Rising above the Painful Review…

ink pen_wikipedia_org“Criticism is a surreal state, like a good drug gone bad. When it’s bad you wish it would stop, and when it’s good, you can’t get enough.” Gale Harold, Queer As Folk, The Secret Circle

One of my fellow authors, Zahra Owens, has this quote as a signature line on her email. I love it. I think it sums up very accurately the love-hate relationship that we as creators have with that part of the creative process that calls for us to release our babies into the world and hope, on some level, that they are not loved or bullied on their way to school.

1_thoreau_quotes_on_confidenceBut the truth is, when we put something out there, we put a little piece of ourselves out there as well, and we invite commentary, good or bad.

In recent years, the accessibility of both the reader/consumer and the author/creator has become a busy two way street. Growing up as an avid reader myself, I have a huge number of favorite books, but it never occurred to me until the last year or so to go leave reviews on these stories. In part, because many of them are old favorites, that have such huge followings they hardly need someone like me gushing about how much I love this work. In part because writing a good (in the sense of thoughtful, eloquent, and useful) review is hard work, and frankly, as a writer myself, my time is best spent writing my next story. I don’t think I’m a very good reviewer, and I’m probably going to do less of it in the future. I’ll confess, a big part of why I’m reluctant to do more reviewing is because of the time it takes to express a critical review in a manner that won’t utterly destroy the author. And that’s important to me. It’s important that even in my criticism of someone’s work that I try to cushion the blow, to word my statement in such a way that I’m not laying waste to some writer’s soul.

handwriting_flickrBack in my fanfiction days, it was understood that commenting and feedback were the currency of fandom. Someone produces a story out of love–if you loved it too, you let them know. If you didn’t love it, you hit the back button and moved on to the next story. Oh sure, there could be flame wars on Live Journal and such, but for the most part, if you posted a story, you could almost guarantee within hours those first, glorious feedback comments would come rolling in. Just like the quotation above says, ‘like a good drug gone bad.’ When the feedback is good, you can’t get enough.

female hands_rings_typing_fotopediaNow we move into the world of original fiction. To start off with, positive feedback is no longer the currency. People buy your stories with real money. This, rightly so, makes them feel entitled to be more critical from the get-go. They also aren’t as invested in your characters as you are. That’s part of your job–to make your readers as invested in your characters as you are. The reader isn’t part of your special circle of friends, either, who all share an abiding love for the universe you’ve created. Feedback in fandom is like having a bunch of friends drop over for tea, and spending a lovely afternoon in front of the fire while they tell you how much they enjoyed your story.

When you post a fanfic story, by the next morning, you may have over fifty wonderful comments on it. Such feedback is rare in original publishing. As such, it makes the negative or lukewarm review weigh more on the author’s mind. If you only get fifteen reader comments/reviews on a story that you’ve worked on for months, are you going to remember all the glowing five-star comments? No, chances are, you’ll only remember the negative one. Okay, chances are if you received fifty glowing comments, you’d STILL only remember the negative one. 😉

A lot of my fellow authors have been talking about this in various places the past few days. Like someone shopping a dinosaur story to Hollywood studio, the next thing you know, everyone is talking about dinosaurs. 🙂 My friend and fellow author, Aundrea Singer, referred to “The Little Haters“, the feedback loop in your head that makes you believe you’re not good enough for whatever it is that you’re attempting to create. In order for us as creative people to continue to produce our passion, our joy, we must learn to ignore The Little Haters.

I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can say what I’ve learned myself over the years. First, no matter what you create, there is always going to be someone who hates it. Who doesn’t get it. Who is left feeling indifferent by it. Sure, your initial reaction to a negative review might be to comment on it–almost every newbie author out there makes that mistake at least once. Don’t. Don’t engage. Because that review isn’t really about you or your story. Nope. Unlike the friend dropping in for tea, this reader-reviewer, with whom you have no relationship, is much more like a graffiti artist rather than someone you’d have in for tea. Sure, graffiti can be a beautiful statement or a defacement of public property–it depends on your point of view. The graffiti artist spray-painting on the wall of one of the buildings in your neighborhood is making a statement, but they aren’t necessarily inviting you to contribute to the conversation. The artist draws the graffiti for them–not you.

It is unfortunate that many of the sales algorithms now are tied into reader-reviewers. If you aren’t getting them, your book might not get noticed amid the thousands of other titles that are released every day. This, I think, has given rise to the Simon Cowell type of reviewer–someone who relishes being snarky because this has given them followers of their own. It’s a shame that many people will let the opinion of one such reviewer keep them from forming their own opinion on a story for themselves, but face it, you weren’t likely to reach those readers anyway.

