Sunday, September 7, 2014

Author Milestones: The First Nasty Review

My novel While Beauty Slept was published in February, about 15 months after I’d signed the contract with a division of Penguin Books. That meant I had more than a year to anticipate all the important moments that would come with being a Real Published Author. Since I’ve always devoured other writers’ insider accounts of the writing life, I thought I’d use my next posts to give my own scoop on what I call Author Milestones. Those iconic experiences that you spend years imagining… only to find out that they’re never quite what you expected.

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.   

13 comments:

  1. Yay! You are inspiring. Thanks for this. And I don't feel so bad for being the only person who hasn't read Goldfinch yet.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a great observation. Kudos to you for learning something from those negative reviews. Although, I'm sure not all negative reviews will result in a learning opportunity. Some will just be from people who simply didn't connect, or not their type of story...and so forth. For you to understand this early on is awesome. Best of luck to you as you continue to grow as a writer. And now, I'm heading over to purchase WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT:-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That whooshing sound you hear is me bowing down in gratitude...thank you so much!

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I feel your pain. I've gotten a bad review already (and my book doesn't come out until the end of the month!). But my feeling is: we don't write for reviews. We write for other reasons. Unless we let negative reviews stop us from writing, they don't really affect us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make such a good point--and you're absolutely right. Here's hoping you'll have lots of good reviews to read after you book comes out!

      Delete
  5. Great post, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I loved your book and I wrote to tell you so through Goodreads. I also thought Goldfinch was meh. Keep smiling Elizabeth. You have many fans and I am one of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sheila! Good to know we're on the same page about The Goldfinch :-) (Although I'll still read anything Donna Tartt writes!)

      Delete
  7. Nice post! I've heard of authors getting one star if the cover was bent in shipping. So that's what I assume happened if I get a one star review. good healthy way of lying to myself. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. In this respect, I guess I've been lucky for all the years I was a film critic before I became an author—I'm used to people taking issue with what I write! Hardly anybody ever writes to a newspaper in praise of a movie review! It's usually "How dare that (insert critic's name) inflict her opinion on us???"

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is such great advice! I haven't gotten to that stage yet, but I will be applying this to feedback from beta readers.

    ReplyDelete