~ By Andrea Dalling
It’s a familiar scenario. You spend months or years writing the manuscript, crafting and revising it to be the best you can make it. Your beta readers and editor rave about the final product. It goes up for sale, the reviews come in, and it’s a success! Readers love it!
And you dissect every word of that bad review, trying to understand. Did you fail as an author? Or did the reviewer fail as a reader?
My erotic romance novella, SEDUCING JORDAN, received a two-star review that said of my eighteen-year-old characters, “reading about kids and sex just felt wrong.”
Okay, I get it. Some people are squeamish that way, and I knew that going in. Never mind that the blurb uses phrases like “Princeton-bound” and “can’t wait for college,” so there’s no question these characters are young adults in their late teens.
I could argue all day about how this reader’s evaluations of my book are off base. And objectively, some of those arguments might be valid.
But that’s missing the point.
Unless you’re talking about professionals, book reviewers aren’t objective. They’re not obligated to be. They’re offering their opinions—their emotional and visceral reactions to the story. Their reviews aren’t targeted to the author but to other readers.
And for every reader who’s turned off by a story that includes eighteen-year-olds having sex, there’s another one (or two, or ten) who’s specifically looking for that.
That reviewer did me a favor. She warned away readers who aren’t my target audience, and in doing so, may attract readers who are.
Book reviews often say more about the reader than they do about the book. And as an author, you just need to accept that, as painful as the negative reviews can be.
Whatever you do, don’t engage with reviewers. As soon as they know you’re listening, the conversation will stop. It’s like a group of high school kids chatting in the cafeteria, who suddenly realize a teacher is within earshot. Even if they’re not saying anything bad, they don’t want the teacher overhearing.
At best, public comments about bad reviews make you look insecure. At worst, they attract unwanted attention from reviewers who will give you one-star ratings without reading your books, because they feel like you’re attacking a reader for being honest.
If you need to rant, do it with your spouse, your best friend, or your critique partner. Not on a blog or social media outlet, or even an RWA forum. You’re a professional—bad reviews come with the territory. They’re part of the job you signed up for. Indulge in wine or chocolate or a massage or even a crying jag if that’s what it takes to feel better. And then, move on.
Easier said than done? If obsessing over bad reviews interferes with your ability to write, then don’t read them. Find an author to partner with, and read each other’s reviews. Share summaries of what readers liked and didn’t like, but don’t expose yourself to the craziness and vitriol and plain old factual inaccuracies that some reviews contain.
Art is subjective. Just like you don’t like every book you read, some people won’t like your book. Those aren’t the people you’re writing for. You’re writing for the ones who give you five-star reviews and gush over how much they loved your story. So get over yourself, and make more art.
Andrea Dalling lives in the sexy Southeast U.S., where the summers are hot and the romance hotter. During the day, she’s an award-winning technical writer, but at night, she writes steamy stories. She loves to torture her characters but eventually rewards them with a happily-ever-after. Married to her college sweetheart, she’s a progressive Christian and an advocate for LGBT rights. Her debut gay erotic romance novella, SEDUCING JORDAN, was published in September 2014. You can contact her through her website at http://andreadalling.com/ .