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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bad Reviews - Understanding and Dealing as a New Author

I originally posted this on MySpace back in September 2008 after receiving my first bad review. I was inspired not only by what I considered the less than professional attitude of the reviewer, but by knowing that not every writer who is starting out has a thick skin like mine. I credit my stubborn streak to my family background; I'm Irish, Cherokee, and German. I wrote this for all those writers/authors out there who have been devastated by a single thoughtless comment from a reviewer.

As a newly published writer, I was very lucky with not only my publisher, but also my first reviews. I nearly gave myself an aneurysm with the first review, which was far better than I ever expected. Of course, I'd told one of my best friends that I was looking forward to the first bad review. Now you may ask why? Why would someone want an actually bad review?

The point is that I wanted get it out of my hair. So many writers take bad reviews personally and I've seen some writers run for the hills at the first sign of a critical look at their writing. Speaking for myself, my stories are like my children, I nurture them, and then release them into the world to face everything the world has to offer. Personally, I have always been my own worst critic. I never believe that my work is good enough and if someone can actually say something critical that will make me think, really think, then I am more than open to the idea of graciously accepting the criticism. After all I've been writing non-professionally for 9 years on-line and I credit the people I met over the years for making me a better writer and helping me to this point.

This is a fine stance to have until you run into what I call a literary snob. Now that may not be the nicest way of describing these people, but it's definitely the most straightforward way. My own personal experiences with such people have made me realize that they are one of three categories:

a) Writers successful in their field who have forgotten what it's like to be a struggling writer.

b) Frustrated writers who can't seem to get their foot in the door.

c) Writers/Non-writers with a close minded attitude when it comes to certain genres.

In my humble opinion, if you are going to step into the position of a reviewer then you have to have a certain mindset.

a) Keep an open mind. Just because the story in question is not of a genre you read exclusively that does not make it trash. Don't like the genre and you work for a site where you can pick and chose--don't pick it.

b) Look at the publisher. For example - Are they a publisher that focuses on certain aspects of a genre? Do they prefer PWP (plot what plot) or do they prefer plot over sex? If you prefer PWP then go with works published by those publishers. If you like plot with your sex go with those works.

c) Look at the writer. Are they a new writer? Someone who is just getting into the field of writing? If this is the case, keep that in mind. Writers tend to grow as they write. Few if any writers come out of the gate as expert authors.

d) Maturity and consideration. There are ways to get your point across without being rude or demeaning. If the editing was done badly suggest the writer try for a better editor next time. If there are problems with the characters, suggest the writer spend more time fleshing the characters out prior to writing the story. Insulting a writer in a crude and obnoxious manner says more about the reviewer than it does about the writer.

My first bad review was met by me with much laughter. First the reviewer did not get the title right and even had the location incorrect. Last time I checked Illinois is not considered the South. It was obvious that the book in question was not the type that they would normally read. I ascertained this by checking out previous reviews done by the same person. Comments about the sex scenes along with understanding this was not the reviewers taste confirmed that they preferred a rawer sexual scene as opposed to an emotionally based sex scene. And finally, it was apparent that the plot seemed to get in the way as well as the type of characters. The fact that a character is a man does not mean he can't be emotional.

Example: One character in question had fainted due to blood loss. The other a psychic medium passed out as a direct result of a spirit taking over his body. A negative comment about this was made.

In the end, I got the distinct impression that the reviewer had not actually read the book, but rather skimmed through it quickly focusing in on anything that they personally found disagreeable. Prior to this review, I'd received four reviews all of which enjoyed the book; one from a site that focuses on GLBTQ books exclusively.

This is why I say to those fellow newbie writers that are out there do not take everything a reviewer says as a personal insult. Reviewers are people just like the rest of us and sometimes they have bad days. That doesn't excuse them from being rude though. To be a writer it's necessary to have a thick skin and an understanding that the review sometimes says more about the reviewer than about the writer's talent.

Happy Writing!


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