So, I’ve been a professional writer for almost thirty years and over these decades I’ve had my goodly share of hard-to-hear comments and reviews about the words I’ve written.
Handing copy over to a client comes with a special kind of feeling since, if I didn’t give them what they expected — which, it turns out, can be quite different from what they thought they wanted —either I don’t get paid or I have to decide whether to ask for more money or swallow the revision time without being paid. Yuck. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often, but I still submit words knowing it might.
So, having written thousands of pages of articles and stories and content for hundreds of projects, I expected that when my first work of creative writing (words written in my unique Donna-Voice) was done and ready to share that I’d feel the same way as I do when I hand words to a client.
Oh, poor naïve, first-time author child, how wrong you were!
Writing and sharing work-words from my head was about as different from sharing novel-words from my heart as Buddha is to a whirling Dervish. I have a calm resolve handing in client work, but hitting ‘Send’ even to my most trusted writer-reader friends with my novel made me feel so nauseous I had to take a Gravol.
Am I unique? You know, for most of my life I’ve wanted to be, but as I age, it turns out that I’m grateful to learn that I am not. I. Am. Normal. My experience is the norm.
When you share your story, whether it’s still a work-in-progress or has been uploaded for the world to read, odds are high that someone will give you feedback that makes you feel “meh.” Or worse. A review that makes you want to pull your book from the shelf, stuff it deep under your bed and bury it under clothes that you’re keeping since … you will be that size again one day.
Now, there are lots of commonly-shared tips for handling critical book reviews:
1) Don’t respond to the reviewer. Ever.
2) Know that having a few 1 and 2 star reviews is actually good for your book since it shows that the reviews are real, and not all written by your friends and family.
3) Celebrate that you’ve got strangers buying or downloading your book.
4) Develop some perspective, because although 3 stars may feel like a bad review it typically means that the reader thought the book was “good.” It’s a pass.
Uh-huh. Opening the bubbly over those 1-, 2- and 3-star reviews. Not.
What I’ve never seen is how to actually deal with the feelings you’ll have when you read a review that tears at your guts.
Here’s one practical and fun way I dealt with bad reviews of Mother Teresa’s Advice for Jilted Lovers, which were mostly on Goodreads though there are a few on Amazon, too.
Why am I pointing you to my bad reviews? Because reading other author’s 1-star and 2-star reviews is exactly how I helped myself get over myself when I got those lousy low stars.
I went over to Amazon and looked up one of my favourite authors, AJ Jacobs. I love his gonzo journalism style and have read all but his latest book. Sure, there are some pages that I’m not as engaged with as maybe I’d like to be, but I am his target reader so reading reviews from people who don’t love his books was a good salve and reminder that not everyone will adore our stories or the way we tell them.
And that’s okay, because we aren’t writing for those silly people who accidentally pick up our books. We’re writing for the readers who love the kind of book we’ve written.
Whether you’ve published or not, here’s a fun way to build your writer’s confidence.
Go to Amazon.com and find a book that you absolutely loved and read the critical reviews.
Here’s an easy way to get right to them, using one of AJ Jacobs’ New York Times bestselling books as an example (you can click the pictures and follow along on Amazon):
If you’d prefer to see all of the critical reviews your favourite book has received, all together, then click the blue copy showing the number of reviews beside the stars. You’ll be taken to a page that offers you that glorious choice. Like this one:
After you’ve done this, send me a reply and let me know what book/author you checked out. Share your favourite bad review and tell me in a few words why you disagree with the reviewer. Or, if you don’t disagree with the actual review, why you think the star rating is too critical.
Here’s to perspective!
Over to you!
If you’ve got a strategy for dealing with critical reviews, I’d love to know. Share it with me (authordonnabarker at gmail dot com) and I’ll feature you and your book(s) in the blog at The Creative Academy.
You never know who might read your bad review, then check out the positive reviews and decide that your book is exactly what they want to read right now!