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Learning to Deal with Bad Reviews

Everyone has their own way of coping. In Sarra Manning’s Guitar Girl (my own YA bible in my youth) the rockstar Ruby X used bad reviews to line her cat’s litter tray. Reviews are a strange thing. On one hand, they can give you the warm and fuzzies, where you float around all day feeling very smug, like you’ve done something wonderful. Which is silly, because it’s a review on something you created a year ago, and you should really just get on with doing something new. One of my favourite positive reviews was from a woman who was reading my book whilst waiting for her smear test, and said if it could make her laugh whilst waiting for that, I’d clearly done a good job. Okay, so it’s not quite changing someone’s life, but I distracted someone whilst they were nervous. And that’s nice.

But once the first flurry of lovely reviews come in, eventually the bad ones surface. So far, they haven’t been too bad. I had a couple of comments about the characters being one-dimensional, and well, that happens. For me, I made these people, I know their lives and backstories and what makes them laugh and cry, so they seem very real. They called it a light, frothy read, and that’s fair, because that’s what I was aiming for. If anything, I read those ‘meh’ reviews and sighed a sigh of relief, because no-one’s called me derivative or a waste of space or anything mean. Yet.

Not everything is for everyone. I wrote a fluffy romance story with too much drinking and a fair bit of sarcasm. I could criticise my own work until I was blue in the face, but at the end of the day you have to accept that there are quite a few possibilities: it was marketed so these people thought they would like it, it wasn’t very good, or maybe they just didn’t like it. And that’s okay. There are books I’ve recommended to friends, and they’ve hated them as much as I’ve adored them, and I just haven’t understood it. Some things grate for no reason. Some days you can’t get into it, sometimes it just doesn’t grab you.

This is not about value of your work. It’s not about value at all. It’s about feeling. They felt this, and you felt that. And that’s fine. Someone hating your work doesn’t make it shit, and someone loving it doesn’t make it gold. The point is that you made something, and the minute it’s out there, it’s up for judgement. People often compare writing a book to having a baby (painful, exhilarating, sudden responsibility) but the truth is that most people won’t say to your face that your child is terribly ugly and you probably shouldn’t have bothered conceiving him. But people will say that about the book. The closest you can come to dealing with all this is being proud you finished something, proud that people have bought it, and proud that you can carry on writing, regardless of reviewers and the voices in the dark corners of the interwebs. If you’re going to be a writer, be a writer, whether you write shit or gold, just write.

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