I thought I received a bad review yesterday. I was wrong.
Being a writer means occasionally finding out what people think of your work. I once thought that if one was good at writing, one would get good feedback. While that’s at least partially true, it’s not the only factor in a review. The personal tastes of the reader have a lot to do with it, and even things like their mood–which may have nothing at all to do with what they’re reading–may play a role as well.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was “find your crowd.” Don’t try to please everyone with your writing. It’s simply not possible. If you write what you really want to write, and write it well, some of the people in the world will want to read it. Others, by extension, will not.
I got a review yesterday that didn’t go the way I thought it would. I won’t repost it here because I’m not trying to get even with the reviewer or anything. In fact, I don’t necessarily even disagree with it. Sound crazy? Read on.
After I’d reread the “bad” review for the mere three-hundredth time–which, obviously, hadn’t affected me in the slightest–I realized something. It had nothing to do with me. In fact, it had very little to do with my book at all.
Here are some things that the reviewer could have said to annihilate my fragile ego, which I seriously doubt was the intent:
- “It was riddled with grammatical errors.”
- “The plot holes were wide enough for me to drive a truck through.”
- “All of the characters were as flat and lifeless as characters in a Sam Hooker novel, which are notoriously flat and lifeless.”
- “The world was as lacking in detail as the Hookeresque flat and lifeless characters.”
- “It’s not funny.”
The Bottom Line
None of that was in the review. The worst thing it said was (I’m paraphrasing) “I didn’t like it.”
That was it. The reviewer simply couldn’t be counted among “my crowd.” S/he didn’t like my voice, my writing style. I can’t say for sure, but I got the impression that s/he doesn’t typically read humorous fantasy.
I’m not going to rage about it. I won’t even go so far as to say it was unfair. It was the reviewer’s opinion, and that’s not the sort of thing in which objective truths involve themselves.
The whole thing showed me that reviews aren’t simply “good” or “bad.” They can sit anywhere on the spectrum from “euphoric” to “agonizing.” I feel that “not my cup of tea” is somewhere in the middle, and says far more about the reviewer than it does about my work.
Fortunately, this was not my first review. Far from it. I’ve had plenty of praise from “my crowd,” so I don’t have to wonder whether this one opinion means I’m not a good writer. It doesn’t. It only means that I’m not a good match for this reader.
The next time you receive a “bad” review–and if you’re putting yourself out there, you definitely will–ask yourself, are you sure it’s actually bad? I predict that the answer, once your blood comes down from a rolling boil, will be a resounding “eh, not really.”
Finally, if it happens to be the first review you’ve ever received, wait. Trust that you will find your crowd. It will get better.