We're Breaking the Law_wikimedia_commonsWhat matters here is that it is still graffiti on a wall. Not aimed at you specifically unless you choose to take it that way. I’ve had to learn to ignore graffiti. It is the ‘good drug gone bad’ that you wish would stop.

There is only one thing to remember about graffiti artists. You can’t let them fuel your Little Haters. Like feeding the Mogwai after midnight, this is a Bad Thing.

I’ve wanted to ride horses my entire life. It was the only thing I wanted to do as a teenager. Unable to afford a horse of my own, I caught rides where I could. I rode horses no one else would ride. The ones that bucked, and kicked, and bit. The ones that needed to get the freshness worked out of them before they were safe enough for the school kids to ride. I mucked stalls in trade for lessons, rode my bicycle miles to the barn every day after school. When I went to college, I set about finding another barn where I could take lessons. I found an instructor and begged her to teach me. The day of the scheduled lesson, I was ill and asked to reschedule, but she wouldn’t let me. I think she just wanted to get the obligation over with. So I rode, nauseated and barely able to sit upright in the saddle. Afterward, this instructor tore me to shreds. She said I had no business being on a horse and that I should never bother getting on one again.

DevonFor a year, I let her words affect me. I stopped riding. I stopped looking for rides. And then slowly, I began haunting barns again, until I found one person who would let me work with her horses–young green-broke animals that needed patient and consistent work by someone who was ignorantly fearless. (Oh, to be that young and brave again!)

Through the twenty years that I’ve ridden with my friend and trainer, I ended up with my own horses, eventually competing at local and recognized events. I often think about the motivation of that one trainer who felt she needed to destroy me. I suspect she didn’t want to take me on as a student, but worse, she didn’t want anyone else to take me on as a student either. That’s wrong, and unfair, and mean, but that’s the way some people just happen to be.

So when you get that review that stabs you deep in the heart and makes you question why you even bother doing this. remember. A real rider gets back on the horse that bucked her off. Again. And Again.

Don’t let the Little Haters win.

Merissa McCain is still hosting Paranormal Month on her blog until the end of October. The most recent guests are: Shelley Munro, Lisa Chalmers, D.C. Dane, Holley Trent, and Lindsay Loucks. Whew! I’m really behind here on sharing these links! Do me a favor and check out these paranormal romance authors. I’ve really fallen down on my part for promoting and participating in this event, so if you could drop in and check them out for me, it would be a big help–thanks!



8 thoughts on “Rising above the Painful Review…

  1. I can’t imagine how fraught reviews/comments are for pro writers! It’s not ‘just’ that readers are commenting on the work of your brain & heart that you poured from yourself over endless hours. They’re also a measure of how much readers like you, both as an author & somewhat as a person too (because to some extent, if readers don’t like something as personal & intimate as your work, they don’t like all the parts of you it draws from & reflects). On a purely commercial level, as you pointed out, reviews & comments can influence sales & how prominently your work is featured & even whether or not it’s promoted in some situations. Marketing, promotion, approval, popularity, creativity–it seems to me that everyone must be subject to emotions about one or more of these!

    Or at least, every normal person. I suspect that the rare authors who claim, truthfully, that reviews & accolades mean nothing to them are like artists who exist only to do art or musicians who only care about music. These people use & manipulate anyone else in pursuit of their Muse, & are so single-minded & focused that they seem sociopathic or megalomaniacal. William Faulkner said of writers: “Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.” But not all writers or artists or creators-of-the-new are like that; they certainly don’t have to be. It’s just easier in some ways.

    • I do know some writers that are fortunate enough to be able to produce stories solely out of love. I envy them that sort of freedom because I remember what it was like writing fanfiction when it was from the heart–there was such a delicious sense of going with whatever floated your boat because there was no worry about failure or success.

      Now that writing is also about paying the bills, some of that simple joie de vivre has gone, but there is a great sense of accomplishment that takes its place. I do wish sometimes, however, that I didn’t have to treat this like a second job. That I could write and publish stories without promotion or concern for financial success. Maybe that’s the key, though. To write for the sheer fun of it and let the chips fall where they may. 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Rising above the Painful Review…My Profile

  2. So funny, I am working on a similar post right now! There really has been a lot of review-talk lately.

    You’ve raised some great points here. I will try my best to ignore those “little haters” in my mind as much as possible 🙂

    • It’s the Hive Mind thing–when enough people start talking about dinosaurs (or giraffes, for that matter) then everyone starts talking about them! 🙂 There’s been a lot of discussion lately on all my groups, and all I could think about was how I handle the different kinds of feedback. I forgot to mention that as an original author, I do still get the ‘drop in for a spot of tea’ feedback/reviews too–but they come in the form of private emails. 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Rising above the Painful Review…My Profile

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