I’ve had the pleasure of reading some insightful blogs dealing with criticism and how to handle negative reviews right here on Navigating Indieworld. They got me to thinking though, writing about how authors handle these things is only telling half the story. For the other half I thought we’d look at it from the other side of the street (hence the title, clever huh?).
Every author knows how much criticism of their hard work stings and how difficult it can be to receive negative reviews. But for a moment let’s consider how difficult it is to write these reviews.
No matter what you think of reviewers or bloggers I assure you none of them sets out to write a negative review of your work. They picked up your book because maybe they liked the cover, or the blurb caught their attention, or perhaps a good review swayed them. They read it with every intention of enjoying it. No one starts a book hoping they won’t like it.
But sometimes…that’s the way it goes. This can happen for a variety of reasons—some fixable, some not. But when it happens, the reader is in a tough spot. Do they give the book 4 or 5 stars and move on even if they feel it doesn’t deserve it? This may make the author happy but what about integrity?
Online book bloggers these days are trendsetters with the power to persuade their considerable following. And as a famous wall crawler once learned “with great power must come great responsibility.”
Consider the above stated approach. If bloggers only gave authors great reviews how long would it take for their following to disappear? People who follow bloggers do so because they know they will read the unvarnished truth about a book. It won’t be sugar coated—it’ll be honest. Brutally so if necessary. This symbiotic relationship helps us all.
Because people can trust a blogger’s opinion when they rave about a book—that book moves! For that to work though you need to have bad reviews in the mix. You need honesty and honestly not every book is golden.
In the past year I’ve reviewed no less than 65 books on Goodreads. Like all reviewers I wanted to enjoy every one of those books. As it turns out though I didn’t. I’ve been in the unenviable position of having to deliver a bad review to an author. Both authors I know and don’t know. Believe me, one is not easier than the other.
As an author, I know how it hurts to read that your book just isn’t as perfect as you feel it is. To their credit a lot of the authors I gave constructive criticism too took it in stride. Like me, they value improvement and know the only way to achieve it is through the painful process of admitting to yourself that you need improvement. Maybe they also realized as hard as it is to read the criticism it’s just as hard to write it.
But then we have other authors who didn’t acknowledge the difficulty I had in telling them the truth. I told a first time author (privately mind you) that their novel had numerous grammatical errors and run on sentences in it. I advised as gently as I could that they should take the book down and have an editor fix these mistakes. Better to hear it from me privately then read about it in a negative review publicly later right?
They didn’t think so. After tersely thanking me for my “opinion” they informed me that no one else had any issues with it. Going so far as to tell me that their spouse “loved it.” I haven’t heard from them since and that’s a shame. They had talent, and I said so in my public review. A slew of negative reviews followed detailing the issues I brought up. When you bury your head in the sand in this business it doesn’t stop truth from finding you.
The problem here is grammatical errors are no one’s opinion—they’re a fact. And loved ones do more harm to authors than they realize by telling them “what they want to hear.” When you do that you foster a closed minded attitude in them. You make them believe they’re better than they are and keep them from being as good as they could be.
And that closed minded attitude leads them to lash out at anyone who dares say something critical about their work. I know a few bloggers and have heard the tales of authors behaving badly. Authors who harass the blogger or attack them online or, as in my case, cut off all contact while they lick their presumed wounds.
I believe this behaviour happens because they fail to consider the feelings of the person reviewing their work. If they took a moment to think about somebody other than themselves, they’d realize that bloggers are no different from them. They both want good reviews—one wants to write them, the other receive them. They both want good books—one wants to read them, the other write them.
And most importantly, they both want the freedom to write what’s on their mind. And to do so without fear of personal attack. Most authors and bloggers know this and we are all the better for it.
But wouldn’t it be nice if the few who don’t get it…got it?
If you’re one of those reading this, the next time someone criticises your work consider how hard it must’ve been for them to write the truth knowing it would hurt your feelings. Consider their feelings.
Check out the view from the other side of the street and you’ll be amazed by how much you learn.