[Blog Post Inspired by This Little Trainwreck. Go, read, try and take your eyes off it…]
So, you’ve finally succeeded; made your lifelong dream of getting published a reality, whether via one of the traditional “Big Six” publishers, a reputable small press, an e-pub, or even by self-publishing. Your book is available for sale, and people are buying. They’re reading. They’re reviewing. Everything’s all sunshine and roses because of course they’ll all recognize your literary genius and praise your book to the four corners of the world. They’ll all love it. Right? Right???
Oh, grasshopper, if only that were true. If only everyone would love your book and sing its praises high and low. But in publishing, as in every other arena of life, opinions are like…well, you know. Everyone has one, and no two people share the exact same reaction to anything. Which, when you really sit and ponder, is actually a good thing. The fact that different people react to different books in widely-varying manners means we get greater variety in our reading pleasures. Otherwise only one type of book—the one that “everyone” loves—would ever be published. Reality tells us that’s far from the truth. One person’s urban fantasy trash is another person’s urban fantasy treasure. (Thank all the gods and goddesses, as my main character would say, since urban fantasy is our first love these days and what puts the butter on our bread.) Where one person sees sheer genius in the latest work of literary fiction, another sees a meandering story that, for them, never quite takes off.
And that’s the key phrase there: for them.
As a published author, it is imperative to learn how to react to negative book reviews. Some authors learn that they’ll never respond well; in fact, they become paralyzed by the perceived negativity and find they can’t work on other books because all they can focus on is the sense that they suck and nobody will ever read anything I write and ohgodohgodthey’llallseeI’mafraud! Feeling like that is actually fairly routine, and only natural for something you’ve invested so much time, energy, and love into. But just like not everyone is going to love your hypothetical biological children, not everyone is going to love your hypothetical literary children. This lack of love doesn’t always have anything to do with objective worth or talent, either. Most of the time it’s just plain subjective. I love urban fantasy, science fiction romance, epic fantasy, historical romance, and romantic suspense (just to name a few). Other people hate fantasy, science fiction, and romance of any and all stripes. Who’s right and who’s wrong? All of us. None of us. Taste is utterly subjective. And that is okay.
It is okay for one person to love your book, and another person to hate it. It’s absolutely okay for both types of reader to share their opinions, whether in person with friends or online with strangers. Even if they do it on the Amazon listing for your book and now, oh noez, everyone’s going to SEE IT! Guess what: you signed up for that when you signed on your publisher’s dotted line (or uploaded your file to Kindle/Nook/whatever e-platform you used). You published your book; you offered it up for public consumption. Consume it they now will; react to it they now will; you have absolutely no control over any of that. But you can and should control how you react.
So what if XYZ Reviewer just wasn’t that into you…r book? He thought enough about the book or premise or your publisher to read the book; cared enough to formulate his thoughts and share them with other readers. And there’s the big picture you should keep in mind. He shared those thoughts with other readers. Some of them may find their reading tastes coincide with that reviewer’s and so they decide to avoid your book. Whereas others will know that this reviewer’s tastes don’t match up with theirs and so they add your book to their wishlist immediately. They love your book so much, they share their thoughts with other readers and, before you know it, word spreads like wildfire; both bad and good and in between. Word of mouth can do for books what all the online promoting you’ve done on your own can’t: get people reading your book and talking about it and spreading that appreciation onward. Unless, of course, you become that psychotic person who just can’t take no for an answer.
We’ve seen writers like that from both the traditional publishing world and self-publishing world. The one who can see absolutely no wrong in his or her golden words and believes everyone else is just out to get ‘em. They not only respond to the reviews, they tell people in no uncertain terms to “fu#k off” and enumerate the 101 reasons why XYZ Reviewer is wrong/jealous/impotent/justouttoget’em. And they make themselves look b@tshit insane in the process. Stop, right now. Just stop and don’t do this. Ever. Nothing good ever comes of this.
Read your reviews, if you must. Rant about XYZ Reviewer to your family and real-life friends. Vent to trusted online friends in private messages that the world at large can’t see. And then, in public, either say nothing at all or, if you must, say something along the lines of, “Thank you. Thank you for caring enough about the written word to read mine, and taking the time to respond. While I realize I can’t please all readers, I always strive to do the very best job I can and will keep your words in mind.”
Take what works from the reviews and use it to improve. Or not. Because, in my opinion, what’s the absolute best thing about opinions being subjective is that, bottom line, nobody else can say what is best for my work but me. Their reactions and opinions are equally valid—for them—but that doesn’t take away from my own thoughts and writing. What doesn’t work for them does work for the many other reviewers out there who loved my last book, and, most importantly, works for me. While he may not be that into my book at all, other readers are. And really, they’re the ones I’m writing for.
But I will always be grateful for the reviewer who took the time to read and talk about my book, even if he just didn’t “get into it”. Word of mouth spreads like wildfire; just like how you react to what people are saying does. And I’d far rather be known as a class act who respects all readers than a trainwreck waiting to happen.