One does not talk about bad reviews, seems to be the rule. If you’ve written a book or three and you want people to read them, the default position has to be resourceful cheeriness. In these days of mass-publishing, when anyone with something to say can find somewhere to say it, you need a thick skin if you’re going to put something creative out into the wild on which people will, inevitably, pass comment.
It’s the price you pay for being a writer, people say, and of course they are right. A great many people want to see their writing published, see it made available, see it being bought and read and (we hope, oh my we hope) generally enjoyed.
Take the rough with the smooth. Don’t read the reviews if they upset you. The positive ones outweigh the negative ones.
Every now and again, somebody does lose it, spectacularly, as somebody did just recently. And everyone circles around, says tsk tsk and playground-laughs because really, writers should know better than to get upset at reviews.
And yet. And yet. Sometimes it is different. Sometimes, someone hits you with a one-star review on Goodreads, and it makes you question everything you do. Which is mad, it’s insane and it’s silly. But it’s also human.
Take this, for instance:
Seriously boring – why would anyone stick with this one to the bitter end? I’m one of the 15% of reviewers who didn’t like this one – and proud of it!
A slow, dull, ponderous and overstuffed read littered with minor and pointless details and descriptions that weren’t relevant to the story and got in the way of progressing through the book. By page 75 I had enough and gladly abandoned it.
An additional irritation was that Shepherd’s style of writing seems dumbed down, too simplistic for adult reading.
So, OK. She didn’t like it (she’s talking about my first book, The English Monster). But did she have to be so gleeful about not liking it? Does that help anyone, that enthusiasm to pour ice-cold water on the poor writer’s head? Why would you be proud of not liking something?
A one star rating is fine – I mean, I don’t like it, but it’s fine, I write books that put some people off (and, secretly, I’m a bit pleased with myself about that). But language like this seems to reflect something else going on, something I am frankly mystified by. Is this the kind of thing you would say to a writer’s face? Is it the kind of thing you would say to any professional when critiquing their work?
How was the meal?
It was seriously terrible.
People just don’t speak like this to each other. Put a screen, a keyboard and the whole of the Internet in front of them, and somehow they lose sight of something – that there is a person at the other end of this.
And that’s the thing that disturbs me most. That another person, someone out there in the world, wrote those gleefully angry words – about me. About what I do. I have literally never – not ever – described another person’s work in terms like this.
But, no, that isn’t true – I have, of course. In private conversation with another person, I will go to town on any piece of creative work you care to mention. But then I imagine the creator sidling up behind me and listening to what I’m saying. And I cringe. Because that’s the human thing to do. Because unless the other person is vicious, or evil, why would you want to upset them?
A small plea for kindness, then. Pour cold water if you have to. Express your dislike if you want. I get it, I understand it.
But, please, try and be nice about it. Try and imagine going into work tomorrow, and someone standing in front of you and telling you your work is poor, is in fact lacking in any merit whatsoever, and what is more this someone is mystified that any colleague could hold any different view, your contribution being so pathetic and devoid of value.
I’ll be back at the desk working tomorrow. Other people will say nice things about my work, and other people will say nasty things, the world will go on turning. But as of right now, my world is just that little bit less pleasant than it was before I read that review.
Is that, really, what the reviewer intended?