“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Aristotle
If there’s just one quote that writers should tack to the wall above their writing desks, it’s that one. When you publish your work, you’re leaving it open to negative comments: not everyone is going to like what you’ve written, and sooner or later somebody’s going to say as much. This was brought home to me this morning when I noticed that a less-than-glowing 2 star review of The Quickening had popped up on Amazon UK.
How do I feel? Not too bad, actually. Reading it was not an altogether comfortable experience, I grant you, but I’m not the quivering, sobbing, half-past-drunk human wreck I feared I would become at this inevitable juncture in my writing career. In many ways, I really feel quite pleased.
The reviewer’s opinion is that The Quickening was altogether a slow read. She states, as she’s perfectly entitled to, that she found the story repetitive and the ending predictable.
Well all right, it’s not great. Still, I can’t argue with someone’s opinion, and I’m certainly not going to badmouth the person who’s been good enough to read and review my book. I left a comment thanking her for reading and reviewing, and saying that I was sorry that it hadn’t been to her taste. I’m not just being gracious, either; I’m genuinely pleased that my book is finding an audience, albeit a small one, even if they’re not all ecstatic about it. Indeed, according to one (admittedly optimistic) take on negative criticism, if you get a bad review it just means that you’ve extended your reach outside your target audience, which is ultimately a good thing.
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. No writer, no matter how talented, has ever managed to do that. Look up reviews of any book you love and adore, and sooner or later you’ll see what I mean. With a view to proving the point, I hopped over to Goodreads to see what my fellow Goodreaders made of some established classics – not that I’d ever dare to compare myself to these literary deities, of course.
First up, Wuthering Heights. “How this book got to be a classic is beyond me,” snaps one less-than-impressed reader. Well, fair play: Catherine’s obsessive, masochistic love affair with Number 1 literary git Heathcliff was never going to be to everyone’s taste.
Next, Melville’s doorstop-sized whaling classic Moby Dick. “It is remarkable,” says one reviewer, “how unpleasant the experience of reading this monster can be.”
Next, one of my personal all-time favourites, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “It was like raking my fingernails across a blackboard while breathing in a pail of flaming cat hair and drinking spoiled milk,” reads one review. For a moment my Conrad-adoring soul felt slightly miffed at this dissing of my literary idol. Then I laughed. Please: if anyone out there wants to give me a really bad review, try to make it as funny as this one! I’d be perversely proud to have a review like that under my belt…
And how about the granddaddy of all classics, Tolstoy’s War and Peace? “War and Peace,” according to one reader, “is a fat old worm – bloated and glistening and lifeless – that has been sitting on the shelves of libraries and bookstores for ages and ages.”
There you have it, then. Nobody ever wrote anything that pleased everyone. My advice? Getting a bad review isn’t as terrible as you think it’s going to be, and if you take them on board they might even help you to become a better writer. Take a deep breath, relax … the sky hasn’t fallen in. Nobody’s died. Somebody’s just expressed their opinion, that’s all.
“Calm down, dear,” as Michael Winner almost said, “it’s only a negative review.”