A debut author I know recently wrote to ask:
[Ho]w do you assess a poor review from a Goodreads member (or anyone, I suppose)? Being new to this, I’m looking for some great tips on developing a thick skin.”
First, it’s worth noting that there are different kinds of poor reviews. Reviews of the “I hate your guts and your book’s guts” variety are one thing, and thankfully they’re pretty rare. (Erika Robuck wrote a great post on venomous reviews this past February, addressing how some authors cope.) Usually reviews are a mixed bag of things that did and didn’t resonate with readers, and aren’t meant to make an author feel like s/he should give it up and become a banker.
Let’s assume you have a mixed-bag review, and you’ve read it and you want to know… Now what? Can you take anything from it of value? And if so, how can you do that without becoming completely neurotic?
Let’s start with what you probably already know. It bears repeating:
- It’s not personal. Reviewers are judging your story and not you as an individual. Embrace that distinction, and you’ll find it easier to read a range of opinions about your work with little or no defensiveness.
- Distance grows calluses. Some authors can read mixed reviews right after their book’s publication and be unaffected. Other writers need more time, or to be absorbed in a new project before they can read criticism without a spike of anxiety. Whatever your tendencies, know that distance can make it easier to wade through reviews.
- You can’t control this. And here is a theme. You can control little about the business except for the story itself, and you most certainly cannot control how readers who are not your friends and family will receive your book. You don’t know their names, their occupations, their levels of education, what they generally like to read, if they’ve had a bad day, etc… All you know is that they took the time to read your book. And as author Sarah McCoy once wrote, “That alone is worthy of respect.”
- Authors who debate their readers’ opinions look petty and immature, nine times out of ten. It’s so easy once you understand this point: It’s their book. Their. Book. They have paid for the right to like it, love it, hate it, or feel nothing at all about it.