you’ve submitted something for publication, there’s a good chance
you’ve been rejected. (I’ll save that topic for a future column.)
Today, let’s focus on that
other ugly word: reviews. Specifically, the
If you’ve written and published
a novel, you’ve invited the opinions of agents, editors, contest
judges, or reviewers. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference what’s
printed on their business cards. Less than positive reviews sting. The
negative review appearing in a public forum, even anonymously, has the
power to affect your bottom line. Double ouch. Triple, even.
Several facts we need to face,
right from the get-go:
A negative review is rejection . . . of your
2. No author—not Twain or Hemmingway, not Rowling or Grisham—has ever
written anything that was loved by everyone.
3. The longer you’ve been writing, the more likely it is that you’ll
hear from one of those who didn’t love your work.
Unfortunately, we can’t ease the
discomfort with aerosol sprays or ointments, the way we can with bee
stings. So what can we do?
I posed this question to a dozen
trusted writer pals who have been on the receiving end of snarky
reviews. A few admitted that after reading a negative review, they
curled up in the fetal position (one, for days!), worrying about the
demise of their careers. Others (like the guy who punched a permanent
dent in the top drawer of his filing cabinet) confessed that they’d
resorted to temper tantrums. Tears, head- and stomachaches, insomnia,
over-consumption of chocolate (and other binges that I promised not to
divulge) are just a few of the aftereffects of being stung by the Bad
The more hardy authors who
believe that bad reviews “go with the territory,” since we’re “blessed
to be doing what we’re doing!” had very different
reactions. “I don’t waste much time dwelling on bad reviews,” said one
multi-published pal. “Negativity is counterproductive because the mood
transfers directly into your work.” And, he concluded, “That’s a scary
thing, even when you write horror, like I do.”
So how do the
take-it-on-the-chin types react when one of their
novels is slammed by a reviewer?
“I tell myself s/he is a
wanna-be writer, jealous that I sold the book, and s/he couldn’t cut
“I say, those who can, write
novels that sell; those who can’t, write smarmy reviews.”
“Reviewers are entitled to
their opinions. I’m entitled not to like them.”
“I’ve got more than 100 books
out there, but only eight negative reviews. Get the picture?”
“It was clear from that review
that the [expletive omitted] guy never even bothered to read my novel,
so how can I take his review seriously?”
remind myself that I’m selling consistently because my readers
like my work and keep coming back for more.”
That reminds me of a
New York Times
interview I read a few years back, in which
the well-loved author Norman Mailer was asked about his own negative
reviews. I’m paraphrasing, here, but in essence, Mailer said that bad
reviews aren’t really bad…unless readers buy into
them…and choose not to buy books and become potential fans based on the
reviewer’s words, alone.
I read another article (if I
could recall where, I’d credit the writer) that pointed out how
negativity, by its very nature, lures the public interest, pretty much
the same way pouring chum over the side of a boat attracts sharks.
So maybe the bigger question
here is do you want to feed the sharks by reacting negatively to a
negative review, in your own public forum, and end up looking worse
than the reviewer? I daresay that sounds like career suicide even to
those who are allergic to stings!
So we’re entitled to cry if
that’s our bag. Wring our hands. Pace. Stomp our feet. Call the
reviewer a name or two (privately, please, for the sake of our sanity and
career longevity!). Whatever it takes to get the negativity out of our
systems as quickly as possible.
Then we need to put our time and
energy into writing more for the readers who
consistently buy our books, instead of focusing on the opinions of just
peeps, and may the reviewers be with you!