more nor less than a prima donna bully. This will keep people from buying your books in perpetuity. Result: you lose.
Of the two, the second is gratifying to the author, but far more damaging. I am friends with a great many authors, some of them legitimately Famous People. And occasionally one of them will get their undies in a wad over some disparaging comment made regarding their work and will mobilize their fans to attack. The fans attack. Or some of them. Some don't. Some become "un" fans, turned off by the author's childishness. And though maybe Famous People can afford to lose fans, the average author just can't.
An example: my most recent novel, Darkbound, just came out. It's a deeply disturbing horror novel about six strangers who get on a subway train that turns out to go everywhere BUT where they want it to. When it was released, a very eminent horror review site called Hellnotes wrote up a stellar review. So did several other review sites. A friend who had received an advance copy sent me a note saying he was . . . well . . . less than enamored of it. It was too dark, too violent. Worried, no doubt, about typical author ego, he asked what my response would be if he posted such a review.
My response: "Do it!" People have a right to know others' thoughts. The fact that this reviewer didn't like Darkbound as much as he had liked other books I'd written was a bummer. But it didn't mean the end of the world, and insisting that he love everything about my work, all the time, would be not merely ridiculous, but counterproductive.
The reviews of our work will at times be insightful, helpful, warming. And sometimes it will be shallow tripe that looks like it was probably written in crayon by a five-year-old struggling against some weird form of Tourrette Syndrome. Both are part of being a writer. Don't respond to either (even the good ones -- that can be a bit "stalky" and can also mess with your fan base). If you want to interact with fans, get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or stand on a box in Hyde Park.
But leave the reviews -- and reviewers -- alone. Ig. Nore. Them.
It is three words. I counted with my fingers. Follow @mbcollings