Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How and When to Respond to Negative ReviewsIf you

Every author - traditional or independent - wants and needs reviews. A healthy dose of good reviews generates interest and excitement and, hopefully, leads to further book sales. As we all know, Amazon monitors a book's review statistics as well as its sales numbers and the more reviews a book receives the closer it gets to entering the coveted Amazon algorithm that can send it to the top of the charts, which is what we all want.

Now, we can tell ourselves that reviews really don't matter to us but we'd be lying to ourselves and it's not nice to tell lies. We tell ourselves we write because we have to - it's who I am, I can't help but write! - which may or may not be true. And we tell ourselves that the money doesn't matter - I just want to get my work out there. If only 1 person reads it and likes it then... - which, again, may or may not be true.  But secretly, or not so secretly, we crave acceptance of our art and of ourselves, our work, an affirmation that the toil we've endured has been worth it, the days and weeks and months and years corralling tens of thousands of words into just the right order, the sleepless nights, the writer's block the writer's uncertainty, the numerous rewrites and edits and rewrites and edits. And the best way to get our oh-so tender egos stroked is with reviews - unsolicited and glowing, preferably.

When those 4 and 5 star reviews start to trickle in, you can't help but feel vindicated and triumphant. You have the urge to scream I TOLD YOU SO! to all the naysayers from your past (but you don't because you're an adult so you just post the glowing reviews to your Facebook page and hope they realize the "I told you so" is implied). You monitor your book's Amazon page at least a dozen times a day waiting for the next heap of praise. You do the same over at Goodreads and Barnes & Noble and iTunes and Smashwords and anywhere else someone might drop a little love your way. It's obsessive and maniacal and painful and, all too soon, habitual, just another part of your day.

And then that first 1 star review hits. It's confusing at first. You double check to ensure you're on your book's page. Once you confirm you are you scroll back down to the review section, knowing you must have miss-seen something but there it is, that one little star sitting there all alone, waiting on his star friends that will never come to join him. Then you reach for the salt that you will rub into your fresh wound by scrolling down to read the actual review, gutting you anew. Of course, the reviewer got it all wrong, you say. They didn't understand what you were doing, what you were saying. They didn't get it at all. And now they've written the world to tell them they won't get it either, shouldn't even attempt to get it! This can't be happening, you tell yourself. This can't happen! I can't let it happen! I have to do something!

So, how do you respond? How do you correct the reviewer and stave the possible onslaught of other negative reviews and the death of your novel?

Here's the trick: you don't. You just let it sit there, that lonely little star. Let it twinkle its dull flat twinkle.

All too often artist speak of their works as their "babies": I have created and birthed and nursed this idea and project into fruition. It is a part of me and it is out there in the world toddling about recklessly in the path of all manner of dangers. I must protect it! But this isn't true. If you have sent your work out into the world, we assume you have done so because it is ready to be out there on its own. And if it's ready to be out there on its own then you think it is grown up enough to be so. So, just like any parent, you have to let it stand out there by itself, have to let it defend itself by its mere existence, speak for itself. If you feel you still need to hold its hand and explain it to people so that they "get" it then wasn't ready after all and you better bring that baby back home and under your care until it is ready. Once it's out there, just like anything else in the world, some people will like it and some will not. Some will get it and others won't - or at least they'll get something else you didn't intend. But as painful and frustrating as that may be, you must let their interpretation stand unchallenged or risk exposing your work for the incomplete baby it might be.

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