Learn From Those Negative Reviews

I’ve had a couple less than stellar book reviews lately, so I wrote them back nasty responses and told them how awesome my books are!

No, I didn’t.

Haha. Actually, I’m not really bothered with negative reviews. No, I don’t go searching for them, but I get it. Heck, it’s tough to get a good review out of me. I give negative reviews to lots of things. Hollywood is my punching bag, so I frequently give bad reviews to professionals who make their living making creative content. Example: I loved “Parks & Rec Seasons 1-6.”  I just started season 7 the other day and I thought “What garbage is this?” The writing has taken a terrible turn into terribleness. So, yeah. I get it. Everyone is going to have different opinions about the creative arts, but I digress.

Not everyone is going to like how I write, how I develop characters, how I plot a story. I don’t even like it sometimes, especially when I read something I wrote a year ago. So first off, I don’t take it personally and I don’t let it stop me from doing what I love.

However, I have learned to try to understand why someone has a view they have so I can learn from it. I had one reviewer that noticed some inconsistencies in a story which I never noticed before. Nor did my editor. Or any of my other beta readers or people in the universe. But when I looked at the manuscript, the reader was right. I had it wrong. How? I have no idea. It happens.

So I went back today and re-wrote a few sections to even out the details. Now it’s better.

And that, my friends, is the best way to handle bad reviews. Learn from them if you can. If there is nothing to learn (and often there isn’t) then wash it away and forget.

Every writer or creative artist will run into criticism. You can’t escape it. The best thing to do is acknowledge it and move on.


Don’t Write a Review Based on the Sample!

I thought this was standard practice, but it looks like it needs to be said.

I was reading a review of a book on-line and one reviewer’s comments jumped out at me. In essence the comment read, “I downloaded the sample, and it’s all about the author saying such and such and blah, blah, and it’s so lame. Don’t waste your time and money on this book.”

Well, thank you, really helpful reviewer person.

First off don’t review a book based on the free sample. What would be a proper analogy? Perhaps reviewing an entire movie based on its trailer? Basing a restaurant review on the kitchen fumes which waft in the breeze outside in the parking lot?

A free sample is just that, a free sample to see if you might like the entire product. If you aren’t impressed with the sample, fine. Don’t purchase the book. That’s the intended use of a sample – matching a reader’w likes and desires with a book which may entice them.

If it doesn’t grab your attention, just move onto something else, but don’t leave a review of the entire product based on less than 10% of it. That is extremely unfair in my opinion. Samples rarely do books justice, and while the opening part of a book should try to hook readers in, sometimes stories take longer to develop and it may really start kicking well beyond the 10% mark. Sometimes in non-fiction books it takes pages of background to give the proper context. That’s just the way it is.

I wouldn’t judge a teacher by the first day of class.

I wouldn’t judge a coach by the first day of practice.

I would judge a singer by one song on one album.

I wouldn’t rate a TV show by the opening credits.

Nor would I judge a book by its cover.

Or a story by its free sample.

But maybe that’s just me.

Exquisite Multi-Layered Story vs. Poorly Executed Story – Hmmmm.

I am completely fascinated by book reviews, actually much more so than books themselves. I find it enlightening and interesting to see what someone has said about a particular book. I must admit that there are times I hop over to Amazon just for that reason. I’ll pick an author, possibly known but usually unknown to me, and I’ll read what people say about him or her. The vast array of opinions can be dizzying. But here lies the truth that all authors must embrace: someone won’t like your writing no matter what you write.

Here are two reviews of my second novel, The Recluse Storyteller:

Review A: “Exquisite Multi-Layered Story”

Review B: “Conceptually brilliant. Poorly executed.”

It does make me chuckle how opinions can vary so much. If I had to choose one, I’ll choose the first one. But I don’t get to choose. I have to accept both of them because both are valid opinions.

I’ll admit, The Recluse Storyteller is structured in quite an unorthodox way. At one point, it’s the author, me, telling the story of Margaret, the recluse, telling the story of Quan, a survivor of a massacre in Vietnam, telling the story of Vinh, the person who gave him (Quan) hope and a new life.

Whew! Yes, it can be a little confusing. I’ve heard from many reviewers, actually, that at first, they weren’t sure if they were going to like The Recluse Storyteller because of it’s unique structure.

I knew that some people wouldn’t get it, and I’ll have to live with the fact that someone out there thinks it was a poorly executed story. I’ll respect that opinion.

But I’ll also admit, I feel blessed to see that most of my readers do get what I was trying to accomplish with this novel, and that is satisfying indeed.

I don’t really know any authors who like bad reviews and neither do I, but I also don’t mind them either. I have my opinions about books and movies, and I’m not afraid to share them so neither should others – even when it’s my work they are negatively reviewing. It is a natural part of being any type of creative artist. People are so diverse in their likes and desires that no one can please everyone, nor should they.

Wouldn’t the world be rather boring if that was the case?

Writers, we control so little

I had to laugh. I got my first one-star review the other day. It’s not really funny, though it kind of is. I’ll explain in a minute.

I’ve been writing for a number of years, but I have only recently – how shall I put it? – ‘gotten into the game.’  What game? The game of indie-authorship with the sincere hope that I’ll find some readers who will like my stories.

I’m starting to realize that being ‘in the game’ means much less than I anticipated because there are only a few things that I can control.

First and foremost, I control what words I put on the page and in what order. (decisions, it’s all about decisions – but that’s another blog post for another day) The work I create, good or bad, is wholly my creation. I love this part of being an author. I get to decide where my story goes, who is in it, and what happens. I’m like my own private little dictator. (I’ve had students who claimed I had dictatorship-leanings. Hmmm. But I suppose all teachers are somewhat predisposed to fascist power grabs and authoritarianism. I’m sorry. I digress – another wonderful trait of teachers.)

Second, I can control how much time and effort I put into building a brand (don’t you hate that phrase) and promoting my work. I can contact X number of reviewers or bloggers, I can put down X number of dollars on adds, I can giveaway X number of books, and I can continue doing this for X number of months or years, but beyond that, what do I really control?

Not much.

Case in point. I got my first one-star review for my novel. I knew I would eventually. Not everyone will or even should like my work. No author can bridge the wide span of expectations and desires of the free-wheeling readership of the world. All authors, famous or indie, have their detractors.

But then I looked a little closer. My one-star review is actually a good review. The well-intentioned reviewer writes that he wishes more people will read my book. He said a few other nice things and then for some reason, most likely by mistake, just left one star.

Out of my control. But that’s fine. As someone says, perhaps it will work to my advantage. If someone wants a counterpoint for the good reviews they flip over to see another good review.

I’ve decided not to take everything so seriously. I love to write. I’m going to continue creating the stories I want to create. I’m going to control that aspect of my life, and then I will release them into the atmosphere and let them find readers where they may.

So until I get another one-star review, please allow me to savor this one.