Okay, world, I am poking my head out of The Cave of I Don't Blog for this entry. It's rare for me to find a topic I'm willing to blog about, but this is the culmination of several conversations I've had with fellow writers lately, both published and aspiring, and one particular string of emails with a fabulous YA author who shall remain nameless.
So, here it comes. Are you ready? I am going to tell you what I think about negative reviews. Keep in mind this is just MY perspective and individual results may vary, so consult your physician if you experience rage-induced rashes or buckets of tears upon reading your own reviews. A slight unwillingness to remove the bedcovers from your face is normal unless it persists for more than four hours.
If you are published, chances are that you will get a negative review. There are different types of negative reviews, ranging from the milder "This wasn't for me" to the heavyweights, which include, but are not limited to, "How the ampersand-exclamation-pound-asterisk did this get published?" "I would recommend this book to people in need of a doorstop" and "I have no proof but suspect this saccharine prose is responsible for the war in Iraq and the traffic jam on I-95."
If you have someone in your life like my mom, you'll get a reassuring phone call and, "Well, they'll be kicking themselves when they see how successful this book will be" or "They just don't get it." Thank you so much, Mom, I appreciate that, but I disagree. It isn't that positive reviewers understand your brilliance and negative reviewers don't. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion or, by association, a wrong review. The simple fact is that you wrote a book, and some people will hate it as much as other people love it. And both sides are entitled to their feelings.
Here is what your book is not: A thing that will universally enjoyed by all. You know this. You have read books you didn't like, books you hated, books at which you have perhaps yelled aloud while reading (sorry, sleeping cat, but WHY DID SHE OPEN THE DOOR WHEN SHE KNEW THERE WERE ZOMBIES!? GAHHH!) You've had opinions, and sometimes you were left breathless and astonished, but other times you were angry, dissatisfied, or just indifferent. The book you have written will be no exception.
Here is what your book is: Your book is a story, and that story is being put out into the world. It will be tossed in people's backseats, and will have soda spilled on it, and be on coffee tables and stuffed in backpacks until the cover gets bent, and it will be read, and loved, and hated. It'll be in hundreds of places, and there will be hundreds of opinions on it, and that's pretty cool. How many people get the opportunity to say they created something that could do that?
In my opinion, all reviews (and yes, I do mean ALL reviews) are an accomplishment. They are a ripple caused by something you labored over—something you and your publishing team worked hard to set off into the world. To become a published author, you've probably failed a few times (me, I wrote three novels the world will never see, and had over 140 agent rejections to show for them).
But now that you've succeeded and taken your first step on that sparkling road of published books and fairies and gumdrop trees, you should be proud of yourself. When you get an especially painful review, take a deep breath, look at what you've done. Look at that Shiny Awesome Thing that you bought with your advance; remember how it felt to tell your loved ones. And then, maybe, think back to a book you had negative feelings about. Then think back to a book that sent warmth through your blood and stayed with you for days after you'd finished.
And then, remember that you've written something with that same kind of power.
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