This is a guest post by Henry O.
In a perfect world, every word a writer puts down on paper (or on screen in the case of e-books) would immediately capture the reader’s interest and hold him or her transfixed from the beginning of the piece to the end. The work would flow easily, and not one single syllable or turn of phrase would be clumsy or out of place.
The writer would simply come to the end of the work feeling completely satisfied with every aspect of how it turned out and confident that it was “just right.” In this perfect world there would be no need for editors or second-guessing one’s self; the words would simply appear, and there would never be any thought that there could be room for improvement. All of these thoughts would be wonderful if writers lived in a perfect world where there was no such thing as a negative review.
It is possible to benefit when your book receives a negative review. Even the most scathing commentary on your work can have a kernel of truth to it if you look hard enough. However, the last thing you want to do is let one negative experience paralyze your creativity so that you won’t be able to work again.
The Book Review
Yes, book reviewers are necessary. The work that a writer may have dreamt of, nurtured, drafted, written and rewritten several times over months or years is given a relatively cursory glance and evaluated by a stranger. The reviewer does not have the same (or even any) emotional connection to the work but has no problem picking it apart in detail.
Any weaknesses in the general ideas, characters or plot are exposed for all to see, and the reviewer is not shy about pointing them out. Some of them seem to enjoy actively bringing a writer down a peg or two by pointing out flaws in their work, as if people who share their ideas in this manner don’t have all kinds of insecurities to deal with already.
When reading a book review, keep in mind that the book reviewer is looking at the work as presented. A writer who has poured so much time and effort into his or her book can be forgiven if the boundaries between the person and the writing have become blurred. Assuming the reviewer is behaving in a professional manner, he or she is focusing solely on the work.
Look for the grain of truth in the bad review
By definition, writers need to be close to their work. Having to spend so much time working on the book means developing a sort of tunnel vision around the work. Even a writer who works with a good editor may not be immune from seeing areas where his or her work could be improved.
Creating a book is a very personal experience, and a writer’s first instinct when faced with a bad review may be some combination of feeling hurt or angry about the experience. Give yourself time to breathe and experience these feelings. You poured your heart and soul into your book, and it represented a considerable amount of time and effort on your part to do so. It’s only natural to be less than thrilled when someone comes along to say that your work was anything less than stellar.
Resist the temptation to dismiss the bad review as out of hand. Book reviewers may be a necessary evil to writers, but that doesn’t mean what they say has no value. Once you can look at the review with a more objective eye, consider each point carefully to determine whether it has any merit at all.
The negative book review as a learning experience
It doesn’t hurt to consider what the book reviewer has to say, even if the overall message is a negative one. The reviewer may not like the way you chose to deal with some aspect of the story or the subject matter, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is not making a valid point. When you step back from feeling attacked by the reviewer, you can consider the comments carefully to determine whether the points are something that can or should be incorporated into your next project.
No piece of writing is ever truly finished, and there is always more than one way that a subject can be approached or a story can be told. The reviewer may not like the way you told your story or how you handled the subject, and you may be able to get suggestions for a way you can improve your craft for the next time by reading the review.
Refuse to get stuck over a matter of opinion
Getting stuck after one bad review in a place where you can’t write because you may get another one is not where you want to be. No matter how well you write there will always be someone who will make a negative comment. The best thing you can do is actively look for the pearls of wisdom that can be gleaned from a negative review and disregard the comments that are simply a matter of opinion.
Not every suggestion about your work, even the most well-meaning ones, will make sense to you, and this is even more relevant when it comes to a negative review. Some reviewers have a reputation for tearing apart books and make a point of faultfinding, while others offers a more balanced view.
Ultimately, once the work has been finished you will need to give up some control over it. If you are satisfied that you have done your best with it (at the time), then let it go and move on to the next project. If you look at the careers of most creative people, there wasn’t a pattern of steady, continuous growth over time. Not every project they worked on was greeted with enthusiasm with the critics and the public alike, but the author kept working at his or her craft all the same.
Do not let a bad review get you down. It is merely a snapshot of one person’s view of your work. Other people who read it may have a completely different take on what you have worked so hard to create. Ultimately, the only opinion that really matters about your work is your own. If you are driven to write a book, it is a part of you and something you can be proud of, no matter what a reviewer says.
- Note from Emlyn: Book reviewers are a hard working bunch who volunteer their free time to take a chance on a new book–often one they’ve never even heard of. Terri Giuliano Long called them “the fairy godmothers of indie author,” and I definitely think that fits. As this article states, bad reviews can prove to be immensely helpful. Just take a step back and give your work a long, hard, honest look. Thank you for the wonderful article, Henry!