“Your Baby Is Ugly!” – Let’s Talk About Horrible Reader Reviews on Your Book…

on April 21, 2017 7 Replies

 

Ever since I penned my book, Write Naked, I’ve felt…naked. I’ve shared elements of my life as a writer I’d normally shy away from, but it was important I do what I advised because it made the difference between a good book and a bad book.

Well, I think it was a good book. Other’s won’t.

Which leads me to my big subject today.

Bad reviews.

You’ve heard writers compare their books as their babies, terrorized once revealed, their precious child will be picked on, bullied, laughed at, and mocked. You’ve heard me also advise that when you are writing your book, it is truly your child. This child has not gone to school yet, or left the house, but only been dropped at your sibling’s or mother’s house for a few precious hours, and who then comes home with advice lovingly given, to perhaps socialize the child more, or give him or her a haircut, or other general instructions that are not truly threatening.

When your book is released to the world, you have no more control. You have to stand tall while your child is reviewed, analyzed, given a certain amount of stars, and been loved, or slapped across the face, or completely ignored.

Writers are known to struggle with bad reviews especially early on in their career. This makes sense, because the foundation is not as strong at this point. The writer doesn’t yet realize if her books will make up an entire career, or if she can charm enough readers and reviewers to like her enough to read her next book. I am always extra gentle with new writers because they do need encouragement in a brutal world. Think of a parent who is kind but has a firm hand. You have to tell the truth, but there are many different ways to do it.

Like in reviews.

I have written over thirty books. I have hit all the bestseller lists. I have been nominated as a RITA finalist. I have received beautiful reviews from authors I revere and still am humbled that they actually read something I’ve written. I’ve written a nonfiction book about writing. I’ve taught workshops and spoken at conferences.

But I still get bad reviews—some worse than others—and some when I’m not even looking.

Let me tell you what happened today.

I was going through my email when I stumbled upon a Google alert. It was linked to my name, and I saw that my book, Searching for Disaster, had been reviewed at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. That’s a pretty well known blog, and well respected. Though I always pause, wondering if I’m strong enough to read a review I know nothing about, I clicked on the link.

Oh boy, it was bad.

I mean B-A-D.  I was called out on using the “magical peen” and the “magical hoo ha”  in romance where the heroine basically cannot get the hero’s magical penis out of her brain and vice versa which translates to a cheap maneuver to create emotional connection. The reviewer hated the way other characters were introduced from the series and the way I sickeningly remind the reader that all my couples live in a happy ever after kingdom. The reviewer didn’t like the way my hero talked about the puppies, or thought of himself as a “pussy” for being emotional, and despised one of my favorite lines in the book that made my hero seem like a chauvinistic, abusive asshole.  The reviewer then said she was relieved it was over and that basically her time was wasted, and how on God’s earth could it be nominated for an award. Then there were a bunch of comments cheering her on, praising her review, and trashing my book, saying thank God they didn’t have to read it because she took the hit for everyone.

OUCH.

Not gonna lie. I read that with my heart shredded in my chest, wondering how it had gone so horribly, terribly wrong.

I receive consistent email regarding the emotional quality in that book. I poured a lot of myself in the struggle with drug addiction, and watching a character not really liked in the beginning of my series, grow and change. I never believed I set up my hero to be abusive, or my heroine lived half of a life because she was always seeking a “magical peen.” I get emails on how much they love the puppy scenes. This book was edited by a master in her field, who told me the book was one of her favorites she’d edited.

But this reviewer HATED it and told in very clear detail how, and why she hated it.

And I read it. Twice.

Then I felt bad for a while. I’m human. I questioned myself and my talent and the power of my story I thought was good.

And then?

I let it go.

Earlier in my career, I could not have let it go. I would spend evenings crying over a review like this. There are reviews that say they don’t like the book and why, and then there are reviews that gleefully tell in vivid detail how much they hated your book, and invite people to jump on board with the hate. But it doesn’t matter, because a review is a review, and readers have a right to their opinions. And free speech. In any way they want to express it.

