Ask yourself a bare bones question. Do it when you’re alone, and have some time to think about the answer. When it’s quiet, the kids are in bed, the work day is done, and you have a glass of wine or a beer, and you are curled up in your favorite chair. Then ask:
Am I a good writer?
What’s the answer? Are you? Are you good, great, mediocre – or do you know? Don’t be surprised by that last option, for many don’t.
That’s why reviews are invaluable, both to gauging our talent, and our potential.
Now, everyone dreads a bad review. It not only chips away at our ego (If you don’t have a bit of an ego, you don’t need to be writing in the first place), but also decreases, just by a smidgen, the possibility of our book’s financial and popular success. One won’t make much difference, of course, but what about two? Three? Ten? Can anyone honestly say that being smacked by a dozen bad reviews doesn’t cause them to throw down the pen permanently?
Conversely, of course, the stellar review does the opposite. The day your book gets sparkling reviews is the day you pop the cork on the bubbly and say bye-bye to the serious for a little while.
But, before you consider either literary suicide or a party of Super Bowl proportions, you should consider something.
Reviews come in flavors.
This is the one you get from friends and family when your book launches. It wouldn’t matter if you wrote “and” every other word and splattered adverbs from here to breakfast time, your book is a new dawn in literary history.
There are folks out there that wouldn’t give a book a good review if you held a gun to their head. They exist, nay thrive, to splatter the guts of every writer that blunders into their spotlight. Their review may be hurtful, it may be rude, but it ain’t gonna be nice.
The honest-to-God, genuine, homogenized, pasteurized, authentic, ahem, review. No matter whether the reader liked the book or not, they tell you. They tell you what was right, what was wrong, and whether or not they’ll ever EVER read your stuff again. This is the dangerous one, far more so than either of the others. “Cause reading, and taste, is subjective. Whether the reader liked it or not, it’s based on their expectations, their reading level, their life experience, and whether your book, on that day, at that moment, moved them.
So. What do you do with each of the flavors?
Strawberry: Ignore them, in regards to any value. Thank Uncle Jeb or Cousin Luke, and then ignore them. They’re great for publicity, and totally useless otherwise.
Lemon: Ignore them too. Trust in the intelligence of other readers who might come across them, and realize that most will recognize it for the hate-based, ignorant bit of garbage that it is.
Banana: These are the ones you use, and are incredibly valuable. See, if you really really want to get better at your craft, you listen to opinion. Now, no one review is going to impress any author into thinking that they need to work on one aspect of their writing or another – but patterns will. So, take all your bad reviews and make notes pertaining to their main objection for your book. Make a list of those objections, and examine it for patterns. A pattern is generally considered to be something that occurs three or more times. So, look for three’s. If you have one, go back and read – and reread – whatever the comments were.
Now, do the same thing with all the good comments. There can be patterns there, too. No one can exist in a world of the completely negative, so make a list of all the good stuff people are saying. Are there patterns there, as well? Good! That means you are doing something right, and you need to hang onto that, use it, revel it, and let it bolster you through all the hard work.
Now, it’s time to let go of your ego. It doesn’t matter what the negative comments were, if you have three or more folks saying the same thing, fix it, whatever it is. Study it, read blogs and articles on it, fix it. And the next thing you write, pay particular attention to that aspect of your writing.
And while you’re at it, thank God for those bad reviews. They just brought you one step closer to being a best-selling author.