In due course, every book that sells more than a handful of copies receives a bad review. Hell, they usually receive quite a few, regardless of how good you might think it is. I can’t think of one that hasn’t. And for the author, this can be painful to deal with, particularly in the beginning.
I remember the first bad review I read about The Godling Chronicles. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I didn’t want to speak to anyone for two days. How could this have happened? Why were they not entertained by my work? And the mean things they said were just…well…mean. What had I done to deserve that? After all, I’m a nice guy. And I worked so hard! Besides, everyone else liked it. Or at least, they said they did. Were they lying to make me feel good? The possibility actually entered my mind…more than once.
It wasn’t until I peeled myself off the couch and dared to click on the Amazon site that I began to feel better. Afraid to look at my own book, lest there be more hurtful criticisms, I found myself looking at the Fellowship of the Ring page. It was then I noticed that it had quite a few one-star reviews. After reading a dozen or so, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. If a literary mind such as Tolkien can be raked over the coals, who am I to think I won’t ever be? I still was a bit irritated, but I was able to move forward. In time, they bothered me less and less, until I learned to put them into the proper perspective.
Obviously, not all books will appeal to all readers. I mean, duh! And two plus two is four. But it’s easier to know this intellectually than to experience it. As writers, we pour ourselves into our work. We use every ounce of skill and talent at our disposal to create something worthy of praise. This leaves us extremely vulnerable and exposed. I’ve shown the world my best, or at least the best I had at the time. I then asked the reader to judge my abilities. And believe me, they do. Occasionally in a…spirited way. But that’s what I signed up for. So I grew thicker skin and gained a better perspective on my own strengths and shortcomings. Not all negative reviews are useful, but many are. They can help in ways you might not realize at first.
Through my reviews – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I have refined my approach and honed my skills. I have learned who my audience is and what they expect from me. Through the readers, I have found my place in the literary world. I know where I fit in. I know how good I am and how good I am not. I have learned to play to my strengths and work through my weaknesses.
In the end, it boils down to the fact that when you write a book and do anything other than shove it in a drawer, you are opening yourself up to criticism. And though there are reviews that are genuinely mean-spirited, most are accurate. If a reader says that your character is flat, it is--at least, from their point of view. Arguing about it is pointless. You will never convince someone they are wrong about your book. For good reason. If they didn’t enjoy it, they didn’t enjoy it. You can’t talk them into remembering that they liked it when they didn’t. This is why it is NEVER a good idea to respond to a review. Nine times out of ten you come off as a defensive china doll who can’t handle criticism. You cannot win these battles, so don’t fight them.