Thursday, May 1, 2008

Handling a Bad Review

After making my first post, I did some research on reviews. In the span of three weeks I got four good ones, one medium one, and one I would consider "bad." That still puts me ahead, if you average them all together. Of course, most writers--myself included--can have twenty-five stellar reviews and only one negative one, but it's the negative we dwell on every time. As I said in an earlier post, I do my best to take bad reviews with a grain of salt, the "live to write another day" approach. It never dawned on me that there are some writers out there who take negative reviews so personally they'd actually threaten the life and family of the reviewer. After my Net search yesterday, I've learned that isn't the case. I don't want to go into the details here because there are far more knowledgeable sites out there that can explain it better than I, but Google the words Amazon reviewer Reba Belle (no relation to yours truly) and see what comes up. The short of it is, Ms. Belle gave a three star review (three stars, mind you) to a book by a paranormal romance author, and the author went after her, going so far as to get Ms. Belle banned from ever posting to Amazon again--although she's still welcome to shop there--and claiming she'd hired a PI to track down Ms. Belle, her husband, and even her children. The Dear Author Blog has the whole story; it reads more like the opening of a romantic suspense novel than real life.

As I read this, I couldn't help but think about life from the reviewer's side of the coin. In the bad review of my work mentioned above, the reviewer held nothing back. She thought my main character was an unsympathetic moron and my prose was stilted and formal. I don't think any of us want to hear that, but it takes more guts to tell someone they suck than to sing their praises. Did I agree with the review? Nah. This main character happens to be one of my favorites, but she made her point well, was well spoken, and I got what she was saying. Even if the review had made me mad, it never would've occurred to me that I should go after her, or even try to defend my story. Once I finish a piece, it's out of my hands and up to the reader whether they like it or not. I hate catfish, and if someone tried to make me eat a big ol' plate of it, I'd be spitting mad. What right do I have, then, to force feed readers my point of view?

So how do you handle a bad review? One article I read on the subject suggests either growing up and getting over it or getting out of the business. Another POV in another article suggests brooding over it for days and allowing the hurt and anger to run its course. I think both of these views represent the extreme. There's got to be a happy medium. Personally, if I'm bummed about a bad review, I take a close look at what the reviewer is saying--see if I can see his or her point. Also, I try to consider the tone of the review. Is he talking about the story, or does he say derogatory things about me as the author? If it's the former, then I have no beef because that's what an unbiased reviewer does: tell it like he sees it. If it's the later, then I know it's personal and I move on.

Another thing that helps me put it into perspective is to go to sites like Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, etc, and read the reader-written reviews for some of my favorite authors' novels. In almost every case, mixed in with the four and five star raves, are ones and twos written by readers who just didn't gel with said novel. These people are on the NYT Bestseller's List, have sold millions of copies, and have in some cases been in the writing game for years, and yet not everyone likes what flies from their pens. Helps me to realize just how subjective a review really is. And it also helps me appreciate reviewers brave enough to give their opinions, especially when they're in the minority.