You’ve agonised over plot, characters and dialogue, driving your household or friends crazy as you divert conversations away from them and back to your book: your wonderful debut novel which you are sure is going to reach great heights. Dreams of Hollywood fill your star-gazing moments.
Your family indulges you, oohing and ahhing over your opening paragraph, then express amazement when you tell them you’ve written 80,000 words. ‘But it’s so hard to get a publisher these days,’ they say with a smirk and a wave of insecurity hits you. A year’s work or more could be all for nothing. ‘Well, I can self-publish,’ you hit back. Millionaires are made on the back of a 99 cent erotic thriller.’
Whichever way you go with your book, traditional, independent or self-publishing you will have to face the day when that great creation you’ve given a painful birth to, nurtured and had to let go to find its own place in the wider world. That is unless you are happy to simply store it under the bed for secret readings in the early hours.
Who knows, it might be discovered when the kids are clearing out the house and it wins a cheeky posthumous award and they fight over the resulting royalties.
Most debut authors fear negative reviews. It’s like starting your first job and being shredded during an appraisal. Self-doubt creeps in, fragile egos get massacred and recently printed pages of that second novel get tossed in the air.
When The Cruelty of Lambs hit the marketplace last week, there’s no denying I was nervous. I’ve been in a creative business long enough to know that not everybody likes or wants your product. As writers we have to accept that. Reviews are like a one way missile. Sensible authors don’t retaliate or demand from the reviewer a blow by blow account of why they didn’t like it.
Reviewers not only provide a valuable service to potential readers but also to authors. I appreciate the time a reviewer has taken to read my novel and the careful crafting of their response to it. If there is something in there I can use for future books then even better. A criticism might sting for a minute or two but it won’t throw me into despair or an emotional breakdown. Quite the reverse. As Hillary Clinton said recently, Anger isn’t a plan.
A plan should be to keep improving and polishing your craft, learning from more experienced authors and write, write, write. It’s tough. It’s a marathon not a sprint and no matter how much work you put into it, it’s guaranteed that a percentage of the reading public might not like it.
So, what should you do if you get a bad review?
In a word, nothing. It’s still a review. Focus on the positive ones. Definitely don’t rush to a social media site to complain! Remember why you write. Many of us are driven to put fingertips to keyboard.
Those words are busting to come out. Make sure they are not loaded with poisoned arrows at reviewers who have been kind enough to give up a few hours of their day to focus on your work. It’s not personal even if it feels like it.