A few weeks ago I received my first negative review for Mine to Avenge. It was an experience I knew would eventually come, but in spite of that, it was still something of a slap in the face.
The review arrived during my lunch break one day at work. My publisher warned me in advance that it wasn’t so great, but he told me there were certainly enough good bits in it to benefit from, and reminded me that it was only one person’s opinion. So, with this warning in mind, I read the review. I felt something like the twist of a knife in my gut to read negative comments about the ‘baby’ I labored over for more than two years to bring to birth.
However, what did surprise me was how quickly I got over this painful moment, and I realized I had been well prepared for it. By the time my lunch break was over, I’d let go of it and got back to work. I didn’t even lie awake stewing about it that night and had a wonderful night’s sleep.
How did I manage this? I think it comes down to having a realistic estimation of yourself and your work, being aware of a few facts, and being willing to benefit from the situation when it’s upon you.
In terms of having a realistic estimation of yourself, it will hurt badly if you think too highly of yourself and your skills. If you put yourself up on a pedestal, believing you are the next JK Rowling before you receive a bad review, it’s going to hurt when you fall, after finding out that others don’t see you in the same light. By the same token, I think you shouldn’t be too disparaging of yourself - believe yourself to be capable. Know that you have always got room to grow and improve.
Accept the fact that bad reviews are par for the course. You can’t escape them - they will eventually come. I had been lulled into a false sense of security because I have over twenty testimonials and reviews now, and this was the first negative one. However, I turned that around into a positive thought, and told myself that I am still way ahead in terms of the ratio of good reviews to bad.
Another fact to be aware of is that a bad review is only one person’s opinion. Reading is a very subjective thing. Everyone has their own unique tastes and just because one person doesn’t like your story, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good and that others won’t like it. As I said in my speech at my book launch last year, ‘If you like my book, tell your friends about it. If you don’t like my book, still tell your friends about it - it might be right up their alley.’
Be prepared to take the criticism on board. Be willing to think about it and learn from it. Basically, the reviewer had two main criticisms of Mine to Avenge. Firstly, she didn’t like my story having more than one main character. I’m not sure that I could have approached this differently, as Mine to Avenge is a generational saga, and different characters take the lead depending on what year it is in the story. Secondly, the reviewer didn’t like my flitting back and forth between eras. This is the part I am mulling over and trying to learn from, putting my mind to see whether I could have done it differently. I couldn’t have written the story with a straightforward linear chronology as it would have revealed certain things at the wrong time to the reader, but I don’t want to reject her criticism out of hand and will keep chewing over this to see if I can benefit from it in my future work, if I attempt another generational tale.
Don’t lose sight of the praiseworthy parts of a bad review by wallowing in the bad parts. The reviewer was impressed with my research, the premise behind the story and the plotting. I found this very encouraging, given the overall generational span of the novel.
Realise that a bad review won’t necessarily drive readers away. My son told me some time ago, that in his opinion, ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity.’ I read somewhere that apparently the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ phenomenon began because of bad reviews, though I am not sure how accurate that is.
Probably the most important advice I can give other novice authors is to be prepared for bad reviews. They will come, and they will hurt, but it’s up to you how long you let it hurt. Don’t let it discourage you from marketing - your audience is out there somewhere. Most importantly, don’t let a bad review discourage you from writing, but let it spur you on to improve your skills.