Not Your Best Effort


I've been writing as a hobby since 2003, and professionally since 2005. In that time, I've garnered a fair number of reviews for the books I've written.  I used to read many of them, usually as I peeked through my fingers and swallowed back the dread closing up my throat—pretty much how I watch horror films.
I rarely read reviews these days. Time and experience has taught me that they aren't for me, the author, they're for other readers. Once I send a book out into the public arena, it becomes a reader's experience, and I, as the author, have no part of that, for better or for worse.
That doesn't mean I don't still peek every once in a while, and I no longer do it from between my fingers. I still wince on occasion at spotting the critical/brutal review. Those are as guaranteed as a sunrise. If you write and publish, you'll get a reader who hates your book(s).
The first bad review will knock the breath out of you just as much as the first good one will make you glow inside. Authors who've been in the trenches a long time will say you'll either grow a thick skin or abandon writing. I have the hide of a rhino at this point. More or less.
About a year ago, my oldest daughter asked me what trick I used to get past the fear of a bad review. She's a brand new writer, still in those early stages of finding the joy in storytelling, but not yet confident enough to share with others for fear of criticism. I haven't feared a bad review in a long time, and I trotted out the same (valuable) advice given to me when I first started writing:
1) reviews are for the reader, not the author;
2) there hasn't been a single bit of writing in the history of the written word that everyone liked;
3) you'll toughen up with each criticism.
While I still believe all three of those things, they weren't exactly motivational in getting my daughter to share her very entertaining, and frankly, well-written story with anyone but me. And honestly, I didn't always believe those three things were what totally contributed to that thick hide I'd grown.
Then about a month ago, I read two reviews of my books (remember when I said I still peek on occasion?) on two different platforms. It was an “A Ha!” moment of enlightenment, and certainly a teachable moment for my daughter, and one I plan to use for every frightened newbie writer who asks me in the future, “How do you handle the critical review?”
The first review wasn't even a true review but more of a response to the request for recommendations of good Fantasy romances to read. Several readers kindly recommended my most popular title, "Radiance". One reader, however, offered a contradictory comment to the recommendations, one that pulled no punches. While I'm paraphrasing here, it’s pretty close to the exact wording: “It started out well enough, but ended up being dog shit.”
Ouch. I think the only interpretation one can come away with from that comment is the reader didn't like the book. Fair enough. I'll direct you back to my earlier paragraph to item #2 regarding how to grow a thick hide. While that comment could be construed as a brief but hands-down negative review, I've read others a lot more brutal and definitely more in-depth.

Read the entire article in the September 2022 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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