by Doug Lewars
If you gain any traction at all as a writer, sooner or later you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t like your work and is vocal about it. No matter how highly you’re rated on a site like Goodreads, if you dig far enough through the reviews there’s bound to be a negative one, likely attached to a rating of ‘1’.
What should you do when this happens? Throwing your laptop across the room is sub-optimal. It may be tempting but it wastes a perfectly good computer and they’re expensive. It’s a better idea to see what your critic has to say. If the review is of the form, ‘this writer sucks and that’s all there is to it’, there’s nothing useful and your best bet is to shrug and move on; however, if it’s ‘this writer sucks because’ you have something to work with.
Generally when I put up a review on Goodreads I attempt to clearly state what I didn’t like about the book. The author may not want to make changes going forward, probably doesn’t, but at least he or she has feedback. I’m only one voice but given the small number of reviews compared to the readership of any given volume, it’s conceivable my view is representative of some larger percentage of readers. It may not be very large but by clearly stating what I don’t like about the book the author has some idea as to how the work is being received.
If you receive a bad review ask yourself if the reviewer might have a point. If the point is subjective, you can probably disregard it. For example if your ideology is left of center and your critic doesn’t like your book for that reason you have to concede your book will always lack appeal in a right-of-center demographic. Either shrug and move on or refrain from writing books with a well-defined ideology. I doubt anyone wants to, or should, change ideologies just to appeal to a particular readership.
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On the other hand, if the criticism is of the form, ‘I didn’t like this book because the author was writing an action adventure but the pacing was painfully slow’ then you have something for serious consideration. If you believed your pacing was fine it becomes necessary to determine why it was perceived as slow. Was there too much description? Was your character introspective when he should have been running for his life? Did you use long rambling sentences when short crisp ones would have been better? Perhaps your pacing was just fine and this individual is off base; however, it’s quite possible there’s a grain of truth in the criticism and finding it will benefit you in future endeavours.
Likewise, if your critic doesn’t find your character believable, some evaluation is in order. Some, perhaps many, readers want to see growth and development over the course of a story. If you were attempting to provide that, further analysis is required to determine why the reader failed to notice it. Was the change so subtle he missed it? Was it subject to misinterpretation? Was it implausible?
For example, consider Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton goes from a dissipated alcoholic to a self-sacrificing hero over a comparatively few pages. Obviously Dickens wanted a happy ending and he got it – at least for the protagonist if not so much for poor Sydney – but a modern reader might raise his or her eyes at the speed of the transformation. Dickens was not writing for those who prioritize character development over plot and you may not be either. In such a case you can acknowledge the critic’s point and move on. On the other hand, if you were attempting a character focused story, a new approach would be of benefit going forward.
In general, start by stepping back from criticism until you can look at it without your eyes crossing and fists tightening. If you find something substantive, consider it. You are completely free to ignore anything, but it’s possible something useful is buried in the review and if so, mentally thank your antagonist and use it to become a better writer.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published thirteen books on Smashwords.com.