What if I Really do Suck?

I’m switching it up a bit today and writing first, everything else. Except the laundry. That can never wait and it’s easy to do while writing unlike, say, a shower.

My first writing exercise was a review of my recent dentist visit (the one with the scheduled in advance “family emergency”).

This sounds a bit lame, but I actually liked it. Thinking of it as an exercise. It’s hard to give negative feedback in a positive way. To turn the feedback into a learning opportunity or whatever. So, this was a good chance for me to practice. As a writer, (and a reader) it’s important to be able to give and receive this sort of thing. It was nice to have a chance to practice. Also, I was able to do it anonymously, so that helps. I can hide behind the Internet in case the feedback was too harsh.

Which is kind of a funny thing to say. Shouldn’t I be willing to stand by my review? To sign my name proudly to it and to say, Yup, this is what I think? Especially since I was trying to be nice about it (mostly. I’ll admit to one or two snarky parts, but they were well earned on their part. Most stuff I can let slide, but every now and then…).

So, why do you care that I reviewed a dentist today?

It got me thinking about reviews in general and how people process them. I started reading a book that was widely praised and positively reviewed in a bunch of publications. Cool. I’ll read almost anything that gets decent reviews. I started it. I lost interest. I kept trying to get through it. Not so much because I cared about the character (I don’t) or I wanted to see how it ended (doesn’t matter) but because the writing is quiet good. It’s the literary writing that might be described as “beautiful prose with wonderful turns of phrase.” Or something equally flowery.

But I don’t really care for the book, the characters, the plot (which isn’t exactly a plot, per se. More like a series of vignettes about this character which also don’t have much of a plot), none of it. There’s no tension, no action, no nothing. I’m not saying all stories need to have guns and cars and murders and whatever, but there’s no tension in this story. Nothing interesting or scary or curious happens. It’s just the character, living her life, and here’s what happens. Happy reading!

Blech.

OK, fine, whatever, it’s not for me. But, then I got curious. Who else doesn’t like this book? Is it just me? Am I a philistine? An uncultured clod? (Both of these things are entirely possible.) So, I looked up reviews for these books on Amazon and Goodreads.

Discarding the reviews that were clearly biased (like the one star review on Amazon that tore apart the author’s character and personality and said nothing about the actual book), there were a fair amount of negative reviews. Both sites gave this highly recommended by professional reviewers, well blurbed book an average of 3 stars. Which is fine and nothing to sneeze at, but… Still…

Ignoring the fact that it sort of proves the point that just because a book is published by a well-respected big 5 (that’s what we’re down to now, right? Five?) publisher, doesn’t necessarily mean anything these days. A traditionally published book could be just as awesome or as sucky as a self-published indie book. I think that’s been the case for a while now.

I more wonder about the author. Here’s this book that she probably slaved away at for at least a year, if not more. And she achieved the dream! (My dream, at least.) An agent, a traditional publishing contract, probably a promotional budget (I hope), and validation! Someone else, probably a bunch of someone else’s, think your writing is worthy of print. And those blurbs that talk about how great your writing is and how great the book is. How amazing! It all reinforces the fact that you have arrived! You are not just a writer, but an author of books!

I’m not going to lie. I live this fantasy often.

But. But. But. And I hate saying this. It’s great that there’s all that validation, but what about the comments? I know they say, never read the comments. No good can come from it. But, what about all those Amazon and Goodreads people? Don’t their opinions count for anything? Aren’t they just as important and affirming and validating? Doesn’t the fact that they think you aren’t that great count for anything? Because, I mean, it wasn’t just one or two people. It was enough people that it brought your rating to 3 stars. Which is just average.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d probably take a 3 star rating, because at least I’d be getting rated. Which would mean my book is out there. Being read. By other people. Not just my mother. And that would be spectacular.

But, the reviews for this book… Much of what was written was exactly what I was thinking. Writing is good it’s just the story is blah. I suppose you could make the argument, it was her story to tell and she told it as she wanted to. Also, she doesn’t work for me, so what I think doesn’t matter. All though, it kind of does since I won’t buy another of her books, so, where does that leave her? What is she thinking? Is she ignoring the nay sayers? Changing her writing style? Crying?

And how would I handle something like that? After all that slaving and pouring my heart out on the page, and tearing my hair out and whatever else I do to motivate myself, how would I feel if it turns out my writing is only average? I mean, it probably is, but it’s one thing for me to say it. It’s another thing for everyone else to say it.

So, today, I throw this question out there. How do you (or would you) handle negative reviews of your writing? I mean, the nice ones, not the “You totally suck,” non-specific reviews. It could be Amazon or a professional reviewer or someone who’s opinion you trust/respect (but not your Mom’s). Do you ignore them? Say the reviewer doesn’t know what they’re talking about? Internalize it? Take it to heart and adjust your writing accordingly? Drink heavily?

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