Living with reviews
All reviews are good reviews. Better to be talked about than not talked about. It’s character building. Published author — this is what you signed up for. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. You can’t please everybody. Don’t take it personally. If you can’t handle a little negative criticism, you’re in the wrong game. Writers should be used to rejection. Suck it up, princess …
I could go on with the anecdotes and priceless advice. The truth is when a reviewer decides to publicly slam the book you poured years of pain, love and sacrifice into, it really, really fucking hurts. And how you wish for just one shot to smash that fuckwit reviewer in the face — oops, sorry, got carried away, would never, ahem, think something like that. Deep breaths. Back to calm, diplomatic, authorly writing.
Just before publication, a writer friend congratulated me on my debut novel and said that if it received a few good reviews initially, it should be in the running for literary prizes. This did not happen. Admittedly, I expected mixed reviews and would have secretly been slightly disappointed had my book pleased everybody and not challenged some. However, I was not prepared for the first bad review (which was sadly the very first review) in a Melbourne paper. It wasn’t just bad, it was excoriating. Not just negative criticism sandwiched between tidbits of praise, but a mean-spirited, humiliating attack that felt personal. Anonymous, of course. I was shattered, and felt that any chance of success for my novel had been ruined. Why would a reviewer do that to a debut author?
This review appeared at the worst time — the week before my book launch. I didn’t want to go; I wanted to run away and forget I ever wrote a book that was apparently so stupid. I imagined everybody would have read that paper and be laughing about what a joke my novel was, or else feeling sorry for me, and my publisher would be regretting having signed me.
I was terrified this was a taste of things to come. But aside from a pointless high-profile review that praised my novel but criticised my publisher’s marketing (so it wasn’t used in promotion) I’ve only received one other bad review (on a readers’ book recommendations website), which I suspect was written by the same anonymous reviewer from that paper, or else copied and pasted mostly from there.
My novel has done OK despite that review, although I still worry about how damaging it was/is. Perhaps I should have responded at the time, but I felt that drawing attention to it would have demeaned me further.
The word ‘review’ in a subject line from my publicist still induces panic. And I cringe when I think about that review still coming up in search results for my book, deterring readers, influencing sales, damaging my writing career. But there’s nothing I can do about it. On a positive note, it has made me tougher — there’s surely, (fingers crossed) surely nothing worse any reviewer could throw at me.
Every subsequent good review, acknowledgement, and messages from readers who have enjoyed my book make that review look more and more undeserved.