Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.
In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.
The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.
I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:
I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.
There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.
Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.
As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)
I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.
Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.
Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:
Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.