Publishing is a risky business

picture of suit of armourIt’s a very brave thing we do, getting our work published. Yes, it’s exciting and everything, getting a book or a painting or a piece of music or a photo out there in public. But as soon as you do that, the work is immediately open to criticism. The more widely known your work is, the more open to criticism by total strangers it becomes and some of them don’t take prisoners.

I got a bad review for one of my books the other day. Somebody really didn’t like it. At all. I mentioned the fact on Twitter and commenced a fascinating discussion with a couple of fellow-writers about ‘reviews’ and our responses.

Was I ‘hurt’, one asked. No. A long time ago I might have been but now I saw it almost as a rite of passage that an anonymous reader felt strongly enough about my work to comment. Who am I to cast stones? I love Terry Pratchett and JRR Tolkien; lots hate their work. I’m less than luke warm about ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Do you think Dan Brown cares? I love Harry Potter, haven’t (wouldn’t/couldn’t) read ‘Twilight’. I despise James Joyce’s work. Why should I be immune?

By the end of a long discourse conducted in 140 character bites my fellow writers and I agreed that readers were entitled to an opinion, wondered why people bothered writing vitriol about a free book, found that negative reviews didn’t necessarily mean a drop in readers. Criticism is acceptable provided it does not transfer to the author. ‘I Hate your story’ should not come across as ‘you’re an idiot’. Sometimes, though, it will, because the internet is anonymous and it’s so very easy to cast a verbal rock through a window and hide. Those we simply have to rise above and learn to ignore. These people don’t know us (the person) – only our work.

The world turns, as it does every day, and the day after the bad review I discovered a wonderful, glowing review for a different book. I don’t deny I prefer those and it certainly balanced any bad feelings I might have had. Yin and Yang. Black and White. It’s all a matter of opinion.

For those interested, the bad review was for the short story ‘Supertech’ and you’ll find it on Goodreads. You’ll find good reviews on all my books and no, they are not all from family (my family doesn’t read my work) and friends.

So please share with me, fellow writers; how do you take ‘negative’ reviews?

17 thoughts on “Publishing is a risky business

  1. Pingback: How do you measure your success as a writer? « Greta van der Rol

  2. Louisa Bacio

    Ugh. It’s a tough call for me. I read my reviews. I want others to “like” my writing. I want to tell a good story. That said, I understand differences in taste. I, too, skipped through huge descriptive portions of “The DaVinci Code.” I could never finish the “classic” novel, “Heart of Darkness” (and I’m an English major).

    What gets me is when people pick apart grammar and say things like, “She needs to learn how to use commas. She writes like you’re supposed to put a comma where a pause should be.” Um, yeah, and? I have two master’s degrees in journalism/writing. I know where a comma goes. That said, unfortunately, typos do happen and don’t get caught and that ever-weird formatting monster sometimes attacks.

    You’ve got me started, and I better stop! 😉

  3. M M Bennetts

    I try not to read my reviews. Not any of them. Simply because when I wrote whatever it was, I did my best. That’s it. I did what I believed to be my best on all levels: character, plot, research, setting, language, metaphor. Everything. I can’t do more than my best at any given moment. If that’s not good enough, if a reader doesn’t like it, doesn’t approve of it, well, I gave it my all–there is no more. Though obviously, if the reader liked it, if they felt it touched them, then I am delighted. More than.

    The vitriolic reviews, the reviews that just seek out the meanest, most spiteful things that the reviewer can think to say, those do bother me. It’s one thing to criticise and pull something out of the text to support that criticism. That’s fair. And that can help. But those “critics” who say your work is nothing but “this” only it’s clear they’ve never read an example of “this” so they don’t really know, they’re basically just looking for a way to cause hurt and harm. And that I don’t honestly think should be allowed under the name of criticism. It needs to be called what it is, spite.

