[Side note- some of you may notice I’m blogging more. If you’re mostly an ISBW podcast listener, my language may surprise you. I have a clean podcast because I am all too aware of the value of having something you can listen to in your car when your kids are with you, but in my fiction and nonfiction writing I do enjoy the colorful metaphors and descriptions.]
If you are one of those people who enjoy reading about yourself, no matter what people say, then go ahead. Read the reviews as if someone isn’t talking about your work, and, like many reviewers do, make assumptions based on your personality as a direct result of what you write. You don’t even need to continue reading. Just go off and feel pleased about yourself and the confidence you’ve built as an adult. Well done!
OK, now for the 95% rest of the population – don’t do it. Seriously. Nothing good comes of reading reviews. You’re going to read them and if they like the whole thing but think the romance part is weak (unless you’re writing romance, which makes it a bigger deal) then you’re probably going to be like AUGH THEY HATED MY ROMANCE MY LIFE IS OVER.*
Some people may not “get” your writing. They don’t see what you’re trying to achieve, or your subtle phrasing and hooks went over their head. That’s a definite possibility. However, the moment you say that people don’t understand your work, you dive headfirst into Sensitive Artist pool and sound like a pretentious asshole. It’s also possible that they didn’t “get” it because you didn’t do a good job of presenting it. Horrors, I know.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.
Online, there are two things you never want to ask anyone, because there is no good answer.
- Why did you unfollow me on [social network]?**
- How could you write such a bad review of my work, my baby, my livelihood?
Seriously, nothing good comes out of this. The weird thing about becoming a public persona — whether for what you do, what you create, or being famous for being famous — is that when one person tells you their opinion of their work, you can bet cash moneys that there are many others out there who aren’t speaking up who think the same thing. This works both ways, good opinions and bad. So there are more out there that think the same as that horrible reviewer, but aren’t saying anything (possibly because they’re afraid of scary crazy author person chasing them down). So even if you did stop that one reviewer – which you won’t – it doesn’t stop opinions.
Also, reviews aren’t for you. They’re for the reader. Reviewers tell other readers what they think of a book, and whether you should pick it up or dear gawd don’t waste your money and time. These are valid warnings. If a reviewer for the Crusty Literary Readers Guild or The Stories Should Be About White Dudes Club doesn’t like my book about a woman writing travel guides for monsters, then they should probably warn other readers like them not to pick it up. Perfectly valid.
I really can’t think of any instance where an author complained about a review and it turned out OK for them. There was Anne Rice’s meltdown eleven years ago, and she is still campaigning against people who have opinions online. (I won’t link to the site where she does this because they cry about bullies but then go after “SJWs” – a huge red flag for me since it’s a term almost exclusively used by bigots associated with groups like Gamergate and Rabid Puppies) Laurel K Hamilton freaked out on her own blog. And now we have another one, a man posting an incomprehensible rant against a reviewer, comparing her to a child abductor. His comments have since been removed, but archives and an article about the incident are here.
That article makes a good point- the author is always the one who looks bad in this. ALWAYS. I don’t care if they said you were a poopyface that eats vomit and kicks baby birds. The moment you go “NUH UH, STOP BEING MEAN” you look like the jerk. People are going to wonder why you are spending so much time messing with this review. You’re a writer, why are you rampaging online instead of writing more?
I use goodreads, but as a reader. I like to keep track of my books. I don’t even write reviews anymore, unless I’m strongly driven (Station Eleven) to or it’s a medium in which I’m not currently writing (i wrote a review of the horror manga Uzumaki because it was amazing except for one aspect I needed to comment on). I’m technically on it as an author, but I never look at my reviews. There is zero point to it, unless I want to have a really good reason to drink that night.
You can go Jay and Silent Bob if you like, and take all the money you have and use it to track down everyone on the Internet who ever said anything bad about you and then punch them, but there are better uses for money, and that won’t stop MORE people from calling you an idiot for making that use of your time and money.
Satisfying, maybe. Illegal and impossible, definitely.
Look out the window right now, at the wide world. Perhaps the sun is shining. Perhaps the moon is up. Perhaps birds are singing or hopping around a feeder or bath. Maybe a cat is sitting on a fence, licking her paw. Maybe a neighbor or coworker wanders by and waves. You know, logically, that apart from the lovely view out your window, there are also likely rotting dead animals in the woods, and worms and beetles teem under the rocks in your garden, and copperheads lurk in the grass, ready to bite your dogs in the face***, and that person likely has skeletons in their closet they pray no one will ever find.
Internet comments, and some reviews, are the under-the-rock, rotting animal, secret-keeping neighbor that we all know are there, but to see them we have to hunt for them. So the question is, do you enjoy the view from your window, or do you purposefully go look under a rock just to get grossed out?
(and don’t tell me that you go under the rocks to remove the pests from your garden. You’ll end up killing some earthworms if you do that, which damages your garden. And the earthworms are your loyal readers who just lost respect for you because you threw a great big noisy fuss online. Metaphors. BOOM.)
I’ve gotten bad reviews. When I first got nominated for the Campbell, I had a very weird super-backhanded compliment given to me on a blog. But I learned in fifth fucking grade that ignorance is bliss – I was much happier before someone intercepted a note and showed me a line completely unflattering about me. Because what can you do about it? (Note- the answer is NOT go-apeshit-on-the-Internet.) Remember the Bonnie Raitt song “I can’t make you love me?” Well, you can’t make people love your work. And if you throw a fit online, you’re actively making them love you less. Not your work: you.
So you run across a bad review, or someone “helpfully” tells you about it. What can you do? You can get back to fucking work. That’s pretty much my answer for everything these days. Mad at something? Write. Trolls trolling online? Write. Grackles overtaking the birdfeeder? Write.
Do something that only you can control, and remember that they have no power over you but what you give them.
*Yeah, this was my Publishers Weekly review. 99% positive, a comment that the romance was weak, and I was devastated. Illogical, I know.
**I’ve stopped answering when people ask me this. No one has ever liked any of the reasons I told them.
***Happened last summer. That was a fun night. If you go on a long trip in the summer, remember to pay someone to mow your grass.