writing tips

On Staying Silent: Review Etiquette

So…I had a little hissy fit last week. It was not my finest moment. Normally, I get a bad review and I react in one of the following ways:

  • ‘Damn, that’s a good point. Why didn’t I realise that before I submitted?!’
  • ‘Damn! THAT’S SO TRUE! WHY AM I AN IDIOT? CRAP!’
  • ‘Huh, that’s funny. I never noticed that. Better not do that in the next book.’
  • ‘Oh well, I wasn’t sure if that would work. That’s a shame.’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the title! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the cover! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t tell you to read this book when you read one with a similar storyline last week!’
  • ‘Oh well, ya win some, you lose some.’
  • ‘Well…you really didn’t get what I was going for there…I’m not gonna question who’s fault that is, because a bunch of other people got it.’
  • ‘Oh…I wonder if you’re a writer who’s trolling…’
  • ‘Wow, I really feel like you know me and have purposefully tried to carve out my heart with a spoon- how can you possibly hate me this much?’

Last week, however, I was overwhelmed with the fact that I could answer a lot of the points this reviewer had made. That I could tell them I’d done the research, that in fact, yes this could happen. I wanted to tell them not to judge me on the title. I wanted to tell them that patting me on the head because 2 stars is actually pretty good due to their terribly high standards made me want to chow down on the living flesh of fools wandering in the woods at a full moon.

But I couldn’t. Because professionals don’t do that shit.

So what did I do?

I shouted at Twitter. In a series of 150 characters snippets, I shouted into the void. Not necessarily because I wanted to be heard, but because I wanted to justify myself. Reviewers have the power to determine sales of a book. They can create a buzz, share excitement and help authors become better writers. They can offer critcism because they read so much, but they can also be responsible for boosting a career when they’re a fan.

They also have the power and safety to destroy someone from behind a screen. To ensure a book never sells and never gets heard of again. To be snarky and sarcastic and even vindictive (and that is their right) because they have people who trust their opinions.

Do I think I wrote a perfect book? Hell no. Do I feel the really harsh reviews that tear things apart like scratchings against my soul? Not always, but yeah…sometimes. Especially if the reviewer forgets that writers are human. It’s harder to put something out there than it is to tear it down. There’s a lot more vulnerability in creation than there is in destruction.

Now I know what’s coming here- ‘Man the fuck up! You’re an author! It’s just part of the job!’ I’d like you to name another job where the people who pay your wages tell you on a regular basis that what you’re doing is perfect but is also shit and worthless and they hate you. In an ordinary job, you work to please your boss. In my job, if you do that, you’ll end up writing song-lyric-influenced-epic-wartime-love-story-between-a-werewolf- and-a-dinosaur-that-goes-back-in-time-to-save-earth-from-cowboys. Because every reader is my boss.

We have to write for ourselves. It is only in being marginally pleased with the result that we can put it out into the world less afraid, and with less excuses when the critics come to call.

Is the moral of this story to man the hell up and not care about reviews? No, I’ve met some lovely people through Twitter and the reviewing process. And their views do help make me a better writer. They also help me feel better when things feel a bit crap. So I didn’t shout out into the void when I justified myself to Twitter. I shouted out, and readers responded. And THAT is the moral of the story. Be upset by your reviews if you want, trust your own process, try to write for yourself. But know that somewhere out there is someone who loves what you do, and wants you to keep going.

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1 thought on “On Staying Silent: Review Etiquette”

  1. Some people are jelous and couldn’t pass a 10 year olds English exam so they feel the need to knock others down while not thinking of the consequences. You have plenty of fans and hopefully together the good reviews can over ride the bad xxxx

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