By Pam Humphrey
In my pre-mom days when I worked as a programmer and tech support at a small company, I shared an office with one other girl.
After an unusually frustrating customer had berated her as she tried to help them over the phone, she hung up near tears. I’ll never forget what she said. “I’m from Oklahoma. I need people to like me.”
She hadn’t caused the customer’s problem. She solved the issue quickly and with kindness. She’d done her best, but he was still rude.
Writers, those that care deeply about the structure and quality of what they write, pour over pages time and again checking for filter words, dropping hints of a theme, arranging story flow, and checking for plot holes. They don’t stop there. They hand their precious words to beta readers who read it and offer advice, point out lulls or areas of confusion, and give encouragement that the story is worth the time.
Over and over. Revise, read, repeat.
At the end of the process, after beta readers, editors, formatters, and cover designers have all done their part, a book is published, sent out into the world to be read.
With all of that hard work, everyone will surely love it. Right? Not so much. Inevitably, someone won’t like it.
Here are seven things you can do when you get that inevitable bad review.
(You can proceed in any order, but the first is usually first. Skip whichever steps you don’t find necessary, except the last. You CANNOT skip the last step.)
- Sob. Okay maybe sobbing is a little much, but allow yourself that moment of disappointment. For some that will involve tears, others shout French phrases typically avoided around young children, and some might require a Mexican Coke or an entire chocolate bar.
“If you’re trying to please everyone, then you’re not going to make anything that is honestly yours, I don’t think, in the long run.”
– Viggo Mortensen
No one likes to see that average rating number drop, but it will.
Don’t focus on that number. It is not a measure of your value as a writer. This step is NOT permission for long-term wallowing or putting away your pen. Set a timer, shed your tears, and go on to the next bullet point.
- Phone a friend. I don’t expect you to actually call someone. I really mean message a writing buddy. Get encouragement. You can talk about your WIP, the fantastic new sentence that popped into your head while you slept, or the dreaded bad review. If your writing buddy has read your book, they can offer perspective. Pro Tip: Cultivate those writing buddy relationships before you need them.
I’m not sure I can stress this point enough. You need support from other writers.
Interacting—commenting on threads, attending Facebook chats and Twitter chats—and beta reading is a good way to connect and build relationships.
- Reread the bad review. You know you will anyway. It’s best if you wait until you’ve calmed down to make the most of this step. Instead of reading the bad review as a personal attack, scan it for any hint of helpful critique. If a lack of editing or gross errors is noted in the review, you have actionable advice about how to improve.
Not all reviews will have a helpful critique. Reviews, after all, are an opinion of the reader. Reviews like: “This was a total waste of my time.” “This was soooo not my thing.” “Ugh. I just couldn’t.” aren’t helpful to you. Rereading them won’t improve your writing. After you gleaned any useful information, stop reading that review. (This is difficult. I know. Ask me how many times I’ve reread that bad review.)
“You’re never going to please everyone, and if you do, there’s something wrong.”
– Constance Wu
- Reread your positive reviews. Instead of only reading the bad, make a point to look at the good. If you have nine good reviews and one bad review, maintain perspective.
This is where a close friend or significant other can bring balance to your feelings. When you express disappointment about that bad review and they act surprised, it’s because they think most of your good reviews. You should, too. But, you will not be liked by everyone, even if you are from Oklahoma.
- Get some context. Has the reviewer only given one five star rating out of all 93,001 books she’s starred on Goodreads? Does she prefer romance, but you wrote horror? Does she prefer dark and twisted, but yours was heart-warming?
Are you left scratching your head as to why she picked up your book at all? Did she rate your favorite book of all time with one star? Tastes in books differ.
- Get more perspective. Think of your personal top ten list. Have you ever read reviews of those books? Or other well-loved, ageless classics? Go read the bad reviews. All books get bad reviews, eventually.
- Write. And write. Write some more. Grab your pen or open your laptop and write that next book, or blog post, or poem. Don’t let a bad review gnaw at your self-confidence, hindering your writing. Write, edit, and when you think of that review, put your head down and continue to write. Someone will love what you create. There will always be at least one that won’t.
At the end of the day, the bad reviews bring authenticity to the good and great reviews. Nothing is as good as the infomercials claim. Your job as a writer is to give it your best. Take advantage of opportunities in the writing group, like buddy Tuesday, to find beta readers. Listen to constructive advice from other authors willing to help you. Use helpful critique gleaned from reviews to make the next book or story even better.
“You can’t please everyone, and you can’t make everyone like you.”
– Katie Couric
Now, please, set a timer and write. Someone is waiting to read what you write, and you may not even know them, yet.
(Quotes sourced from Brainyquote.com)
Pamela Humphrey is the author of Researching Ramirez: On the Trail of the Jesus Ramirez Family, a family history of her great great grandfather’s family, and The Blue Rebozo, a fictional account of her great grand aunt’s life. Her latest book, Finding Claire, is a mix of mystery, genealogy, and romance. She is currently writing the next book in the Hill Country Secrets series. She is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom who enjoys many creative outlets: sewing, paper-crafting, jewelry-making, practicing her bass guitar, reading, and conversing with imaginary characters (what most call writing). She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, sons, black cats, and leopard gecko. Check out Pamela’s website at http://www.phreypress.com
Follow her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/phreypress Facebook http://www.facebook.com/phreypress Interested in her books? They’re available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Pamela-Humphrey/e/B018D5UKLWFinding Claire is also available from other eBook retailers. https://www.books2read.com/u/bP1LLY