Now that Hungry Ghost has been out in the world for two weeks, the very first of the reviews are starting to dribble in. I figure this is a great time to remind myself, and you, of the ways I deal with bad reviews.
Take a deep breath.
Know that a bad review will likely trigger an emotional response. It sucks the first couple of times, but you get used to it. Let the flood of stress hormones happen. Keep breathing. Then practice some self-care.
Know this is all optional.
Lots of authors don’t read reviews. You can add your name to that distinguished club if you want. You don’t have to be on Goodreads, Amazon, or have Google Alerts set for your book title. You have the power to tune it out. Don’t be ashamed if you just don’t want to know. But if you do…..
Read for comprehension.
When we’re triggered, it’s easy to read a level-headed criticism as a screed and a screed as a death-threat. If you care about what reviews have to say (and you really don’t have to), take a deep breath and pay attention to what they’re saying. Try to remove your own ego from it. Are they being snarky for snark’s sake? Or do they level some well-tempered critique? You might be missing some nuggets of support if you’re too focused on criticism.
Find the gratitude.
Console yourself with the idea that they read your book. They gave you 4 to 24 hours of their lives. Maybe they skipped some parts, or even just straight to the end to see if they hated the ending as much as they suspected they would. But they read your book. That’s a win.
Realize you can only do so much.
I used to review theater. Once after seeing a play that infuriated me in its execution, my brother-in-law offered me a well-tempered response: Don’t review the play you wished they had made. Review the one they actually did.
As a creator, your critics will likely review a book they wished you wrote instead of one you actually did. Did your critic feel mislead by the marketing? Did they hate the ending because they hate sad endings? Most of the time armchair critics write from a personal place. They aren’t necessarily taking your work in canon or context. Readers create emotional ties to their books, and if they feel betrayed in some way, they may lash out. This likely doesn’t indicate a failing of your writing.
Some of my worst reviews for Lunatic Fringe contradict each other. While I can learn from each review, it’s not a failing of the book if someone hates the politics because they hate reading politics, or a sad ending because they only like happy ones.
Expect the inevitable.
Remember, it was only a matter of time before you got a bad review. The people who get only good reviews are authors with no integrity who cook the books. Eventually, someone will hate your book. More people will ignore it. Which is worse?
Appreciate good bad reviews.
Who doesn’t love reading terrible reviews? When Roger Ebert died, people were sharing the highlights of his lowlights more than anything else. Why? We love a cutting wit. Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde’s careers were essentially made on this kind of thing. It sucks when you’re on the business end of razor-sharp wit. But what an honor to know that someone spent some time with your book, figuring out the best way to say how much they hated it?
And a well-written terrible review will guarantee that more people will read the book. 50 Shades of Gray became a phenomenon partially because of this kind of thing.
Add some back-patting….
You wrote a book. You published a book. People bought and liked your book. That’s a big deal. Most people will never do any of that. Many people desperately want to, but they never will. You did. Good on ya.
And a little gentle ego inflation….
Keep honest, glowing reviews in a file on your computer, or somewhere accessible. Read them. Read them again. Read them again and listen to the complements. Let them truly sink in. Treat them as true. Few people really listen to praise. We only hear the cutting words of the critics, and we ignore the adorations of the fans. Know that people love your work, even if Hater McMeaniepants doesn’t.
Tell yourself: It’s not me, it’s you.
Maybe it’s a cliche artists tell themselves to keep from slitting their wrists but… some people won’t “get” it. Be careful with this one, because it’s the quickest draw defense mechanism out there. Your critic did likely not pan your book because they’re jealous, stupid, hateful, ugly, a wannabe, or a pathetic mouth-breather living in their mother’s basement. Indeed, your critic may be intelligent, reflective, and generally good-natured. But they may still hate your book. And that’s okay.
Maintain radio silence.
For the love of all that is holy do not talk back. Seriously. Nothing will make you look and feel like a fool like sassing a critic. You chose to be a professional author, now suck it up and get back to work.
Get Back To Work.
Write more stuff. This is why you do this, isn’t it? It’s not the accolades, the awards, the guest spots on Fresh Air. You write because you love to, so keep the love alive. And keep writing.