Thursday, 1 May 2014

Handling Negative Reviews

I noticed a young author on Facebook the other day bemoaning her first 1* review.

She seemed upset. 

I don't know her, and have had no prior contact so I didn't intervene (though I wanted to, being a Sir Galahad sort of bloke), but I did want to say something encouraging.

Every creator gets slaughtered.

It happens. It's just one of those things.

Handling criticism is essential to being a creator. You MUST be able to roll with the punches, because it is going to happen a lot. Otherwise, you will not create - or worse, in Indie, you will not promote. Because you will lose your confidence.

What did Nietzsche say? That which doesn't kill us, will only make us stronger.

In a forthcoming post, I will discuss why people give bad reviews. Some people love it and also, I am sad to say, some people will enjoy giving YOU bad reviews. 

Good news. You are in excellent company.

Van Gogh sold the odd painting, but only to his rich brother. Most of the time, he was shunned and he died ill, insane and impoverished.

Morecambe and Wise were hauled off mid-show by a theatre owner scared of walkouts from a booing audience. 

As a young comedian top TV celebrity Michael McIntyre was bottled off stage countless times. Humiliated, rejected, and laughed AT, rather than with. 

In writing,  JK Rowling is idolised like a Goddess by her legions of young fans (and woe betide any critic who dares to have a pop at "our JK" nowadays),  but one publisher is alleged to have sacked the slush pile janitor who suggested he read (and publish) Harry Potter.

Musicians, singers, balladeers. 

Look at Gary Barlow. Dropped by his record company because they thought he was crap and not attractive enough to teenage girls. 

Would you believe The Beatles were pulled off once? The greatest pop group who ever lived. Ever. 

Insulted. Criticised. Laughed at.

It happens to the best of us.

My own book Carla has been purchased or downloaded about one thousand times. I have had seriously decent feedback - my friend Lelani Black puts it down as one of her favouite three books - but I have also taken a beating, mostly offline. 

My stepmum described it as the most depressing book she has ever read - and she is a voracious novel locust of Ancient Egyptian proportions.

My one time next-door neighbour bought it back after six pages and very rarely spoke to me again. 

Another friend pretended he had lost the paperback and when I said I would get him another, he said NO, NO, er, don't bother, I, erm, I am really busy at the minute. Etcetera etcetera. 

Others have said nothing and in true English fashion, in our future discussions, we have treated the experience of reading Carla like an elephant in the room, and carried on as if the act of me giving/loaning my novel had never happened.

But hey. S**t happens. They didn't like the book.

The world still turns. The sun still shines and it never rains in California.

The key is. 

Did YOU, the writer, like the book?

Was it the best you could do? Was it original? Did you enjoy writing it? Did you work hard on it? Did you redraft it? Were you ruthless with it? When the moment came to press the publish button, did you, hand and heart, look at yourself and go, well, I can't do any better than that.

If you did, then forget the one star reviews. They don't matter.

It used to be said that there are only two certainties in life. death and taxes. I would add to that aphorism, in the age of the internet, the existence of the Haters. 

And if you create, if you are a creator, someone is going to be a Hater of your work.

Deal with it.

Yes, I would rather the world line up along the pavement - particularly my family and friends - and throw garlands and roses as I walk past, but it isn't going to happen.

And besides, outside Indie, most writers detest each other and in earlier times, they were not slow to lay the boot in.

Brilliant writers criticising brilliant writers

I like this one.

Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway (1972)
“As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

I like this because I agree with it. If it wasn't for Matt Perkins, Hemingway would have been a pretty average writer at best, but I know full well that others disagree.

I would generally give a Hemingway novel 3* at best. Yet, I ran an interview with a bloke on the Wizard's Cauldron last year who thinks Hemingway is one step down from God. He'd give a Spinal Tap-style 6* every time.

It's an opinion.

If you want a decent read about the relationship between writers, borrow The Information by Martin Amis from your local library.

It's proper writing and really clever. Shrewd too. 

And one final thing. Are you ready for this? Are you up for this adult concept?

You can open your eyes now. Here it is...

I would rather have a 1* review than no review from a reader.

Seriously. I'm not going to labour that point, but believe me, its true. Because it is a number and it is the quantity of reviews which counts, not the quality, when it comes to selling books on Amazon.

