One of the downsides to being a creative person is that you can picture all the things that might go wrong in vivid, excruciating detail. Though I tried to brace myself for negative reviews in a prepare-for-the-worst kind of way, I felt nauseous just thinking about them. My work—my baby!—would soon be out in the world. No matter how much I told myself to be cool, or ignore online reviews, I knew I couldn’t resist checking them out. (You know all those celebrities who claim they never read their reviews? Come on! Who are they kidding?)
Would this be me every time I lurked on Amazon?
Just as I’d expected, the first one-star review hurt. The second one did, too. But guess what? It turns out the best way to get over bad reviews is to read enough of them that your sensitive, delicate writerly soul eventually gets over it. A scab forms over the wound, leaving you more resilient. Tougher. (It definitely helps if those bad reviews are sprinkled among good reviews, which you are allowed to re-read endlessly and quote to your mom and use as a pick-me-up when you’re having a bad day.) In my case, once I got past the hurt-feelings stage, I realized that a number of reviewers were pointing out the same weakness in my writing, and it’s something I’ve been alert to in my next book.
So thank you, haters. Really!
The other thing that helped me get over my dread of bad reviews was, ironically enough, a book that seemed to get nothing but rave reviews. The Goldfinch won the most recent Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and its author, Donna Tartt, wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Secret History. I was thrilled when my book club chose to read it, and I settled down with all 600 pages expecting a full-on literary love affair.
But the romance quickly fizzled. The Goldfish isn’t a bad book; parts were funny and touching and thought-provoking. It just left me feeling… meh. And as I posted my three-star review on GoodReads, I couldn’t help feeling guilty and insecure. Was I missing something? Was I revealing my complete lack of taste? No, I realized eventually, I just didn’t love it. And if an amazing writer like Donna Tartt can get that kind of reaction from me, then it’s perfectly natural that my own book would provoke a similar “bleh” from other readers.
Certain books become bestsellers because they hit a nerve with lots of people, but there is no such thing as a “great” book that everyone agrees on. (The Goldfinch, it turns out, is more controversial than I realized. ) My book just won’t work for some people. Not their fault, not my fault. Not every casual meeting turns into a friendship, let alone a love connection. Books work the same way.
It’s amazing how much more chill I’ve become about reviews in just a few months. Sure, it’s discouraging when someone trashes my book, and I know those words will show up in Google’s search results forever. But believe it or not, I don’t dwell on it. I’ve moved on to a more pressing task: the Author Milestone of stressing out about my next book.