When I see a movie I really like, I usually head over to the Internet Movie Database to find out what other viewers thought of it. It never ceases to amaze me how different the reactions can be. Especially when the movie I thought was a 10-star, absolutely brilliant piece of work gets one star from several people, with post titles like DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME and A COMPLETE MESS.

I often wonder if these people saw the same movie I saw or had somehow wandered into a theater that was showing a counterfeit version. I constantly have to remind myself that viewing “art” or creative work is a completely subjective process.

There has been a debate going on in several blogs lately about literary vs. genre fiction and the “snobbery” we sometimes encounter in the book world. I jumped into the conversation in reaction to several comments suggesting that there are good books and bad books, period. And while I understand the sentiment of such a statement, I still believe it’s all subjective. Who decides what’s good and what’s bad?

We all do. For ourselves. And no one else can tell us how to define these things. As the old saying goes, “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” There are those, like myself, who think chef Roy Yamaguchi is a genius. And there are others who prefer the simple recipes of chef Ronald McDonald. Go figure. But who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

So what this all brings me to is the title of this post: Bruised Egos. What every writer has to prepare him or herself for when his children are finally out there in the world is criticism. Not everyone is going to love your book.

I have gotten several complimentary emails and comments from people who have read KISS HER GOODBYE. It’s always very gratifying to know that my story and characters resonated with them in some way, that they rushed home to finish reading the book, that they’ve passed the book on to friends or family members because they want to share the experience.

But for every ten of those reactions to your work, there’s always one who didn’t care for it. And in this day of the Internet, a simple Google search while steer you straight to that one.

No matter how much you prepare yourself for criticism, nothing bruises your ego more than a negative remark about your work. Tess Gerritsen has talked about this on her blog, about some of the scathing remarks reviewers have made and her attempts to deal with them.

The trick, of course, is to simply let it roll off your back, remind yourself that this is only ONE person out of ten. But the human animal seems to have this strange need to remember only the negative. When we look back at our lives we often look back at the mistakes we made rather than revel in our accomplishments.

As you may have guessed by now, I recently stumbled across a reader’s reaction to my work that was less than favorable. He was clearly not impressed with my book and his comments cut right to the bone.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy or fish for compliments. I’m a big boy and I’ve been in rooms full of studio executives who have torn my work to pieces. But for some reason this reader’s negative comment sticks with me and, for the sake of my damaged ego, I have to remind myself that our definitions of good and bad truly ARE subjective.

I have to remind myself that every time I go to the Internet Movie Database, the range of viewers opinions about the same piece of work is all over the map. That you can’t please everyone and, if you think you’re going to, you’re deluded. It’s an impossible task.

Yet it sticks with you. The negative stuff. And I have to wonder why.

I doubt I’ll ever know the answer. And I suppose the only thing we writers can do is to let the wound heal, deal with the scars as best we can, and keep moving on.

Oh, and a good “Up yours, pal!” to our critics does wonders. But we should probably keep those to ourselves…. :)

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In a way, as much as it hurts, it is those scathing offhand remarks that cut us deeply that spur us on to do better. We will never please everybody - that's an absolute truth - but what seems to drive us is an attempt to win more converts, or to prove them wrong.

The best reviewers don't gush and they don't get personal. They provide a thoughtful, balanced assessment of the work on its own merits. I would say that Russel D. McLean and Brian Lindenmuth, as well as others, have taught me a lot. There were insights I could take away and apply to my work. Even if I don't agree with everything in a review, a fair and balanced assessment is a wonderful thing.

It may be that this comment you got, in part, is from an ardent Koontz fan and it may be nothing more than being protective because of the marketing. This happened to Stuart MacBride over the initial campaign for his first book - declaring fans of Rankin and Rebus would love MacBride and McRae. A lot of Rankin fans are a touchy bunch, and they went after Stuart, not on the basis of the quality of his own work, but on the basis of comparison, saying he's nowhere near Rankin's level. (I say comparing Stuart and Ian is comparing apples and oranges.)

This is why any blurbs I got that included a comparison to an author were edited so that wasn't included. When someone else pays for my marketing campaign I'll have to deal with their decisions - for now, I'm avoiding that kind of backlash.
Hey, one magazine gave my novel an award for "worst ending." What are ya gonna do? I like the ending. Other reviews thought it was good.

And I thought is was funny that Stuart MacBride put a bit in his novel where a character is reading the latest Ian Rankin and the cop tells him to put it down, it's time for some real police work. A great scene.
Yeah, Stuart's got a great sense of humour. I'm told it's an inevitability anyway - all Scottish male authors get measured against Rankin.

I didn't think the ending of your book sucked. So whenever anyone knocks something you just tell yourself, "Sandra didn't think so." That's all that matters. ;)
I'm not a writer, but I can empathize. Criticism, obviously, is something that everyone has to deal with at some point in their career. I had the misfortune in the early days of my retail career of working with a manager who thought nothing of screaming at employees while standing in the middle of the sales floor. Everyone around you could hear and see what was happening. In some ways, I can imagine the feelings I had listening to her yell at me is fairly similar to what a writer must feel when reading a bad review about a book.

Of course, the aftereffect is different. I resolved that if I ever attained management status, I would use that manager as a model of what not to do, and I followed it. As a result, my employees tended to be fond of me and responded well when I did have to correct them or reprimand them over something.

Writers, though, well, it would have to be a little harder for you guys. A book is your sweat and hard work out there for everyone to see. And if you completely change just because of one critic, well, that won't work. It seems recently though, that critics are really taking themselves far too seriously. They overanalyze everything, give things bad reviews, but then fans love it and the critics are ignored. Which kind of makes me wonder why we have critics and reviewers at all. The movie 300 is a good example-critics were panning that movie before it even came out-but everyone I've talked to, everything on the web says it's a great film.

