Being a writer who puts their work out in the world requires courage. Real courage because you are laying your soul bare to be picked at and ridiculed. No matter how thick a skin you’ve developed, no matter how humble, and no matter how much you believe in your work, you will be hurt when you let your baby go out into the world. And no matter how good your work is, you will get bad reviews. There are people out there that hate Stephen King’s work, that can’t stand Toni Morrison’s masterpieces, that groan at the name Bronte. I know of no author or book that is universally adored.
But on a much smaller scale, when you are new, obscure, starting out, even before you’ve been published and you don’t bestseller list to back you up, you are a much bigger target. People will tear your work apart to help you improve it but they will also tear your work apart to be mean. The bad thing about this is you don’t always know which one it is.
So, whether its an amazon review on a self published work, a forum review, a peer review or a review from he NY times, before you let that review convince you that your work is crap and you should give up, try thinking about it from a few different angles instead.
1. What do they say that is helpful to me?
Is any of the criticism constructive? At all? “The pace is so slow that I fell asleep during the second chapter, while drinking my third espresso” Ouch. But okay. So less talkm more action. We can work with this.
“This sucked so hard that I used it to vacuum my floor” Hmm, not so helpful. Maybe this person is just a douche.
2. Who is the reviewer?
An award winning editor and book reviewer? At this stage, not likely, but if that’s the case, their words hold a little stock. A target reader? Consider it a case study. You’re sister? Meh, maybe not so much. A troll on amazon? Yeah, just ignore that dude. Another writer? Well, here’s where it gets a little tricky.
I have found so much support and so much help working with other writers as crit partners. I have also found a few who seem to think there is only so much success to go around. They will either latch onto how they think your book should go and continually poke holes in everything that doesn’t go their way, they will attack your professionalism by pointing out every minor flaw and misspelling like it’s a testament to your entire work that your spell checker missed the right format of “its”. They will insist your plot is flawed, your dialogue is unrealistic, but they won’t have any suggestions to fix it.
When you get a review, any review you should read the comments with consideration of who that person is. Are you in constant competition with your sister? Is the reviewer on amazon a reader or a troll? Does the person on the forum generally enjoy genre? Is the other writer someone who want you to succeed?
3. Haters gonna Hate
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
4. Art is subjective
And writing is art. I’m not a fan of dada but I love impressionism. I don’t love Lovecraft but I really enjoy Deveraux from time to time. Lovecraft is the master of my preferred genre and Deveraux is about as far as you can get from my reading bucket list but their styles make all the difference.
5. Do you have room for improvement?
The answer here is always yes. No matter how good you are, you can be better. It can feel discouraging, but if you really think about it, it’s kind of liberating. You’re best work is likely not written yet unless you let those bad reviews steal your courage.
So whether is is constructive or just mean, whether its true or false, don’t take it as a sign that you should give up. Take it as a sign that you should keep going, striving, and improving.