Monday, May 21, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Bad Reviews

Into every life and Amazon account, some bad reviews will come along. Not every reader will like or even get the point of what you're doing. It's a very difficult and humbling thing to read criticism, especially when you have a little niggling voice in the back of your skull that says, "They could be right, you know."

From my point of view, a thoughtful bad review is a blessing. It's the gift of a different perspective from a person who won't tell you that your creation is amazing, wonderful, beautiful...

Those superlatives are nice to hear, but where do they get you in your journey as an artist? 

Erich Kastner, the author of Lottie and Lisa (later that book became famous under the name of The Parent Trap)  wrote, "Develop a good, thick skin!"
If only she could have stayed this age forever!

Those authors and artists should listen to Kastner's advice. And he was a good authority; he lived in Dresden during WWI and Berlin during WWII.

It's very hard to do. After all, a book or a painting is a piece of someone, a part of their soul that they sawed off over a period of time and offered up for sacrifice. 

I have found that my own thick skin is like Mithril armor. It helps me negotiate the lances and spears of bad reviews. And when I don't allow something to hurt me, it really helps me fly outside of my skin and see my books from inside another head. Now THAT is an amazing trip.

Some of my best writing advice has come from reviewers who took the time to say what they didn't like. Let's face it; it's easy to say, "Oh, this book was wonderful!" To write instead, "I didn't enjoy the story, and here is exactly why...." is a much more involved, difficult thing. 

The battle against a bad review is the act of hacking off a Hydra's head; the monster grows two in its place. If we, as authors, can see that a thoughtfully written, bad review is a thing of wonder and a true gift, then we can tame the monster and let it live in the shed outside. 
Who's a nice monster then?

My Hydra likes to eat present participles, -Ly adverbs, and the word "then."

 *This advice came from his book, The Flying Classroom. If you never read it, you absolutely must. And have Kleenex at hand.


Martina said...

Lovely article Alison.

Bad reviews are good if done with the spirit of constructive criticism.

We can learn a lot from our mistakes and from the things that we didn't get right.

It is painful to be told that our book wasn't liked, as you say, it's much nicer to hear great things about what we write. But the world is not perfect... yet and we must accept our own imperfections too :-)

Alison DeLuca said...

Thanks, Martina! And I agree that reviews should be written with constructive criticism in mind. Of course, we all get the one-liners, the "I didn't like it" that tells us nothing. I line my Hydra's cage with those reviews ;)

Johanna Garth said...

My coping mechanism is never referring to myself and the book as the same. Hence the book got a bad review but I'm still amazing. Silly but for some reason it helps!

Unknown said...

Great post Alison! If we were born perfect, life would be dull. The learning and development is what makes it interesting!

karastewart said...

Wonderful post, Al! And so true in all forms of art. It is important to remember that the reviewer is subjective. But also equally important to be able to distance yourself enough to pull from it that which will make your art better. I find myself wishing constantly that people on the daily photo community to which I belong would be more honest in their critique and not just take the time-saving way out of giving blanket compliments. I need that cretique to improve. And as a close friend said to me years ago, "Only a true friend will tell you when a booger is hanging out of your nose." Yep. All the others will just let you hang out there.

karastewart said...


jenny milchman said...

I definitely feel it was the negative feedback that enabled me to learn to write (hopefully). Agents don't trouble with your feelings, and I will never forget the one who wrote, The details about your neurotic protagonist are wise and believable, but I just didn't enjoy spending time in her head.

The problem was...I hadn't intended to write a neurotic protagonist.

I think the same thing can happen with reviews on blogs or from readers. In the criticism lies the direction you want to move in, but first it had to be pointed out that it was there.

Jack said...

I'm preparing myself for bad reviews. When I get them I hope they are the helpful ones, not just the, "This book is so terrible!" Because, as you said, ones that explain it can help me think, and see if things do need changed. But, I also don't want to let them discourage me. So I'm getting ready for them, as best I can 8-D