So yeah, you can't openly say "Up yours" to the critic, but I would keep that attitude, because in the end, I don't think their opinion is going to matter that much.
Just wait till the Amazon reader reviews come in. The snarky comments can make you want to dive under the covers and stay there till next Christmas.
It's always hard... at least for me... you do your best, you put everything you have into your story, and then you take a deep breath. And pray.
This just happened to me yesterday, actually. CREDO (my last short film) just went online, and has been generating theological discussion at reallivepreacher.com. One of the people in the discussion said "Meh," and went on to compare my composing skills to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Now, I've been called lots of bad things. But that's just wrong.

I thought about it overnight, and decided that since the conversation on the Internet IS two-way, I'd see if I could stop being just an abstraction to him and let him see a person instead. It worked great. The conversation got back on the rails, and he introduced a new and thoughtful discussion that was actually about the film's content.

On top of that, he offered me the same courtesy: Now I see him as a person too, not just as the guy who made the snarky comment.

FWIW. YMMV. IRDDU.
Keith, excellent idea. I decided to go to the forum in question and respond to the critic -- NOT in a negative way. I simply told him I was sorry he didn't enjoy the book and thanked him for giving a debut author a try.

It'll be interesting to see if he responds, but no matter. I truly think everyone has a right to their opinion and I would never dream of attacking the guy. Such moves are silly and counterproductive.

It was nice, however, to give him my thanks. After all, he didn't have to read the book and I definitely owe him for that.
Yeah. And I'd much rather hear snark than crickets.

Though not exclusively snark.
I think I'm fairly well-prepared that there are going to be a lot of people who really loathe my main character--she's not polite, she curses (often and creatively), and she's one freaking determined woman going after her goal -- a take-no-prisoners type. She's definitely not a shy, retiring introvert or a southern belle, and there are going to be people who see that there's a female heroine and expect something more... demure.

The thing is, I set out to create a character who is polarizing in her own world, so I have to expect that to happen with readers. I'd rather have strong reactions -- even very strong negative reactions. If I'm getting the extremes in both directions, then I will feel like it worked. (Masochistic? Probably.)

A friend of mine (a fairly successful screenwriter in L.A.) once handed me a script he'd butchered. I'd read an earlier draft which had been brilliant and then the last one... massively sucked. This was something he was doing on spec and I had to be diplomatic, but honest with him (which ticked him off for a while, but we recovered)... and I asked him why he'd gone down this path when I knew several other people had loved the previous draft. He didn't have to adhere to anyone's notes. Turns out, he'd had one friend who had hated the other draft and it had bugged him and bugged him and he'd rewritten trying to win that guy over. (The guy still hated it.) Then he said, "You know, as writers, we're entertainers, and we want to please everyone. And unless we're super successful, we're always looking for that one thing that's going to make us even better, so we tend to listen to the negative so we can try to fix that instead of listening to the positive and capitalizing on that, instead."

One of the very first readers I had (someone who was very powerful in the publishing industry) read the first three chapters and sent me an email: he loved the writing, thought it was vivid, hysterical, well-done, etc., and then said he absolutely hated 'that woman' and didn't want to spend another 20 seconds in her head. The next day, my current agent called and wanted to represent it and then sold it in a three-book pre-empt, based just on the chapters and synopsis. I printed out the first person's response to remind myself of how subjective this business really was.

Imagine how boring it would be if we all liked the same things all the time. yech. So, I'm trying to force myself to be as brave as my character and not care. Dunno if it'll work. If I disappear next week and am in a fetal position in a corner, you'll know why.
I like the way Stephen King puts it in On Writing (paraphrasing): If two or more people you trust point out the same problem, it probably needs fixing. If one person hates something, but the writer likes it, it's a tie. In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. In writing, a tie goes to the writer.
Among all the nodes of stupidity on the Internet, the imdb message boards are in the top five for sheer density of blockheads. In fact,if you take the comments sections of right wing sites like Redstate.org and Little Green Footballs out of the equation, I'd probably rank the imdb boards as #1 on the Moron Hit Parade.
By the same token, I don't tend to get hurt or angry over AOA (Any Old Asshole) reviews.

People I respect, now...they can cut me to the bone.

And the thing that hurts worst is being ignored.
I am a quote collector so my initial response was to look for relevant quotes. There are a number of authors who are against the idea of responding to a bad review.

"Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has any right to whine. He is not obliged to be an author. He invited the publicity and he must take the publicity that comes along." -- E.M. Forster

"Having a writer step up and defend his own work is like having your mother come out of the stands and argue with the umpire after you are called out at home during Little League. Even if Mom is as right as Archangel Gabriel, it still looks bad." -- John C. Wright


Over at my site last year a self published author took exception to the bad review that was given to his book and proceeded to make an ass out of himself on the message boards. It can go either way. I think it is probably a slippery slope for an author to respond because for it to succeed it depends equally on both (or all) participants to keep the focus solely on the book and this may not always be the case.

Me personally I love discussing and debating books so I wouldn't mind hearing from an author whose book that I had reviewed. My only stated intent as an non-professional reviewer (but one who always tries to act professionally) is to not write an Amazon type review.

I should say thanks to Sandra because regardless of the outcome of any review I just want the author and the reader to come away with the sense that I actually read the book.

This reminds me of Gischlers recent blog post where he publicly thanked all of the reviewers on Amazon who hated his books for purchasing them.

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