Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to handle it when someone gives you a bad review

It can be hard when someone gives you a bad review. It stings. It's like a slap to the face. Ordinarily, I don't mind them if someone gives me constructive criticism. Tell me what you did not like. What did not work? How can I improve the story? How can I improve as a writer and write better stories in the future? Don't just tell me "It sucked" or insult me and my level of skill. Give me advice. Help me. That's what a good critique should be. Give me something to work with.

As annoying as unhelpful criticism can be on the flip side it can be equally annoying when someone tells me "It's good" or "I liked it" and doesn't go into any further detail. What did you like? What worked? What did not work? What was your favorite bit? I also hate it when I get critiques that are too glowing, people who gush "Oh my goood you are the most talented writer ever!" That's great you think so! Thanks! But surely there was something I could improve. No one is perfect. Tell me what you didn't like!

In summary, a good critique lists both good and bad points, has constructive criticism, a little praise and does not include personal bias or insults. Some writers don't know how to handle raw honest opinions. I've seen more than one writer on the internet embarrass themselves by throwing a tantrum after someone gave their book a review that wasn't that harsh just honest about some flaws in their writing and was nice enough to contain some really good constructive criticism!

There was this one woman who self published her book and it got reviewed on a blog. The reviewer gave it three stars and said it had some issues but was otherwise not bad. The woman responded in the comments really aggressively and accused him of reviewing an unedited version of the manuscript (which he denied) and the whole thing snowballed from there. The whole thing went viral and other people started commenting on the blog. The number of comments swelled to a couple of thousand and soon the woman was being mocked all over the internet for her unprofessional attitude.

I've even seen some famous writers throw tantrums online after someone gave their book a less than glowing review. Writers being unable to accept bad reviews has gotten so bad in some circumstances there have been some who have gone on crusades against their reviewers and done "revenge reviews" on their books to "get back" at them for daring to call their own works anything less than a masterpiece.

If you want to succeed at anything in life you need to be able to accept criticism even when you disagree with everything the person is saying and think they're a total douchecanoe. Even if someone tells you right to your face "You have no talent and I would not wipe my ass with pages from your book!" you need to force a smile, nod, tell them "Thank you for taking the time to read my book" and then you go home and bitch about the whole thing in private to your best friend over the phone while eating ice cream straight out of a tub.

But it can be so hard to do that sometimes. I got an irritatingly bad review this week and it frustrated the hell out of me because I got marked down not for something that was wrong with my story but for my choice of genre. I disagreed with everything this person had to say about my work and I was all ready to bang out an email to politely debate each of her points with her but then I stopped myself.

I thought "No. It's not worth it. She won't change her mind. I still passed. I should be grateful for that I suppose. I don't agree with her comments but she is entitled to them."

I deleted the email and spent the rest of the day pacing the house irritated instead. I'm glad I did not make an ass out of myself over the whole thing. I think I did the right thing not emailing her. I don't agree with a word that she said and her comments were a little hurtful, but she is entitled to them.

I've been thinking about the whole thing a lot. I think after the initial hurt of bad reviews wears off they can actually be a source of inspiration for writers. I got a really hurtful comment about my writing back in high school from some random kid online and it stayed with me for years. It haunted me. I was angry for a long time over what that kid said to me but eventually I decided I was going to set out to prove her wrong about my ability to write. I got back into writing with even more determination than before.

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