Never shoot a reviewer. How to write a novel–part 30

Read that title again, then go ahead and chuckle. You probably think I’m kidding.

Okay, I am. Sorta. But not if you’re truly sensitive about your writing. If all you want to hear is praise when it comes time to find out what other folks think of your work, then you’ve definitely stumbled into the wrong business. Do yourself a favor and quit. Now. Do not think another fictive thought. Ever.Not doo doo

Please understand, I’m trying to help here. I know all kinds of writers–good, bad (awful, even), and everything in-between. That covers newbies as well as professionals. And while everyone loves a pat on the back, as writers we must accept that some folks won’t like what we write no matter how good it is. And I’m not even talking about the trolls. I’ll get to them soon enough. (Writing requires great patience, so exercise some!)

I’m talking about regular, ordinary, garden variety readers. The kind who buy books every now and then, who have favorites among writers, and who frequent bookstores, libraries and on-line sources. Those people. Your work is going to make some of them deliriously happy. Others will respond to your latest 500-plus page tome with a hearty “Meh.” If you’re lucky, you’ll get more reviews out of the former. The latter usually don’t care enough to offer their thoughts. Be happy about that. Indeed, be thankful!

Doo doo fictionThen there are the “legitimate” critiquers. These could be people you’ve asked to read over your material. They could be in your writer’s group (assuming you have one; all writers need ’em whether they’ll admit it or not); they could be academics, assuming you can find a college level writing program that knows anything about commercial fiction (most don’t); or they could be “serious” reviewers, paid by some periodical like Publisher’s Weekly. The point is, someone in that cadre is going to take shots at your work–maybe honestly, maybe not. Either way, they’re going to hurt.

The last group to comment includes two kinds of shit slingers. First come the trolls, who post hateful reviews because they think it’s funny, or because they’re brain damaged, or because their mothers didn’t love them enough at birth, or simply because they’re off their meds. The second group is comprised of idiots. These are folks who’ll give your short story collection a bad review because they don’t like short stories of any kind. Or they’ll pan your romance because they only like westerns, or because the cover illustration didn’t reveal enough skin. These people will complain that your clearly labeled science fiction novel is–wait for it–science fiction! Who knew?

Portrait of crazy man making stupid faceSomeone, somewhere along the way, is going to define your work as a fresh pile of warm excrement. And when they do, you need to suck it up and keep working on your next pile. Do not even think about responding to a negative review. It’s both pointless and self-destructive. No good can come of it. Ever!

At best you’ll simply feed the troll; nobody else is likely to give it a second thought. The troll, however, will revel in his power to make you miserable. And he might even drag his little cabal of troll buddies in to help. “Good” folk will scatter for fear of being splashed. Your friends will close their eyes and pretend it didn’t happen. The trolls, however, will have an orgy. Right there on your review page or website. Don’t encourage them. Ignore them. Eventually they’ll go away.

If you’re in a critique group, just shut up. Nod your head. Thank the folks who took the time to read and respond, then go home. Have a drink. Kick the dog. Throw cold water on your parakeet. Do whatever you have to do to get the pissy feeling out of your system. Once you’ve cooled down and the tears have dried, take the time to consider what they said. You might find some truth there. You might find a way to save yourself from something truly embarrassing.

Then take the time to fix it.

Or–and this is always an option–ignore ’em all and stick with what you’ve done.

Next up: the psychology of readers.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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3 Responses to Never shoot a reviewer. How to write a novel–part 30

  1. polinto says:

    For many reasons, your advice should be the first read before anyone contemplates writing.

  2. joshlangston says:

    Thank you! Could I interest you in a job as my publicist?

  3. nativeson49 says:

    I would also add that if a budding writer finds themselves associated with ‘mean’ commenters, run! Most folks grow and prosper with constructive, helpful hand-holding. Ugliness from a reviewer should be avoided just like a rotten fish.

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