So please. Buy one of my books and if you absolutely hate it, don't just throw it away, chop it up for toilet roll, give it to a charity shop, or bury it in the recycling, let rip with the 1* review. 

Carla, my fourth novel, across Amazon UK and Amazon US has 19 reviews, the vast majority 5*. You would think that would send my book into the realms of the blockbuster, but no. 

Sadly, I suspect, as a start up Indie, no-one believes I haven't pressganged my family, friends and relatives to write the reviews*. 

I seriously believe that, had the people who disliked Carla, for whatever reason, given me the 1* review treatment, I would have sold more books. 

So whenever you attract the attention of the haters, remember these truisms: All creators get the treatment, you are in good company, it's only natural, it is going to happen again, and best of all, it may sell you some more books.

HTH, Mark/Wiz

Stain'd "Wannabe"

Lelani Black's Legendary Cauldron Interview

*I haven't done so, incidentally. I don't pester people for reviews, (which will probably hamper my progress). If they don't review, well, that's up to them.


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  2. I love this piece! Apart from one thing - Michael McIntyre deserved to get bottled off the stage, he's a moron who performs moronic faux humour for people who laugh at the banal. End of!!! Seriously, though, very good. You need to stand back and think, um, so who says everyone's got to love everything I do?! If they say that a book needs a proofread, or has lots of grammatical errors, then learn from it - and take notice of all those advice blog posts you read! I've got a bad one that said I had too much backstory; I've been watching that, ever since. As for five star reviews propelling you to blockbusterdom - You Wish has 77, and more on Goodreads, yet it is currently at 95K in the UK chart!!!! Not much blockbustering going on there! And yes, of course, virtually all indie books have at least one review written by a family member or friend; simply because they are often the first people to read our books. You Wish was the first book I published, and I gave it to about 12 friends to read. Of the 8 who said they liked it, 6 wrote me a review on Amazon when I first put it on there - everyone has to get started! There's nothing wrong with that, in my view - a friend genuinely reading and liking your book has as much right to express their opinion as a complete stranger. Our main problem when it comes to making a success of the self-publishing thing is getting our books read; I bet there is barely one artiste alive whose first supporters were not friends! Having these reviews helps us give our work credibility so that the general public might think "I'll give that a go". Oh, and by the way - amongst all the 5* reviews for You Wish, I have one that says it's 'a complete load of rubbish". You CANNOT please everyone!

    1. Cheers for this, Terry. Typically forthright and full of good sense. I always assumed that having loads of reviews was the key to the mint, but I'm clearly misinformed. So true about family and friends of course. I don't think anyone would be where we are without them! Looking forward to your next piece. Mark

  3. Exellent points all around and, as always, a great sense of humor. I think I handled my first negative review faily well, but I did at least have the advantage of receiving an actual review and not just someone going on bash fest. Like you said, some people simply enjoy giving bad reviews (It's the only sunshine in their sad days).

    1. Toi, I am glad you got some of the jokes. :D Thank you for reading and supporting my two blogs. I handled my first online negative review by not reading it and hoping it would go away. One of the online reviews I have - relatively critical - is from a lady who won Carla in a FB party and I was DELIGHTED, even though it was obvious the lady isn't a fan. I would actually attend those parties more if people I sent the book out to as prizes reviewed - whatever their feelings. Oh well. Hope everything is going well and you are enjoying the superhero movies. We'll set The Hulk on the Haters. Mark

  4. Loved reading this so thanks for sharing. I had a couple of people in my family who reviewed my book early on but Amazon was on them in a flash and took down the reviews. It's been pretty slow progress for reviews to come in but up to 13 now and I'm waiting and (hopefully) prepared for the 1* to come in as it surely will. I think I have some sort of masochistic desire for people to say bad things - even if they've spoken to me about it and like it I can't help but ask 'yes but what didn't you like?' which they must think is odd but I want to know - I honestly do. It's my first novel, everything about it can't be great can it...stands to reason. Anyway thanks, this is a help towards me being prepared for the inevitable. Also I checked out Carla - 'a dark and harrowing romance' is right up my street as they say, loved the first paragraph so I've bought it and I think Carla and I will get on just fine - and I will review...

