Please welcome Rebecca Neely! Beckie’s excellent article on dealing with the emotion –often difficult–following a bad review is invaluable to not only new and debut authors but seasoned authors as well.
Beckie, thanks for sharing!
How to Get Over a Bad Book Review: Nine DOs and DON’Ts for Authors
It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new author, an old hand, or somewhere in between, you’re going to get bad reviews, and sometimes, despite your best ‘rising above it’ efforts, they’re going to get you down in a big, bad way.
And that’s okay. Nobody said being an author was easy. Acknowledging that is half the battle. The other is practicing mindful self care by way of some do’s and don’ts, straight from the trenches.
As a freelancer for twenty years, as well as an author for the last five, I’m not a newbie, but far from an old hand. I recently received a bad review and it had me running for cover, retreating like a turtle in its shell. Here’s how I got out of my funk.
A punch to the gut!
I saw ‘it’ first thing that morning before I’d even had my coffee. A lukewarm review of my book right next to another author’s glowing review — in an industry publication, no less. Not only did she receive the highest rating that could be had (which she absolutely deserved because she’s awesome), our books were in the same genre, and we were from the same publishing house.
Talk about in my face compare and despair. That’s not normally how I roll — in fact I reject that kind of negative thinking— but that day, it seemed inescapable, like all the stars were aligning to rub it in my face. My feelings were a mash up of misery. I was defensive, angry, humiliated, embarrassed, jealous, and sad. I actually felt sick, almost like I’d taken a punch to the gut.
My editor to the rescue
Ugh. As a freelancer, I’d developed what I thought of as a thick skin and have learned to distance myself from my writing when necessary. The client gets what the client wants. That attitude of taking things in stride, of not taking things personally, has helped me time and again as a freelancer, and enormously as an author. And most of the time I do a pretty good job at ‘distance.’
Not this time. I stewed over the review for a day. Cried. Pouted. Felt like crap. Here I was, thinking I was an experienced writer and that I was immune to such things. But it really hit me where I live. Even had me questioning my ability, and I’m ashamed to say, wondering if I should quit.
Looking back, I think it might have been a combination of things, all coming down on me at once. There had been a lot of changes happening at my day job, my book hadn’t been selling as well as I’d liked, I was in between stories and felt adrift. All of those things, along with that bad review, conspired to deliver a one-two punch when I was at my most vulnerable.
Clearly, an intervention was in order. I reached out to my editor a day later. She let me complain, offered support like only a fellow writer can, and listened. She asked me to send her the review so she could read it. Then she told me to pick out the best parts of it — turns out there actually were some — and she would include it in the monthly newsletter. I am deeply grateful for her, and how she helped me turn that big negative into a positive.
And, she offered this pearl of wisdom — if all the reviews for a book are great, it can come off as fake hype. In other words, sometimes a negative review can actually help balance the scales, if you will. Who’d thunk it?
Nine DOs and DON’Ts
Do — Let yourself feel bad, guilt free. Unfortunately, this is sometimes easier said than done. Psychologist and author Guy Winch says, “The greatest damage rejection causes is usually self-inflicted. Just when our self-esteem is hurting most, we go and damage it even further.” In other words, we become our own worst critic. Kick ourselves when we’re down. Remember that you did your best, you gave it your all, and a bad review is one blip on the screen of your writing career — not its sum total.
Don’t — Suffer in silence. Reach out to your fellow writers. I find other writers get you in a way non-writers don’t. They’ve been where you are. They’ll commiserate. So, go ahead, whine, complain, cry — do whatever you need to do to purge yourself of that negativity. Then let it go.
Do — Remind yourself this is a tough business and that it’s okay to feel bad every once in a while. You’re human and it’s normal to feel emotional about a project in which you’ve invested so much of yourself and your time.
Do — Remember a bad review is one person’s opinion. The end.
Do — Remember there are scores of famous authors who were rejected repeatedly. They’ve been where you are. Walked a mile in your moccasins.
Do — Read and reread the good reviews you’ve received. Remind yourself of the people you’ve inspired, entertained, and delighted with your work. I once had a reviewer tell me she wasn’t a big fan of romance, and, trapped in an airport during an ice storm, read one of my books and was converted. Now, that’s what I consider high praise.
Don’t — Engage in any way with the reviewer and/or post anything about it at all on social media. It may be tempting to lash out when you’re in a dark place. Don’t. It will come back to haunt you. You’re a professional. Act like one.
Don’t — Make any split decisions, or any decisions at all, about your writing or your writing career. According to Winch, studies show that rejection actually lowers our IQ temporarily, making thinking clearly a challenge.
Do — Get back to work.
Join the club — and keep writing
Keep writing. It’s advice I’ve given and received. Writers write. In spite of bad reviews. In spite of a hundred other obstacles, they keep writing.
Know your book isn’t for everyone. Can’t be. Shouldn’t be. No problem. You’re creating. You’re doing. Take pride in the fact you, and your words, are unique. And while you’re at it, foster an attitude of abundance. There’s enough, more than enough, for everyone.
And when you get another bad review — and trust me, you will — you’ll recognize that cavern of self pity and depression from a mile away and walk wide around it. Who knows? It might even give you a good laugh.
Either way, your bad review(s), a.k.a. war story, grants you admission into the seasoned authors club. I hear a lot of cool, brave, and creative people hang out there. Wear your badge with pride.
And keep writing.
This article originally appeared on Medium at:
Rebecca E. Neely is a freelancer, author, and voracious reader. She’s the mother of an almost adult and loves hearing the trains whistle as they chug through her small Western PA town. Her latest novel is The Betrayer, Book 3 in the Crossing Realms paranormal romance series.
Find Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaNeely1.