Everyone's a Critic, Lucky You: How to Cope with Negative Reviews
Any kind of art is subject to outside opinion once you set it free into the big wide world. You do your best to make sure it's the best it can be, spend time getting it into reviewers' hands, and for the most part, if you've done your job right, people like it.
However, not everyone is always going to like your work.
That's the name of the game, but it doesn't mean that one bad review doesn't sting.
This is how I've learned to cope, and I hope it helps you too!
From start to finish, you can do everything you can to avoid the dreaded reviews before the book is out. Just know that you should still expect them. Don't make yourself go crazy with every little detail a reader could possibly pick apart.
Still, there is something to be said about being prepared and covering all your bases. Plot out the story first (or after you write the rough draft; whatever works!) and see if there are any inconsistencies, weak points, etc. Then write it, and rewrite it. Gather some writers and share your work with them. Let them tear it apart so you can put it back together again better than before. I cannot emphasize the importance of critique partners enough. They will save you a lot of heartache in the end.
Not many people know this, but my first review ever was a really, really bad one. I still remember the blogger's name, what they said, and every detailed complaint they made. At first I was hurt, especially since I'd put five years of my life into this book and the first time a stranger read it they hated it.
Then I got angry, convinced that this just wasn't the "right" reader for this book and that it was their problem and not mine.
Sometimes, this may be the case, but not very often. Once the initial pain of the review is gone, you can better think about it in a practical sense. Sleep on it, complain to your closest friends, cry if you have to, but then let some time pass and read it again.
Analyze the Review
This is the next logical step, and perhaps one of the most necessary.
A few weeks passed after I'd gotten this awful review. In the meantime, I had gotten a bunch of glowing feedback and people seemed to really be liking the book. However, that one review still bothered me in the back of my mind so I broke down and read it again.
This time when I read it, I saw that this wasn't some vindictive thing the reader had done to personally attack me and my art. They had merely stated their honest opinion on the work, which was what I asked them to do in the first place.
And here's the most surprising: I found that most of their points were valid and I could have done better.
The majority of readers aren't out to get you or tear down your creative vision. When you can analyse things with a clear head, you can better see where this person was coming from and even agree with them.
This doesn't mean that you've failed. Even the most scathing reviews can be beneficial to the author. You just have to take it in, internalize it, and try better next time.
Do Not Retaliate
I've seen some authors stalking Goodreads and Amazon, lurking and just waiting for the moment someone bashes their book so they can burst in guns blazing, explaining themselves so the reader will just understand what they were trying to accomplish.
This is a bad idea.
And if this is a bad idea, you can bet that going further than this is also an awful idea. You shouldn't message or email this person. You shouldn't do anything.
This is why: Once your work is out there, it isn't yours anymore.
As much as you've attached yourself to it, as much as you've put into it, the moment its published, it no longer belongs to you. People are allowed to read what you've written and take away whatever they want from it. That's what makes literature so amazing! However, I realize how hard it can be to see that when you're on the receiving end of it. Still, if you retaliate in any way, you are slowly breaking the trust of your readers and they will be less inclined to read your work--or at least tell you what they think (e.g. leave reviews), which is one of the most important things to ensure the life of a book's journey.
If you're writing to please a particular audience, you should do your best to please them. This is not to say that you should write things based solely on what the reader wants--that would be selling out.
What I mean is, if you promise to deliver something in your synopsis, you should deliver that promise. If you tell someone they're about to read a romantic tale about angels and demons, don't trick them into reading a book about the struggle between good and evil and nothing resembling a romance. If you hint that there is a government cover up in the description, don't deliver your readers a 300-page book on aliens and leave it on a cliff hanger before they get a taste of this cover up.
Oftentimes, reviews are just pointing out promises you failed to deliver successfully. Make sure that if you say something, you mean it. If you choose a certain subject matter, you stick to it and do it justice without tip-toeing around the issue. Don't be afraid to dive into the world, characters, and genre in the way your reader expects they will be transported when they crack the spine of your book. I could write a whole other blog post about fear and what it does to a writer, but I think that's better for another time. Bad reviews are scary enough.
Prepare Yourself For Next Time
Now that you've received your first bad review, you're ready to receive more. And there will always be more. You will get to know different kinds of readers and fans based on every review, and you will become better equipped to deal with the bad ones when they come. If most of your reviews say the same thing, perhaps there is some truth in it. Again, this doesn't mean you've failed. It means you could have done better, which is always the case anyway when you're a writer. Your work grows and expands over time. If you do it right, it gets better, not worse, and a main source of this growth is criticism. If you cannot take an honest opinion to heart, an artistic career in any capacity will be miserable for you. Sure, I still get upset every once in a while when I see a bad review, but for the most part I've trained myself to be able to spot who truly wanted more from my work and who just didn't "get it".
In all honesty, you don't want everyone to like your book. The moment that happens, you stop growing as a writer and you stop believing you can do better and instead believe you are the best, which isn't the best attitude to have when you're an author (I've met people like this and they're always the worst).
That's all, folks! Hopefully these tips help you better cope with the negative aspect of reviews so you can grow and become an even better writer than I know you already are!
See you next week.