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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Five Stages of a Bad Review

OKay--before I start this actual post, I need to tell you all that my computer keyboard is dying. You need to know this because I've got blogging to a certain rhythm--I post my entry, and then I go check out everyone else's blog and make comments. The thing is, by the time I get my blog posted, my keyboard sees every touch of the mouse pad an invitation to drag and drop a thousand different things to places I had no intention of going. It makes me a thousand types of crazy--but mostly, it makes people think I've dropped out of existence. Sweartadog, I'm still reading you--just not always in a position to respond!


Anyway, so far most folks seem to like both Promise Rock AND Rampant, for which I'm terribly grateful--but the review scene is by no means idyllic. I figure that since most folks who show up on a regular basis have seen me come completely unglued with the pain of a bad review, I would share my new philosophy on the whole review thing. Next week/month/year, I may come back and check this out and think I was SO immature about it all, but right now, this is where I stand.

I figure getting a bad review has five stages--you all have seen most of them.

Stage one: Denial

"This can not possibly be about my book. Oh wait... yeah. Well, maybe they just didn't get the part... maybe they didn't understand... maybe they think that... I mean, I'm a nice person. Nobody could possibly hate me enough to say such mean things about me, can they?"

Stage two: Anger

"Fuck this. Fuck this reviewer, fuck this review, and fuck this horrible bloody-assed painful business of putting my heart out on the line so dumb motherfuckers can fucking fuck with my fucking work. This fucking bitch/bastard/sonofafuck/heifer troll can go jump off a bridge and listen to me laugh as they splat bottom. Fuck 'em all!!!!" (My angry stage involved a lot of swearing. I'm sorry--I'm like that.)

Stage three: Bargaining

"Well, maybe, if they just know where I'm coming from, they won't hate this part so much. If I could just tell them my idea, explain my grand vision, hear who influenced me, where I got my inspiration from, what sort of person I aim to appeal to, maybe if I could just explain the archetype, the genre, the character motivation, he/she/it/they wouldn't hate my work so much. Let me enlighten he/she/it/them, and the world will sing my praises!"

Okay--just to say right here--this is possibly the most dangerous stage of a bad review for an author. Why? Because in the electronic medium, we are able to actually SAY THESE THINGS to the people who left the bad review. This is a VERY bad idea. Why? Because--no matter how articulate our explanation, no matter how well thought out our vision, it doesn't matter who we're talking to or how we're refuting a reviewer's claims, all that's going to come out is the howl of a socially mauled second grader, wailing "I SWEAR I DON'T SUCK!!!" into the indifferent elements. This is the stage at which writers routinely humiliate themselves. Those of you who have stuck with me have seen this first hand. Those of you who haven't, well, let's just say I have experience, and leave it at that.

Stage four: Grief

"THEY THINK I SUUUUUUUUUCCKKKKKK!!!!" *wail* *moan* *sob* "EVERYBODY HATES ME!!!' *whimper* *sniffle* *whine*

For the record? This is Mate's least favorite phase of the game.

And now, stage five: Acceptance.

This one comes in several flavors.

Accept that it happens. It sounds cliche, but it's true. It doesn't matter what you do, if you put it out for public view, someone WILL hate it. I've been critiqued as a mother because I blog about being a mother. I've been critiqued as a teacher because I put that out there on the line too. When you put something out to be analyzed publicly, the odds are good that someone will hate you. The people who actually HATE public figures with no regard to their feelings WILL go about trying to mutilate your self-esteem. Some people are mean that way.

Some people just want to express an opinion.

Now for me, this is possibly the hardest part to accept, especially when we are talking about books and writers. There are some writers out there whose books I really dislike. I'm not crazy about Danielle Steele, Nicholas Sparks, or John Grisham. I wish I was--I know lots of other people who really love their work, but I've never been able to get past the first couple pages. However, I have yet to put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to go out and cut them down to size. Okay-at least as an adult--as a snarky sixteen-year old, I thought this was high fun. Once I got past the age of twenty-five, I sort of figured out this was juvenile and destructive, and it went the way of getting drunk just because I was of age. I mean, it didn't take a whole lot of vodka to figure out THAT just hurt everybody involved, particularly me!

