Writing Tips: Next Time You Get a Bad Review, Come Out From Under the Covers and READ IT

I've read several blogs over the past week (which I won't mention, partially to avoid sounding attacking and partially because my memory isn't that good) about ignoring bad reviews. You know the kind they're talking about. The "This author is stupid and her book sucks" reviews. The "No one should write about fairies because they're dumb" reviews. Things that cut to the core because at the end of the day, they're not about your writing, your plot formulation, your skill. They’re about someone’s subjective opinion. So ignore them. Run away. Count them as any-publicity-is-good-publicity and move on. Right?

Well . . . maybe not. Before you go and click X on that negative review, look a little further. Because let’s face it—just because they hate your book doesn’t mean they hate you. Yes, maybe they’re just a bitter fourteen-year-old with a tablet and they’re bashing on you mercilessly. But maybe, just maybe some of them have a very good reason for hating your book. It’s valid to say that vampires are overdone and you didn’t do anything new or interesting with them. It’s valid to say that your writing still is too flowery, too sparse, too derivative of Palahniuk, Rowling, or Tolkien. It’s valid to say that your characters are flat and difficult to connect with.

Sure, just because they think so doesn’t mean everyone will. It doesn’t mean that your book won’t sell. But as an author, it’s your responsibility to write something fresh, interesting, and above all, the best you can possibly write. You just aren’t going to get there by blinding yourself to the negativity and saying, “But so-and-so loved it, so it’s fine.” Instead of getting defensive, get tough. Let yourself indulge in a little authorly temper tantrum catharsis (eat a pint of Cherry Garcia, watch Gilmore Girls, whatever works) and then move on. Ignore the abrasive tone of some of those bad reviews and peek a little further to see if they actually have a good reason for hating your book. (Some of them won’t. In that case, ignore away!) And the well-written negative reviews? Even better.

Think of them as free beta readers. Unlike your friends and family, they’re not going to lie to you just to spare your feelings—which means they’re going to say the things you need to hear, even if you don’t want to. You may be a decent writer doing what you’ve always done, but you’ll never be a great writer unless you’re willing to slash your own writing as hard as they do. In the end, you’ll get a few bruises, but you’ll also be able to look at the flaws in your writing and find ways to improve them. Maybe you don’t agree with all the flaws they see, and that’s fine. But it never hurts to look at a new perspective, even if you have to stock up on band-aids and ice cream.

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