Let’s face it: bad reviews sting. We work hard to hone our craft; we spend a year or more writing, polishing, publishing our book. Then we log on to Goodreads, a book blog, a retailer site, and find a scathing 1- or 2-star review, the gloating reviewer deeming our baby “boring,” “dreadful,” “the worst book ever,” and we want to curl up and die. Or don our invisibility cape. If you’re like me, quitting crosses your mind.
Worse, we come to, and—the most self-defeating of writerly inclinations—decide to pen a response. Why not argue, flaunt our prowess, revel in her stupidity? Because even if we’re right, and I’m not suggesting we are, fighting makes us look boorish. As a good friend—the head of a large online book club once told me—the Internet is a small world. If you want your name to be mud throughout the cyber-verse, go to it.
The better response is to take five, let the hurt sink in, and then cast it aside. I’ve heard people, other writers even, say we need to “grow a thicker skin.” I might take heed if they’d ever walked in our shoes. They don’t understand the feeling, like a punch to the gut. No, we don’t have to “grow a thicker skin.” It’s fine to feel bad. But we do have to move on. Here are 7 strategies to help you brush off and get back on your game.
Indulge. Like a virus, a lousy review sickens the psyche. Doctor yourself. Treat yourself to a piece of rich dark chocolate or a glass of wine. If you prefer physical release, scream, cry, swear, punch a bag, go to the gym. Write that cathartic response. Give the reviewer a piece of your mind; tell her, in bold letters, what a moron she is—then hit DELETE. Don’t ever hit send.
Take an hour. When the time is up, however you feel, return to your work.
Rejection is subjective. Remind yourself that taste is subjective. The reviewer may prefer a style or genre that’s different from yours. That’s not to say that readers give positive reviews only to books in their favorite genre. Some of my best reviews have come from readers who note that In Leah’s Wake took them out of their comfort zone. It is, however, a possibility.
We each bring our own beliefs, tastes and assumptions to books we read. Unless I bother to analyze my response, I may not even realize why a book strikes me in a certain way. The average reader-reviewer may not either.
The book received the rejection, not you. We pour heart and soul into our writing, so it’s hard to separate ourselves. Sure, a bad review feels personal; in most cases it’s not. Unless you’ve published a sloppy book, a poor review is not a reflection on you. Even if your work is less than stellar, you are not your book. Recognize that you as an individual are separate from the work you do.
Remind yourself that every book receives negative reviews. Anne Tyler’s stunning novel Breathing Lessons won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize. The Amazon rating for this critically acclaimed book? 3.3—lower than all but one book by Amanda Hocking. This is not to bash Amanda Hocking. I’m sure her books are great reads. The point is, even outstanding books garner negative reviews.
Keep a list of favorite authors and books. When a review devastates you, go to a review site and read their poor reviews. Guaranteed, you’ll feel better!
Maintain a supportive network. Nothing beats the loving words of a friend. Supportive friends can buoy our spirits and pull us out of the depths. Share your everyday life with a friend, a lover, a spouse. To soothe writing woes, we need other writers, people who’ve walked the walk, who understand the nuances of our world and can offer advice. When you’re down, talk with a trusted writer friend—and be sure to return the favor graciously and often.
Write, write, write. A friend offered this advice, and it’s among the best I’ve ever been given: always be at work on something new. Never rely on a single project, one book, to make or break you. Work on multiple projects. If you always have a new book in the works, a baby coming to life, you’ll have hope.
Reframe the rejection. Rather than focus on hurt feelings and negativity, consider a bad review a call to action. Use it to motivate yourself to be the best you can be. Consider all reviews honestly: Might there be a nugget of truth? What are your book’s strengths and weaknesses? What might you have done differently? What might you do differently next time? Don’t let bad reviews stop you in your tracks. Let them inspire you to reach for the stars!