Resilience and publication – how to handle reviews

giveashitometerOne of the most difficult parts of publication is reading your reviews. If you have ever written or received a review you will have probably read the less than favourable opinions that people leave on products they don’t like.

When I put my novel forward for the Kindle Scout process I knew it was geared around getting reviews. Everyone who nominates it and receives a free copy when it is published is asked to review it. It’s an alternative Netgalley, but open to everyone.

So, after publication, the reviews came in. At first they were all good, then someone didn’t like it!

Like most people, I read the review and it touched my sensitive creative nerve. I wanted to reply, asking them to explain what they didn’t like so I could inevitably defend it.

I’ve faced critique in many areas of my life – some of it, like postgraduate education and contacting agents, I’ve put myself up for. So I stopped for a moment and considered my options:

  1. Go ahead and reply. Go on. Argue online with someone who has already told you what they think about your work after you have asked them and is unlikely to change their view as they have taken the time to write it on the internet.
  2. Get someone else to reply. Same result as above, except you have an army.
  3. Don’t reply. Instead, go and sulk for three days. This will stop you writing because, after all, isn’t your work rubbish because one person said so? This publication game is worthless etc…
  4. Never read you reviews again (this requires complete self control when you are checking your Amazon rank repeatedly)
  5. Accept that some people won’t like your work.

#4 sounds like the common sense way to approach things, doesn’t it? But most of us are so riddled with creative self-doubt that even the smallest critique in a review is magnified by a million and is in no way weighed against the majority of good reviews.

So how can you become resilient? You can develop a thick skin about your work and empathise with the reviewer by separating your work from yourself.

Have you ever not finished a book? Not because it’s ‘bad’ but because it isn’t your thing? I read a lot but I’m quite fussy about what I read – mainly psychological and crime thrillers and speculative fiction. If I bought a book and didn’t enjoy it it would be no reflection on the author.

I recently read a book that I couldn’t finish. I checked the Amazon reviews and the vast majority of people had loved it. A couple of readers agreed with my opinion. But the key message here is that I’d already bought the book and the reviews didn’t influence me. At the point of sale I’d glanced at the number of reviews, not the reviews themselves. That book was a bestseller, and the market position and visibility influenced me more than the reviews, but that’s for another post.

So, Instead of imagining yourself with a big Amazon target on your back, send your book out into the world ready to be reviewed. It isn’t about you, it isn’t even about your characters or your plot.

Like all aspects of judgement and preference, it’s about the reviewer, and filtered through all the likes and dislike they have encountered in their life. Like every single other aspect of the world, different people like different things, so wouldn’t it be a little bit weird if someone didn’t like it? Less than favourable reviews are an indicator that you have reached a wide and varied audience.

And that’s good, right?