  4. Liz Crowe

    I’m late to this discussion but….I agree that you MUST build that thick skin from the inside out. My first CP critique nearly tore a hole in my chest. My second was easier, and now I can laugh when my partner(s) say things like: “Seriously?” or “this is completely unrealistic” or whatever. I’m in a strange position of having so FEW reviews so far they are all positive. My time shall come. I think I’ll be ready. The point about “it you put yourself out there be ready to get knocked down” though is one all writers must take to heart. Once your name is On the Cover and it is For Sale to Complete Strangers (many of which nurse a grudge against anyone published because they can’t get there) your sense of outrage at their opinions unless they approach personal libel attacks, must remain parked at the door.
    great post.

  5. Louise Behiel

    I think critique groups, contests and submission work to help us build a thicker skin. I once had 3 requested pull ms rejected in one short letter. (the requesting editor who loved my word left and her replacement didn’t like them at all. What that taught me was that some people get my writing and some people don’t. so don’t get twisted out of shape, just write another book.

    be well and thanks for sharing

  6. Barbara

    Greta: Everyone is entitled to his opinion. Some will like your work, others won’t. Don’t dwell too long on either category. Don’t let those praising you go to your head. Don’t let those condemning you get you down. Hold the good close to your heart and ignore the rest. take care, Barbara

  7. Christine Ashworth

    I haven’t had that first negative review yet. I know it’s coming; my book came out in March and it’s just a matter of time. When it happens whether with my first book or my next book, I shall merely tell myself that my father, who’s had over 300 novels published in his lifetime, NEVER got reviewed. EVER. So that there’s someone out there willing to discuss my work, even if they hate it, is pretty darned cool.

    And then I’ll eat some chocolate and get back to writing. Great post, Greta!

  8. Silentnovelist

    This really struck a chord with me. Other members of my family put themselves ‘out there’, performing music, and I’ve always been in a safe place, clapping and cheering them on. But occasionally, in the loo or at the bar, you overhear a negative comment, and my hackles used to rise, on their behalf. But they’ve always taken it in their stride, and I’ve learned to too.

    Now, it’s me out there, in a different but very similar way. Now I’m waiting for the first ‘real’ reader reviews of the entire, finished novel to come in. I like to think I’m prepared. I hope I am – hope I can take it on the chin, like you.

    Yes, forewarned is forearmed. Great post!

    1. Greta van der Rol

      It gets easier. I remember when one fellow left a comment on my book page on that site that starts with A and ends in uthonomy. He said he only read the chapter because he wanted a reciprocal read on his book (which I’d promised) but he couldn’t think of anything good to say about my work. It’s good to get those because it helps to toughen you up. And I meant what I said – no, it didn’t ‘hurt’.

  9. Gracie O'Neil

    I guess, when it comes to reviews, we’re all entitled to our personal opinions. We’re not, however, entitled to rip someone else a new one simply because they don’t write what we enjoy reading.

    I read a lot of books and some are excellent and some are crap–in my opinion. But those same crap books get four or five stars on Amazon. What’s with that?

    I like what John Locke had to say about reviews. It was along the lines of: if people don’t like your work and give you a crap review don’t get uptight. All it means is those people are obviously not your target audience.

    In other words, you aim/write your work for a target audience. If you get a crap review from someone who has read twenty-four of your books and now hates number twenty-five then maybe that’s when you take a second look. Until then? Not so much.

  10. MonaKarel

    Having shown dogs for over forty years, I’ve had to develop a sense of proportion, as well as a very thick skin. I’ve also had to learn to believe in my own creations, even while I’m harder on them than anyone else. Absolutely agree with you about books some of us like, some of us hate. Any time I angst about reviews, I just go to the Amazon page of a book I LOVE, and see how many hate the book.
    The Internet has made for great communication but it has also allowed anonymity to people who have to babble.

    1. Greta van der Rol

      I used to train German Shepherd Dogs so I’m well acquainted with the bitchiness that goes with dog breeding. I know what you mean! I so agree about your method of dealing with reviews, too.

  11. Lynda Frazier

    I have only been at this for less than a year and am un-published, but my critique groups have showed me how to grow a thick skin. this way when I get out in the big published world I will be able to handle someone who does not like my story. Great post!

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