The fact remains, I am often surprised by the meanness of reviewers because I don't see their motivation beyond just to harm. If they didn't like the book, nobody put a gun to their head and made them finish it. Why couldn't they just put the book down and walk away? It's what I would do. But the fact is, some people are compelled to find their voice about things that displeased them, and it's not a good idea to stop them. Silencing a voice--even one that hurt me personally--is not necessarily a good way to maintain a healthy balance of confidence and humility.

I need to accept that not everyone will simply walk away from my books if my books are not pleasing. That is not the nature of human beings, and I write about human beings. In fact, I write about deeply flawed human beings who find redemption in human relationships. Perhaps the mean people will find their own redemption--but their sins don't necessarily reflect poorly on me.

Accept that it will hurt

Yes it will hurt. You put yourself out on the line and someone took time out of their day to tell you that this piece of your heart sucks? No amount of sniffing disdainfully and trying to be philosophical will ease the pain of what someone has to say when they say it nasty. The reviewer who says it nasty will often be rather cavalier about the pain. "You need to get used to it!" And then, of course, you feel even more lacking in something important when it continues to hurt.

What I have to remember--what we should all remember-- is that literary textbooks are CHOCK FULL of literary geniuses who put out a few great works and then dropped off the face of the planet because the world in general and critics in particular can be fucking mean-hearted bitch-slapping meat puppets full of nastiness. I covered Washington Irving in class today--our first major American voice, and he retired from fiction because the critics hurt his feelings. Thomas Paine? Ernest Hemmingway? Walt Whitman? William Faulkner? Yeah--they were all discouraged by bad reviews. Hell--so was Shakespeare! If these guys, these giants of literature, can be hurt or depressed or devastated or suicidal because of a bad review, why don't I, little ol' pulp fiction me, get to shed a few tear before I woman up and write my next chapter?

Not a goddamned reason that I can see, and that is the truth.

Accept that I want it to happen

Okay-- this is the hardest one of all. But why do I want bad reviews? A couple of reasons.

1. Not every book is for every person. It's good to have negative reviews to warn the people who would not actually WANT to read your book that they do not want to waste their money. It's never good business to sell to the reluctant. Bad reviews help keep that from happening.

2. Not every book is for every person. My books tend to deal with flawed characters--I like flawed characters. Flawed characters are real to me, and watching them find a happy-ever-after is a great deal of fun for me. I also see the world as sort of an absurd, random place, where absurd, random things happen. And thus it is in my literature. If someone reads my books looking for perfect people making constantly wise, mature decisions in a well ordered world, the fact is, I DON'T WANT THEM TO LIKE MY BOOK. I don't see the world that way--I don't want them to think I do. This little part of my soul is only fit for display if it is honest. If I am honest, I am not going to appeal to everybody.

3. Not every book is for every person. And if a book IS for every person, I don't want to write it. I forget which romantic writer said it's better to inspire hatred than indifference, but, in spite of the fact that my inner five year old wants everybody to like me, I actually passionately agree. There's a couple of ways to be a 3.5-4.5 star writer on a website. One way is to write books that everybody thinks are okay. The other way is to write books that 20% of the population HATES and 80% of the population passionately loves. My stats skew pretty much this way--and I love that. I love that people REALLY LOVE MY WRITING. I need to accept that I'm not going to get that reaction if I write stuff that EVERYBODY likes. It ain't gonna happen. Everybody LIKES vanilla ice cream. A select few PASSIONATELY ADORE cherry almond fudge. I would rather be cherry almond fudge ice cream, because man, that shit really turns me on.

4. Not every book is for every person. But I know some of the people whom my books are for. For every Rachel and Holly out there who hates my writing, there is a Galad, a Roxie, a Needletart, a Littlewitch, a Haylo, a Louz, a Donna Lee, or a Geneve who really loves my writing. If statistics hold true, and people really ARE twice as likely to write a bad review as a good one, the ratio is twice as skewed in my favor than that. These people who contact me and tell me that my writing moved them are good people. They are kind and generous. They are funny, warm, human, and real. They are worth writing for. They are worth inspiring. They are worth bringing joy to.

For everyone else, I'm sorry you were disappointed--that was never my intention. But for the people who feel like my writing has given you something? Thank you! You make it such a joy to give!

20 comments:

Louiz said...

Once I have my copy of Rampant (and after telling me it would be posted on the 20th Feb, I the got an email this morning telling me it's on the way) I'll put a review up.

Once the crazy dies down I'll even manage to do some more reading.

