Negative reviews and criticism. All writers face them, and these’re our most unfavorite parts of the process. From peer critique while in process, to those rejections from agents and publishers, to negative reviews once the book comes out, we deal with less-than-stellar comments about our work from here to eternity. And the funny thing is, no matter how many accolades we receive, those stinking negative ones stick with us.
The standard response to feeling crummy about them is most often along the lines of, “Let it roll off your shoulders.” Great advice! But much easier said than done.
So what’s a writer to do? How can you take the negative and turn it into a future positive? Four ways will get us there.
1). Consider the Source
Was this from someone within the industry? In other words, an agent or editor at a publishing house? If so, take a hard look at it. This is a very subjective business, but if an agent tells you, say, “The prose was beautiful and characters fabulous but the plot fell apart,” listen! Besides, if an agent takes the time to critique your submission, then he saw something there worth commenting on—which in today’s flooded market says great things about your book to begin with.
Or was it from Aunt Edna? I always counsel my writers to not let friends and family read/critique until a book comes out. They’re always subjective—and it’s almost impossible to take at face value their reviews, which with an unpublished work can just stop you. And we don’t want to stop you!
2). Was the Critique Self-Serving?
This often occurs in writers’ groups, which are of course huge these days online. But often it’s the blind leading the blind, and the critiquing person’s MO was to show how brilliant she was, rather than helping the writer. Beware of this!
Or did the reviewer have an ax to grind about your topic? I co-authored a book years ago that was critical of a local university. All of the reviews were fabulous, except one, in a major newspaper, written by a proponent of the university. Not difficult to see that connection. Still had to go through the “ugh” moment though!
3). Does it Contain Something You Can Use?
Even the most slashing review may have a tidbit of truth. Take a deep breath. Look at it again. Amidst all the chaff, do grains of wheat emerge that can help you in the future? If so, then it’s worth the negative review—you got something out of it.
And sometimes that thing you can use is to not submit there again. Again, this really is such a subjective business, and if you write about witches and potions, you probably don’t need to submit to a Christian-based reviewer. Seems like that goes without saying, but be sure and check into the person’s background before requesting a review! I had that happen, and then felt like an idiot for letting the person review the book. Taught me to check better 🙂
Yep, we gotta let it “slide off our shoulders.” And with a bit of dissection and the right mindset, that becomes easier and easier to do. But the very best thing we can all do after the above is (and you know this already):
4) FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE REVIEWS!
You know how fabulous it feels when someone truly loves your book. When this one waxes about the voice, that one about the characters, another about the place and story.
How wonderful that someone “got” our book!
It makes those long hours worth it, no?