Wednesday, 11 July 2012

5 Healing Alternatives to Lashing Out at a Negative Review

If you've published something, you've probably gotten a bad review. It's a reality of putting your work out there and getting it read. People are going to have a range of reactions, and with the rise of sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and free personal blogs, they now have more forums than ever to express them. And some of these people... are going to be assholes. Sure, you're going to get critical reviews, reviews that point out your head-hopping or how much they dislike your choice of narrative devices. And then you're gonna get the reviews that will tell you you're the worst thing since EL James, or that you didn't get hugged enough as a child, or, or, or. I don't need to give examples, because as authors I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

But rather than responding in GR comments or complaining on twitter about how "THEY'RE ALL JUST SEXUALLY REPRESSED AND JEALOUS" or, for god's sake, creating an entire website where you 'out' where reviewers live and work (do not do this. if you choose any one thing on this list to give up for author-lent, make it this one), try going through this list.

1. Disengage
Sometimes, all it takes is making a conscious decision not to look anymore. Unless you're being harassed through e-mail, in your blog comments, or internet nasties are using other methods of bringing the criticism directly to your attention, you have the power to limit your exposure. Turn off google alerts for your book's title or your name. Stop refreshing your book's Amazon page. Log off of Goodreads, or limit yourself to your update stream / favourite groups. Use Leechblock if you have to. Find something else to do, whether you get started on that next book or you take a brain break and watch an America's Next Top Model marathon. Just get away from the negativity for a little while. Later, you can decide whether to look at the criticism with a fresh eye, or continue ignoring it. It's up to you!
2. Break them down for scrap
Take a nasty review. Take a piece of paper. Make two columns on the paper: useful critique / useless criticism. Break the review down to its points, and list them in either column. Is there anything to be learned from this critique, however un-tactfully stated? If there is, put it to constructive use. If you're like me, this will help in a substantial way to take the sting out of the review. Part of what's hurtful about reviews is they make us feel so powerless. We're not allowed to respond, even in a veiled way. We're not allowed to defend ourselves or argue the reviewer's points. We can't take the book back and have a do-over. We can't limit a review's influence. This strategy is all about taking positive steps in the one thing we can control: we can improve our writing. 
This isn't about demanding reviewers act as your beta readers, or publicly announcing that people can be vaguely positive but must be constructive with their negative critiques. Readers have a right to react to your books in any way they please, as long as it's not libel and it doesn't go against the TOS of whatever place they're posting at. This exercise is for you and you alone, to try and make sense of a reader response that on the surface is hurtful to you, and give you an empowering, constructive way to respond.  
And if you find your columns are lopsided, with all the points falling under "useless criticism"? Crumple up the piece of paper, throw it out, and move on! (Refer to point 1 if necessary)
3. Seek a shoulder to cry on
Not in public. Even if you don't reply to a reviewer directly, publicly complaining about negative reviews is unprofessional and uncomfortable for your readers to watch. It damages your reputation and harms your platform. Also, what you say on your public twitter or blog or facebook has a way of getting back to the person you're complaining about one way or another, and if they choose to engage you in a new forum (and especially if they bring friends), you've turned one bad review into a whole pile of drama. 
However, what you say to your mom, or significant other, or best friend or even your cat in person has a very likely chance of staying with them. Also, they're pretty much guaranteed to sympathize with you. You can also complain in a private forum such as through email or instant message to someone you trust such as an online friend, a co-writer, a member of your critique group, etc.  
There is nothing wrong with feeling hurt or discouraged or ganged-up on. These are normal feelings when something you've put a lot of time and love into is criticized. Go ahead and ask for a hug and a pat on the back, you're only human! But as an author, you're a public figure and you need to consider where you express these feelings and how. 
4. Pump yourself up
When I was a teenager, I had a lot of body image issues. I was overweight and somewhat fashionably impaired, and I got teased a lot for what I looked like. Being in my own body was often a bad place to be. I had a full length mirror in my bedroom to try on all my various outfits to try and determine which one made me look the least fat or the least slutty or the least bit like a lesbian, which were my general day-to-day goals as a teenage girl. (Now, I'd be quite happy to look like a fat slutty lesbian, but I guess I'll have to settle for fat slutty bi girl.) The point is, this mirror in my room was basically a source of constant misery. Until... someone wrote on it, in big red letters, "Smile, you're beautiful!" Now, I'm not saying it magically made me stop crying over my thunder thighs or picking at my skin, but it was damn better than nothing, just one positive message in a whole world of negative ones. 
So how does this translate to being an author? Bookmark and revisit a positive review, one that really gets you and your book. One that showers you with love and thoughtfulness and makes you think "yeah, that's why I became an author". Somebody out there loved your hero as much as you do, thought that line of dialogue was really funny, understood that metaphor you had woven throughout the whole novel, enjoyed that risk you took or appreciated that safe choice you made. 
Read that review as often as you need. Nobody needs to know. It'll be our little secret. 
5. Read or revisit this post
That's all. Just go there. Now. Shoo.

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