When that first stinker slams through the shiny wall of good reviews, fledgling writers tend to get down in the dumps. Some reach for the bottle. Others threaten never to write again.
The truth is that hardly anyone escapes mean-spirited, opinionated and downright nasty reviews. They seem to come out of left field when least expected. What’s worse, they appear to get things wrong — to be fundamentally unfair to the work.
My advice to writers feeling this pain is to determine whether the review is pointing to something that needs fixing, or whether it is skewered and willfully misleading.
This is no easy task. One needs to take a step back and calmly and objectively analyse the review. Once you have extracted the truth, record useful comments down in a notebook under a heading such as Things That Need Improving — for example: tighter control of theme, more authentic characters, a more distinctive voice, and what not.
Throw the reviews that are intended to crush your spirit into the trashcan where they belong, but be careful not to mistake those with an overly defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude. It takes courage, determination and a steady hand to fish out the nuggets of truth that may be lurking under the sea of negative comments.
Remind yourself that even the most popular and respected authors have garnered bad reviews.
I’ve recently reread Paul Harding’s exquisite 2010 Pulitzer winning novel, Tinkers, and was surprised to find it had garnered a high ratio of 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, the novel is one of the most emotive evocations of old age, the act of dying, and memory I have ever read. It is the sort of writing that stays with one forever.
Writers should take strength from that: If a Pulitzer winning novel of such power and magnitude has so many detractors, who are we to moan about ours?
Salvage what is useful from a bad review and discard the rest.