There are many pitfalls for authors in this strange writing world. Bad agents (and there are more than a few), bad contracts, broken contracts and agreements, writers block, lack of ideas, lack of confidence, competition in the market…
Depression will set in if I list any more.
But here’s one you can avoid, if you can avoid it.
Yeah, I intentionally wrote it that way. We all have to deal with reviews, and bad reviews are like ear worms, they get inside your head and keep digging deeper and deeper, causing problems and self-doubt until the only thing you hear are strange, unidentifiable rock and roll riffs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that seem to have originated with Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling.
The one true thing about being an author is that you will get bad reviews, or some of those backhanded reviews that folks tend to dwell upon.
Children, I can promise I’ve had some doozies, but I don’t read reviews to wallow in the gloom they might bring. I find them entertaining.
Here’s a one-star wonder for one of my books. “Not what I expected.”
Not a lot of meat in that one.
Another one for my most recent release needs a little setup. It takes place in Northeast Texas back in 1969 and seen through the eyes of multiple characters including two teens, two adults in their late twenties, and of course Ned Parker who’s in his late 60s, Tom Bell (advanced age), as well as John Washington who clocks in somewhere in his early forties.
The Review: Southern euphemism overkill. This was a police procedural mystery…
…but half of the book focuses on a group of teens which really doesn’t add to the storyline.
Now, I could weep in the fetal position in one corner of my office while sucking my thumb, but I found this one damned funny, because the teens are the trigger for several plot twists. They’re the foundation of the entire novel.
Then there are a few one and two-star reviews that could sting, but the truth is, I don’t care, because the vast majority of those posts are right up there in the four and five-star range.
I’m writing the best novels I can produce and if you look at the hundreds of reviews for each one, those few old soreheads who miss the entire point of the story don’t amount to a hill of beans.
It even happens in the music industry. Dwight Yoakam released a song back in 1991 titled You’re the One. He repeats those three words thirty times in the course of this wildly successful hit. Instead of reviewers taking him to task over these repetitions, party-goers made a drinking game out of it.
I know one NYT bestselling author who told me he got a one-star review his newest novel, not for the book’s content, but because it arrived with a torn cover.
Good lord. That’s not a review. It’s a complaint against the company that shipped it. That individual should have simply returned it for a replacement, but the crime falls on the shoulders of the author.
Negative reviews are inevitable, so ignore them and go on about your business. They might come from folks who’re mad at the world, or mad that you made it and they can’t, or simply don’t like your genre.
Maybe they’re challenging you because they dislike what they view as your own political beliefs. Another author once told me she got a bad review because the reader thought her antagonist was based on the author herself and they had differing political beliefs.
I once read a review of my work accusing me of being an Obama groupie.
Another came in only a few days later, saying I was a gun-toting, bible-thumping Republican.
All right, I’m a Gemini, but still…
Folks like that read their own biases in my work, projecting them onto me and not the characters I’ve developed. If you create a serial killer, does that make you a serial killer in real life?
Prolly not, but there are a few names on a list in my drawer.
Here’s the deal, if you release a novel, you’ll draw both fire and accolades from all directions. Revel in it. You’re published!
Teddy Roosevelt said it best. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strives to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.”
Just for grins, look up your favorite author, or title, or famous titles, and read what others have written. That should put it all in perspective for you.
The Stand by Stephen King, One Star. “This is a horrible book. I was thinking of giving it two stars, mainly because the idea was so intriguing that it made me read it in the first place, but anything more than one star would be condoning the many serious problems that make this book an utter disgrace.”
Not one specific. This individual obviously lost sleep over the course of many nights to pen such a generic review that says absolutely nothing.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick. “This is a book that seems great until you read it. There’s nothing brilliant or profound that I found.”
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. “What an utterly terrible novel. Racist, sexist, poorly written, and absolute trash moralism. Steinbeck has as much command of adjective as a fifth grader, and his understanding of the subject this book focuses on, labor economics, is about that of a fourth grader.”
Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing. (Cut and pasted) “This appears to be a used book based on its condition (substance and fading on cover, be t cover, book doesn’t lay with pages flat). I purchased and paid for new, so it’s disappointing to not receive when I ordered. It’s only $.50 cheaper to get used, not about the money. With Covid, I purposely wanted a new book to be sure nobody else had their hands all over the pages.”
And for the same incredibly successful novel one reviewer said, “Crawdads don’t sing—a fiction at best and an anthropomorphism at worst. She knows it. Animals do not take on human characteristics. Only the truly ignorant…”
We can stop there. This kind of stuff makes me want to give them more cowbell.
Finally, here’s one last thought, and most authors will agree with me. No matter how bad the review, do not respond! You will gain nothing in a back and forth, and will likely drive away readers and fans, and at worst, become the target for those with even more perplexing axes to grind.
Read it and weep. Read it and smile. Read it and wonder at the mental stability of those who posted those inexplicable negative reviews, but then go on and write your next novel.
It’s not right. It’s not wrong. It just is.