Friday, January 3, 2014

Cupid's Arrow: Thoughts on Bad Reviews

Hi interwebz!

So I realized it was my turn to do this post about 2 days ago. Problem, since I've been sick for 4 days and when I am sick I HATE EVERYTHING! Sorry Cupid. You missed. Paula is going rogue again.

I was going to do a recap of the #NYE14reads event, which you should totally check out if you need book recommendations, but then I started talking about reviews with some of my friends. And then I started thinking and thinking and once I go down that road I have to just write it out, you know?

So here goes: You probably know that even though I am here on the YA Vals blog and “debuting” in 2014 with my YA contemp The Art of Lainey, that I also wrote 3 books under the name Fiona Paul in collaboration with the literary studio Paper Lantern Lit. I don’t discount or downplay those books when I think of The Art of Lainey as my debut—there’s just a huge difference between writing work-for-hire under the guidance of others and writing your own personal story where you are the one with the copyright and final creative control. Or there was for me, anyway.

Still, I did not spend two years writing Venom, Belladonna, and Starling without getting invested in the characters and story, and putting some of myself into those books. So when Venom got eviscerated by both personal and professional reviewers months before it released, it felt like an entire bus stop full of strangers had lined up to punch me in the face. The girl who pretty much got an A+++ on every assignment her whole life now seemed to be getting a big fat D- from The World, and I was not prepared.

For a while, I just kind of dealt with it, mostly by not talking about the book and downplaying the release date. Letting random strangers steal my joy and shame me over what should have been an impressive accomplishment. Yeah, don’t be like me.

No one can tell you how to deal with something like bad reviews. We all handle things differently. But my first author-friends all shared wisdom with me--wisdom that helped me find my peace. Here are some of those thoughts, along with my own, for those of you who are just starting to get reviewed. Maybe they will help you find your peace, too. Got more thoughts? Share them in the comments.

I know there are some people out there who really like punching other people in the face. But these people are not the majority. If you are reading this because you wrote a book, then how's about taking a moment to remember how epic and awesome it is that you wrote a freaking book :) Who does that?? Awesome people, that's who.

The person who leaves a 1-star review is not more important than the person who leaves a 5-star review. Their opinion is not more valid, even if they write 10,000 words. Failure to recognize this is insulting to the people who really love your book, AKA your fans. 

Collectively, the blogosphere hates everything. Might as well write the book YOU want to write. At least that way the person who matters most will like it. 

Reviews are one person’s opinion at one point in time. There are reviews all over the internet that say “Well, I was going to give this 5 stars, but then I thought about it for a day and decided to give it 2 stars instead.” So in that way, reviews are kind of like photos, and even the superest supermodel sometimes takes a bad picture.

I never saw the old woman until someone pointed her out.

Reviewers aren’t criticizing your book, they’re criticizing their own perception of it. People can experience the exact same stimulus and perceive it differently. That’s why my mom thinks my green sweater is brown. That’s why some people see the young woman and some see the old woman. That’s why one reader’s poetry is another’s purple prose. Not everyone is going to read—and therefore review--the story you think you wrote. 

Know your book. My MC is a little shallow and abrasive at first. Some people will dislike that. But I did it for a reason, so seeing those complaints won’t hurt me. If you know why you did what you did, then you'll see that sometimes it’s just a difference in personal taste. 

Once when I was sick and watching Hulu, I heard British dating coach Matthew Hussey say something like this: "95% of people let their happiness be determined by the opinions of random strangers. Don’t be one of those people." I’ve been crushing on him ever since. 

Can you blame me?

If your strategy for dealing with reviews is to avoid them and that works, rock on. But keep in mind you’re denying yourself all the amazing ones. And you’re losing the chance to learn from the critical ones that are RIGHT. Once, a girl wrote a fairly scathing review of Venom, pointing out all of its anachronisms. I pouted. Then I sighed. Because that girl was right, and I told her so. She went on to proof Starling for historical inaccuracies and is now a twitter friend and a member of my street team. If you avoid all your reviews, you deny yourself the chance to turn a lose-lose into a win-win. 

Some of my all-time favorite authors wrote books I just couldn’t get into. Hey, it happens. They’re still my favorite authors. Some people just won’t like this or that book. So, you know, write more books! Or don’t. But either way, not liking your book isn’t the same as not liking you.

This blog post brought to you by the number 7.

Edited to add: In a world where people often feel like they have "earned" or "paid for" great or acceptable experiences, but feel justified in complaining about less than favorable ones (Think about it: when's the last time you stopped on your way out of Burger King to say "Just what I ordered. Stellar job, guys. 4 stars") it sometimes amazes me there are any good reviews at all, let alone that the good outnumber the bad for almost every book. So author-people, when you are obsessively crunching your GR stats, don't forget about all the people who really enjoyed your book, but couldn't quite find the time to tell you about it. And reviewer-people, thanks again for taking the time. We know you have lots of other things you could be doing.


  1. AWESOME post. Especially love "The person who leaves a 1-star review is not more important than the person who leaves a 5-star review. Their opinion is not more valid, even if they write 10,000 words. Failure to recognize this is insulting to the people who really love your book, AKA your fans." YES. SO MUCH THIS! <3

    1. I struggled with that a lot actually, Jen. When your first few reviews are "This book is terrible" it's easy to think "Whoops, I wrote a terrible book." But then what do you do with all of the people who come along and love it? Just assume they have bad taste in books? What do you do with your editor and publisher? Just assume they're not good at their job? A wee bit insulting, right? And Venom's editor and publisher and readers are some amazing, intelligent people. So now remembering this is one of the things that helps me the most.

    2. This is why you are the Wise Panda. :)

  2. Ooo, Paula, I remember when you said you wanted to write a post on reviews! That was months ago, like, in July... how I remember that is beyond me O_O

    I think it's interesting that you compare reviews to supermodel photos - but I totally agree. For me, the jump is never quite as large as 5 stars to 2 stars or vice versa, but time can change a person's opinion. I bet if I go back and re-read Venom now, knowing all that I know, I'd probably like the book a lotttt more. But that's not fair, because when I wrote my review of Venom, or of Belladonna, or of Starling, my opinion was based on that book alone. Or at least, that is completely true for Venom.

    I think it's kind of awesome that you still look out for reviews of your books. The way you look for feedback is very different from the way another might, but I think it benefits you more than it hurts you, which is a good thing.

    GREAT post, Paula! I'm bookmarking this one for future author references ;)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  3. Thanks, Paula. I loved Rachel and Kristin's links in particular.

  4. Paula this is seriously one more reason why I love you! It is an epic post and I appreciate the fact as a reviewer that you see that bad reviews don't trump good ones. Also new writers keep in mind that the majority of us readers/reviewers will pick up a book with a ton of bad reviews out of pure curiosity and half of us end up liking it bc it def is a personal taste thing. I actually posted a review today on a book that is getting a ton of love it or hate it reviews. I was on the loving side of it, but it's def a book that goes with personal taste, I hope the author reads her good reviews & doesn't just focus on the bad ones bc every one I've read it's been because they just couldn't handle the unique writing & characters....which is like u said Paula....not an author problem, it's a personal reader issue. Anyways I'm rambling! Love you guys! Awesome post Paula!

    Crystal @ Crystal in Bookland

  5. I love the honesty in this post. Awesome, article!

  6. I love this. The advice you gave me at a crucial time (which I love seeing in this post!) pretty much saved me from drowning in self-doubt and fear. So glad to be on this journey with you!!

  7. This is exactly why you are the Wise this post! :)