photo by _marmota

Today’s guest is C.W. Gortner, the bestselling author of five historical novels, including his most recent book, The Queen’s Vow, about the tumultuous rise to power of Isabella of Castile, and The Tudor Conspiracy, an Elizabethan spy thriller.

He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into fourteen languages to date.

Of his penchant for writing historical fiction, C.W. says,

“Whether I’m recreating the passions of a legendary woman from the Renaissance or delving into the fictional drama of a spy in Tudor England, for me writing historical fiction is an exciting journey into the unknown …  I write historical fiction for the same reason that I read it: because I crave the emotion of the past.”

You can learn more about  C.W.’s work on his website and his blog. Visit him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @CWGortner.

You can also view the book trailer for The Queen’s Vow here.

As accomplished as C.W. is, he too has experienced his share of negative reviews. When asked why he chose to share his perspective with Writer Unboxed, he says, “I think every writer has experienced a bad review and will relate. Plus, I don’t want anyone to make the mistakes I have.”

Dealing with a Bad Review

So, you got a bad review. No, not just bad: horrible. As in, this reviewer said everything you imagined someone saying in your worst nightmare about your book. You weren’t expecting it (writers rarely are) and at first, you just sat there, stunned. Unable to believe anyone would take such offense to what is, in the final say, only a novel. It didn’t help that as you re-read the review with that bewilderment that sets in when you realize someone out there really dislikes your work, you found an enormous spoiler that the reviewer apparently included out of sheer malice, to prove how unworthy you are.

Things NOT TO DO when reacting to a bad review:

  • Don’t rush onto Facebook, Goodreads, Librarything or any other social media site, to rant. Someone who knows the reviewer will find out. They always do. Before you know it, you’ll be enshrined as an Author Behaving Badly— sort of like a star on the Walk of Shame for authors.
  • Don’t dwell on it. It’s subjective. Which means it represents ONE person’s opinion. Mutter a curse and move on. You’ll be much saner for it.
  • If a criticism hits you in the gut, pay attention. Sometimes (and it may hurt your soul to admit it) a bad review has something to offer that can help improve your writing.
  • Don’t e-mail your editor, agent, or anyone else connected to the publication of your book to demand immediate action. In other words, pretend the review doesn’t exist as far as they’re concerned. Publishing professionals are optimistic by nature.  No one wants to hear that a book they’ve put effort and money toward got creamed.
  • Don’t believe everything you read. While a bad review can be insightful, it’s not a reflection of your talent.

Things TO DO when reacting to a bad review:

  • Drink. Heavily, if need be.
  • Shop. Buying something expensive helps.
  • Call a friend. That’s what friends are for: to help you through the crisis.
  • Remember why you write. You do it because you must. So, take it on the chin.
  • Last but not least, never forget that no matter how much one reviewer hated your work, chances are another will love it. And a good review always trumps a bad one.

A bad review – or several— is, of course, one of the unavoidable pitfalls of being published. It comes with the territory and there’s no handbook for how to deal with the emotional impact. Some authors cry. Others get drunk. Most get mad. A few take it in stride, or at least, pretend to. After all, it’s our book someone just skewered—the tangible fruit of years of hard labor. We’ve sacrificed time with family and friends; walked the dog aimlessly, muttering like an indigent; burned or forgotten meals; lost sleep; tussled and agonized over a single word, even screamed when no one was looking.

Writing is tough. It takes perseverance, ego, and a hint of insanity. We spend all this time locked in our head staring at a blank screen or paper, conjuring imaginary things, and hoping, praying, someone else will care enough to want to read it. Then, insomniac, battered, in need of a shower and something other than tuna sandwiches, we turn the manuscript in and have to deal with everyone else’s opinion of it— our agent, editor, the marketing team. In their own ways, they will shape our work into something that can be packaged and sold. Sentences we slaved over will be cut without mercy; scenes shifted here or re-crafted there; a character will be eliminated and another, to our astonishment, will hijack the plot. We’ll go back over the same lines time and time again, until we can recite them from memory and our spouse or significant other starts to look at us furtively as we sit hunched, crab-like, over those first-pass pages, and remarks that perhaps it’s time for us to take that long-delayed vacation . . . .

In the end, the idea that began as a seed in our febrile brain, nurtured on imagination and the internal chug-a-lug of I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can will become a cooperative project, a team effort— a book.

And then, the advance copies are sent out. To anonymous people we’ve never met, to places we’ve never been. Newspapers (though these are less and less); trade magazines; online sites; bloggers—hundreds of anonymous eyes will now peruse our prose and, in a few lines, maybe a few chapters, if we’re lucky, pass judgment. To review or not review. To like or not like. After all, this person who will now sit down at their computer to write about our book has no regard for us, particularly. They don’t know if we’re a nice person or not; if we talk on our cell phone when we’re driving; if we donate to charity or spend too much money on shoes. All they care about is that visceral moment which we have no control over, when they read our story for the first time and experience a reaction. Or, don’t. So, those words we’ve struggled and fought over, revised and polished; which we prayed would be worthy of attention, will now, finally, garner words of their own—for better or worse.

In some cases, we’ll almost wish they hadn’t. Almost, but not quite.

Because in the end, even a bad review is still a review. It means someone cared enough to take the time to say: Hey, this sucks. Don’t bother. Buy a DVD instead. Check out the latest Wal-Mart catalog. Collect stamps. Do anything but purchase this lousy book. Yes, someone cared. And isn’t that what every writer dreams of? I know I do. So, how did I deal with bad reviews? How else?  I cry. I get mad. I pretend not to care. Then I pour myself a glass of wine and call a friend to complain.

And so it goes.

How do you deal with a bad review?