KnitTech said...

Which point are you at currently?

Roxie said...

Mind if I share this post with my writer's group? It just totally rocks! You are honest, articulate and so right on!

Chris said...

Kubler-Ross? :)

Thanks for sharing your process here, Amy. It helps me understand where a writer who leaves a snarky comment about my three-sentence review might have been coming from.

Madeleine said...

Excellent post.

DecRaink said...

Your books do NOT suck.

Just forget/ignore those idiots :-P

Tam said...

Beautifully worded, expertly written, and true delight to read. Amy, you hit the proverbial nail on the head with your statement about the horror of reviews, the author's actions, and the mental thinkings that should be employed.
Bravo, dear lady, you are a true gem and a voice of sound wisdom.

Galad said...

Just finished Rampant and I guarantee my review will be a great one! The sad part is - it's over and now the waiting begins again. Sigh. (Short stories may help me through and begging is possible)

Giselle Renarde said...

Oh, I love you and I love this post!

Yeppers, I've been through every one of those stages and of course it's horrible, but you're right in saying it's in some sense necessary as well.

I also write flawed characters and all of my scathing reviews have been something along the lines of "What a bitch! I hated that character so much!" So...I can relate.

Thanks for a GREAT post!

Giselle Renarde

Lynn Lorenz said...

Amy, you know I heart you.
Reviews can make your day or break your heart, but in the end, ultimately they're just one person's opinion.

Look to your readers, your sales, and your many other fabulous reviews to see the truth.

I keep a go-to file of reviews to read when I get slammed with a less than good review, which I read to bolster the stage where I'm thinking I suck and should just quit before the lynch mob shows up.

It helps.

GrillTech said...

Meant to post this for you last night, but I know how you don't like spoilers.


"Be a little rebellious. But, not in a satanic way"

RĂ©ve said...

I think that was a very coherent and well-defined post!

Donna Lee said...

The reality is that you write from your heart and you couldn't write vanilla if you tried. I'd read Ms Steele or Mr Grisham if I were stuck on a desert island and I was bored out of my mind and then I would probably write snarky comments in the borders of the pages (that's what we do to predictable stories). The borders of the pages of your books would be blank because your characters fill up the page with their lives.

Remember one of the Four Agreements, "Don't take anything personally". It's never an attack on YOU because they don't know YOU. (if they did, they'd love you)

Lyssa Kaehler said...

Hang in there; you're doing a good job.

Myself, I find it really rude when a book review reads like a personal attack on the author (as some of the nasties do). I always find myself thinking "Wow, this reviewer must be a jerk. Instead of reviewing the book they met and can choose to like or dislike, they are reviewing the person they haven't met at all".

JJ said...

AMY: there is a saying that everybody doesn't tell the same lie! Look at the reviews that count and that is our reviews, your fans (your readers). The reviews of the people who follow your work regardless the genre!! We love your writings and we love you and we support you. Our love for your work is unanimous and that is what counts. Amy, luv we are not telling lies. YOU ARE AWESOME!! -JJ

Littlewitch said...

We both know there are people out there that live to write nasty reviews and comments. You have the Rachel the Pyscho. LKH has the entire Flirt product forum. I'm not sure it's just for the sake of meanness though. They find an audience and suddenly someone pays attention to them whether it's by disagreeing or laughing at their "wit". Ultimately being nasty makes them feel as if they belong. How sad is that?

Anyhow. You know I love you. And if you forget I'll be happy to croon another chorus of Silver and Gold to remind you. When do I get the next chapter again????

Hats. With Ears said...

This is all very true. you're never going to hear all the nice things people think about you/your work, but for some reason, people will be very open about any negative things they think.

Jessica Freely said...

Spot on, Laura. Thanks for this.

BTW, I found your post through Tamela Quijas link on Twitter. So glad I followed it, and great to meet you.

Helena Stone said...

Great post and immaculate timing. With my first novel out on (as yet) limited release I probably needed to read all of that. In fact, I should probably print it out, frame it and hang it where I will see it every time I look at the reviews for my book. So far it's been all good but it is very early days (heck, the book isn't even on general release yet) so that's bound to change in the not too distant future. Let's hope I have a relatively firm grip on my common sense when the less than positive reviews come in. :)

Nancy Fulton said...

Don't let the bastards get you down. They probably has disgusting personal habits and are not allowed out in public.