    1. Hiya Georgia, you are braver than me. I'm not one for feedback of any kind, actually. Too much praise makes me bashful and too much negativity makes me sad, so I tend to move on. I used to be a bid writer for a living and I was told to ring up to ask for feedback on our failed bids and I always disliked it. I do like your attitude and optimistic approach. I hope you enjoy Carla. I have read your spiel on your website and Amazon page, so I won't "spoil" :-) Hope you enjoy it and I am glad you enjoyed the blog post. Mark

    2. Hi Mark, have to say I never approach people for feedback, it's only if they say something to me. Like you praise is highly embarrassing (I blush dreadfully) and criticism stings and takes anyway any joy I had in the day. I recently 'came out' in my village as a writer which caused something of a kerfuffle but promised in my email circular that I would never ask anyone if they had read my book so that no one would have to feel they had to avoid me from that day on - see I'm really not that brave! Thanks Georgia

    3. Hiya Georgia, I love that recently came out as a writer sentence! hahahahahahaha. I have just started delivering a creative writing course at a local college and I would quite happily have avoided any mention of my work to the eleven students, but my friend and co-tutor brought out a copy of my latest book and that ruined that stealth mission. What did the villagers say to the news? I am just about to write another blog post on the subject of coming out as a writer! Mark

    4. It's not that funny! - Well okay I guess it is but like you I had been on a stealth mission throughout the writing of my first novel. Now? Well it's all gone a bit mad actually! You see I have lived here since 1987, I pretty much know everyone and they all thought they knew me. I live a steady, quiet existence working from home providing business services, book-keeping and the like to local businesses so my news came out of the blue. I sent out an email on our village circular list revealing my alter ego and was contacted by many gobsmacked friends and neighbours. Book sales have gone well although as I was also advertising a free promo many held out for that. My book is 'book of the month' at the local book group which I have been asked to go and talk to and am also going to the 'Women's Group' (and no I have no idea what they do there - I am not a joiner!) but I have drawn the line at being the speaker for the Cricket Club Dinner!! You see we are an easily excitable bunch in the countryside and I think they believe I am somehow successful - little do they know! Oh - this very morning I got waylaid on my trip to the village shop and was asked to sign a copy of my book for someone!! I'm still blushing... I'm the talk of the pub - though probably not for the first time - least said about that the better - which has probably been more awkward for both my kids who have part time jobs there and have to fend off the questions. But the biggest surprise has been the number of guys locally who are reading it - they weren't really my target audience, not that I think about such things, I just write what I want to write but I'd thought it would appeal to women more and I'm interested to see what they make of it...I think someone's told them there's some sex in it and the thought of me writing it probably appeals - something else they can wind me up about!! Georgia

    5. On the contrary, it is hilarious, as is the rest of your tale. It is well worth writing, about the unexpected writer in the midst of a quiet village. You seem like you have done pretty well too - local success is not to be sneezed at. I have always intended to market locally, but it's never happened, expecially as my place is pretty impersonal and hard to "crack" as it were. Have did you enjoy live reviews of your book at your Book group?

    6. Ah well I am yet to have the joy of that evening! I'm not sure of the timing as the book club were in the process of reading a WWII book - obviously very timely and then mine was to be next - and very different! - so they might well be reading it now - and possibly regretting leaping in with both feet and inviting me to their meeting! I did warn them it might not be high brow enough from them but they wouldn't be dissuaded so it could be an evening fraught with embarrassment on both sides - time will tell! I imagine it will be in June sometime - makes me feel a bit sick actually :-)

    7. I would love to hear what the book club had to say. Several of m acquaintances have been involved in book clubs, but I, being a lone wolf on the Midland's prairie, have never indulged. What happens? It sounds daunting...especially if you are there, like a tribunal. Let me know. And the very best of luck, Georgia! I am sure you will be fine....

  5. Very insightful article, Mark. Getting used to less than stellar reviews is one of the hardest aspects of being a writer, at least for me. One crap review can put me into a tailspin of self-doubt and self-loathing for two days. I don't even look at them half the time.

    But you're right...not everyone will love your book. Even the biggest names get lukewarm or poor reviews; it goes with the territory. I applaud you for taking the time to address this most touchy of issues. Us writers are a thin-skinned and oversensitive lot at the best of times, so this really put things in perspective.