That’s the beauty of the book world. There’s good and there’s bad. There are people who will never read your book and tell others to stay away. And there are people who will recommend your book like a loving friend to make someone happy. Many of the issues she had with my book is valid because that is her personal opinion. Writers cannot argue with opinion. It is the beauty of what we do –there are many. I’m not there with the reader to point out or explain certain intentions. She hated my book for a dozen reasons and pointed each and every one out.

Fair enough.

Is this blog post a subtle way to get revenge on a reviewer who tore me apart and make people feel bad for me?

No.

This is a blog post to let authors know this happens to EVERYONE. And some will hurt more than others. And you must remember that after you feel bad, you must shake it off and go back to your story, because your job is to write the best damn book you can write – not judge what will happen once the book is out in the world.

Do not let someone else’s opinion affect how you feel about your work. Now, I must admit there are some reviews that have helped me a lot. They’ve pointed out weak spots in the book that I never saw, and I try to bring that constructive part into my new work, so I don’t make the same type of mistakes. Nothing wrong with learning.

But other reviews will just be a difference in opinion. Where one reader swooned, another one got pissed off. To one reader, a hero is alpha and sexy. To another, he is abusive.

And that’s okay.

If you are feeling a bit low, or particularly vulnerable, don’t go read reviews. Don’t click on the link. Don’t go into the review muck of Goodreads (though I do like the site for many reasons and think the reviews are important there).

Just take a deep breath and go back to the writing.

Some days, we just feel stronger. You may want to see what’s being said, and remind yourself to take it all in stride.

Five star reviews are forgotten.

One star reviews are forgotten.

If you do your job, your story will not be forgotten. You will make many readers happy and that is the magic that drives us forward, to get naked and put ourselves out there, for good. Or for bad.

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on ““Your Baby Is Ugly!” – Let’s Talk About Horrible Reader Reviews on Your Book…”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. As a beginner author, I still struggle with some reviews and I don’t know how I would react to a review this bad. Good thing you turned into something that can be a lesson for you and for others. well done!

    1. Jennifer says:

      You are so very welcome Anna – thank you for your lovely comment!

  2. Oh Probst, what I wouldn’t give to pour us a glass of wine or 3 right now and hunker down in sweat pants and messy hair. You’re so right, the vicious reviews happen to all of us, and the enthusiasm with which some reviewers broadcast their loathing of a book can catch even the most seasoned of authors off guard! Shaking it off is all you can do–you can’t actually change the book they hated it, even if you wanted to (and you shouldn’t want to–it’s YOUR book, and you did your best by it)

    I actually keep a page of “inspirational quotes” in my notebook for moments when a review sneaks beneath my defenses (though, mostly I try not to read them!) Teddy Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena is one of my favorites, as is the short but poignant: “You are not for everyone.”

    No matter what you write, no matter how you write it, there will always be someone who hates your book, hates your voice, and who wants to tell the world about it. It’s almost freeing to remember there’s always going to be a hater or a hundred–because the second you realize you can’t do anything perfectly right, you also realize you can’t do anything perfectly wrong!

    Thanks for sharing your experience and reminding us that reviews are always just one person’s opinion; one reader’s “keeper self!” book will be another reader’s “juvenile trash” (a kind description of one my books, recently).

    *shrug*

    Keep on telling your beautiful stories. The world needs them.

    1. Jennifer says:

      Me, you, and a bottle of wine talking about all the issues. Love ya babe.

  3. Paris Hansen says:

    Thank you for posting this. I struggled with getting over the bad reviews after my first book. I was already in a bad place and I let them really get in my head. Now that I’ve finally published book two, I’m worried that I’ll let bad reviews bog me down again. So scared that I am finding it difficult to market the second book. This post has given me a lot to remember and thing about.

    1. Jennifer says:

      You are so welcome Paris, I hope it helped in some way and thank you so much for reading!

  4. Ellen DeCrescenzo says:

    For those of us non-authors who have spent a lifetime reading books, “Write Naked” gives us tremendous insight as to how a good story is constructed.Your wisdom and knowledge shines through!

    Bravo Jen!

    Ellen

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