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Soothing Words for Bad Reviews

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Please welcome bestselling author Randy Susan Meyers [2] to Writer Unboxed today! Randy’s latest novel, WAISTED, tackles the hot and important topic of body image. More about Randy from her bio.

Randy Susan Meyers’ novels are informed by over twenty years working with criminal offenders and families impacted by emotional and physical violence. With Waisted she tackles an issue both personal and political: body image.

Reviewing Waisted, Booklist wrote “Meyers exquisitely explores body image, family, and marriage in this surprisingly deep novel. Though she starts with a fictionalized version of the TV show The Biggest Loser, she dips into major issues of race, culture, obsession, and sisterhood. Taking on the timely topic of how a woman is perceived in today’s society, she twists it into how far women will go to be what society deems right, and at what cost—a marriage, a family obligation, a personal goal? A compelling story that will leave readers giving their scale the side eye.”

Waisted has been chosen as a Top 2019 Summer read by Parade Magazine, Pop Sugar, BookBub, Women.com, Get Literary, and Brit.Com. Kirkus Review wrote, “Meyers spins a compelling tale, raising critical questions about familial, social, and cultural messages about body image . . .” and Library Journal said “Meyers delivers a timely examination of body image, family, friendship, and what it means to be a woman in modern society. It will appeal to anyone who has ever dreaded stepping on a scale; even those who haven’t will learn from it. Culturally inclusive and societally on point, this is a must-read.”

Meyers is a Brooklyn-Boston mix who believes happiness requires family, friends, books, and an occasional NY bagel. She lives in Boston with her husband where she teaches writing seminars at Boston’s Grub Street Writers’ Center.

Randy’s post offers some words of wisdom–and humor–about something all published authors have to grapple with eventually: bad reviews. Enjoy!

Soothing Words for Bad Reviews

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

I’m talking about launch time, of course. By the time this essay is published, my newest novel, Waisted, will be out in the world. As will the reviews. From the trades, magazines (perhaps,) newspapers (maybe,) bloggers, members of Goodreads, library thing, librarians, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Audible, iTunes customers, and, most likely, my auto mechanic.

This time around I’m especially nerved-up. Waisted is the most polarizing book I’ve written. For every fiercely feminist, urgent, darkly humorous, compelling and wickedly fun, observation, I’m piling up knife-like words that indict me for even attempting to write down the inside thoughts of women reacting to a world that treats fat women as pariahs.

And do I respond, as many have written, with mature acceptance of the varied opinions of the world? Do I try, as many have written, to learn from what they write? Do I sigh and think, well, that’s their opinion?

No, I do not. I react like a slug sprinkled with salt. Honestly, one mean (meaning the reviewer didn’t love it) review can overtake reading fifteen filled with accolades.

Upon reflection of said mean reviews I do not cull the wisdom therein. I think of what my next career will be. Certainly, it will be a hermetic vocation that won’t even make the pages of Yelp.

I know I’m not alone. For every moment of awe a writer has at seeing her book on a shelf, at being told by readers you provided them with comfort, for each time you visit a warm and loving book club, there come the time when you read the word “blech” in a reader’s review. It’s part of the business, and there’s no answer except chocolate and wine. It hurts. Writers ranging from NYT bestsellers to just-on-the-shelves authors must find ways to soothe themselves through the pain. (Avoid doing anything publicly—nothing good that way ever comes. Especially avoid using stalking and physical methodology [3].)

So, what can you do? I come bearing brownies and a shot of tequila. The comfort needed for times when nothing but schadenfreude will do. I would offer mead to Shakespeare, had he lived in the time of Amazon and read this review of “Romeo and Juliet”:

“As far as I’m concerned, the only good thing about “Romeo and Juliet” is that it spawned the plot for “West Side Story,” which, although laden with cheese, does highlight some of the more noble facets of the human character (along the less noble) and features some wonderful music. “Romeo and Juliet” will, however, simply annoy anyone with half a brain.”

A newly published author-friend privately spilled her horror (to a group of not-surprised writers) when, after a spate of reader-love, she found this on a popular book site:

“To those who loved this book, may we never meet on subway, train, or plane.”

Shock usually follows the first angry reader review. I don’t think they’re as hurtful as critical professional reviews, but they go where NYT reviewers would never tread.

The not-surprised writers, as always, gathered around the newly launched author referenced above, and shared their own hurtful reader reviews:

“Someone once hated one of my books so much that she made a custom e-stamp that said, “This book is so bad it should be banned from the face of the earth.”

“There is just no level on which this book was not bad. Bad, bad writing.”

One writer had her book put on a reviewer’s “crap-i-couldn’t-finish shelf.”

Another was told:

“This author had no right to write this book because she doesn’t really know what it’s like to be divorced. I went to school with her and I know for a fact she’s never been divorced.”

One friend’s book was compared to a Tampon ad.

Or was it a Tampon?

Each time I spin into a decline induced by a reader hating my book, I look up a classic, a best seller, a book I loved, and read Amazon reviews such as those below (sic included.) And then I wonder, would these classic writers have reached for the Ben & Jerry’s, were it then available?

Wuthering Heights

“I began reading–“though you mayn’t believe it,” to quote Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle–at the age of 1 and 9 months. Since then I have read literally thousands of books. And of them all, “Wuthering Heights” is my least favorite. The characters are so unpleasant and cruel to each other that reading the book is a seemingly endless nightmare.”

1984 

“Only read this if you like getting depressed. This is a good example of the fact that pessimistic and shocking books often receive rave criticism while dynamically optimistic books are dubbed “unrealistic”… NO further comment.”

The Woman’s Room

“The worst book ever written. The most insulting and boring book ever written. It is a biting social commentary on men-women relations that is so one-sided and vulgar that most readers do not take seriously. Don’t ask me how it ended because I couldn’t stand the torture of the book.”

Anne of Green Gables

“Here is what most people and fans don’t know about the author:

Lucy Maud Montgomery was into the occult and worshipped nature. She taught girls how to make a “table rap” or to call up an evil spirit, and she introduced the Ouija board to the young fry of Cavendish. I believe that her books are “blessed” by an evil force, which is part of the reason that they (her books) have millions of fans. Lucy Maud’s ungodly beliefs appear often in her writings.

God opened my eyes to the bad influence of Anne Shirley and her author, and also to all the wrongs in L. M. Montgomery’s books.”

Goodnight Moon

“We were given this books as a gift. I really dislike it–there seems to be an upleasant undertone: “bowl full of mush”, “goodnight nobody”. I find the illustrations equally unpleasant (or maybe that’s why I find the book unpleasant). I recycled it.”

Tale of Two Cities

“I feel this could have been a better book had he not been paid for its length. It takes him too long to say simple things. If you hated Old Man and the Sea, you too will hate this.”

Bangers and mash, Mr. Dickens?

Pint of ale?

Pull up a chair, and share your thoughts on (and/or personal experience with) negative reviews. The floor is yours.