Everyone’s a Critic

It’s the name of the game for writers. You put your heart and soul into a book, and, hopefully, get the damned thing published so that other people can read it. But–and this is a big but (no jokes, please!)–once it’s out there, it done. Out of your hands. Can’t change it. It belongs to the readers now. And some of them, let’s face it, won’t like it.

We all know how cruel people can be over the Internet. It’s easy. You’re anonymous. So what’s to stop you from trashing that book you just read? Hurt the author’s feelings? Pshaw! They need to grow a backbone! And, let’s be honest, bad reviews do sometimes hurt. Some come across not so much as reviews but personal attacks.

Back in my acting days, someone told me you have to take the good reviews with the bad. Accept both, or ignore both. I had a one star review for one book of mine that I actually love, it was just SO over the top. I still laugh when I think about it. And we all know that looking for reader comments on Goodreads is a minefield. You enter at your own risk. One reader complained about Wrestling With Jesus, saying she expected a Cinderella type story, but got a tale about…get this…reincarnation! Out of the blue! And those places the author mentioned in Indianapolis? Well, she lived there and they don’t exist!

Well, darling, you might have wanted to read the blurb. That would have told you what the book was about, so the reincarnation angle wouldn’t have seemed to have come out of left field. And as for the places not existing…it’s fiction. Hogwarts doesn’t exist either. Sorry.

I may sound like I’m making fun of that little review, and in a way I am, but it was her feelings, her impressions, and she’s entitled to them. Some people like a book, some don’t. You go on.

But what about reviews that really gnaw at you, at your very soul? The ones that enrage you, make you want to scream? Let’s be honest again, we get them. And we’re human. We shout, we get angry. And I’ve had a few, some that we’re even bad reviews, but something they said hits a nerve and you go off for a while to stew.

I’m reminded of a story Joan Baez told. It was either in her autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, or an interview. I don’t remember which. But she was working on an album and had written a song. She took said song to her songwriting partners, who listened quietly and then gave their opinion, which wasn’t complimentary. One said, “Joan, you may know a lot about poetry, but you don’t know shit about songwriting.” Well, Joan was hurt and furious, and went off to rant and stew about it. And she thought to herself, “If it’s making me this angry, maybe it’s because there’s some truth to what they were saying.” So she went back and sat down with her partners and asked how she could improve her song.

I always try to remember this story when a reader’s comments gnaw at me. Sometimes they’re just being jerks, true, but sometimes you’re mad because…well, dammit, they’ve got a point. You just didn’t want to admit it.

We learn through these experiences, and they make us better writers. So for you new writers out there, yes, you’re going to get bad reviews. And if you go to Goodreads to see what readers have said (and I don’t recommend this at all!) you might want to scream. Oh, the 4 and 5 star reviews are great, but it’s the ones that find fault that eat at you. So rant if you have to. Scream. NEVER respond to the reviewer. Light black candles at midnight if you want, and stick pins in voodoo dolls. Whatever gets it out of your system. And when you’ve calmed down, ask yourself: Why am I so mad? Is it because, maybe, just maybe, they said some little truth that I need to learn from?

And if you still feel bad, read reviews about BIG writers. Yeah, even Stephen King and Anne Rice have their haters. So, darlings, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together. Hugs all around.




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