Now for the longer version, and a few specific examples of who and what tribulations await you, the writer.
- The Hater. They’re out there, and in another life, you’ve personally kicked their puppy. They’re going to get every ounce they can out of a punitive review, and by all that’s holy, no one will wonder where they stand by the end of it. Example– from one of my actual reviews– I have to say this was singlehandedly the worst story I’ve EVER read (and I read quite extensively). Ouch. How, you might ask, do I deal with this? Simple– you don’t. Ever. It’s a no win situation to engage someone who has an extensive desire to write bad things about what you do. It might irk you, but it’s not personal. It’s the Internet.
- The Frustrated Writer. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how they view your work. Simply stated, they take time to write a review that is clever, sometimes mean, thorough, and often scattered with personal attacks. These are, for me, the most troubling, because so much of me goes into my stories. In effect, they attack your history, which can evoke a powerful reaction. Example– I haven’t seen such blatant yet backhanded anti-Semitism in a very long time. In this case, the reviewer refers to a character changing their name to be a YouTube star, which is common in the entertainment industry and– here’s the kicker– what my Grandfather did for his music career. He was a big band leader in the 1930s, prior to going off to fight Nazis. With a last name like Grabowski, he chose Gray for his performer name and we’ve used it as a family tradition for restaurant reservations ever since. In essence, the reviewer made an incorrect assumption and branded a fun tradition in my family as something sinister. What did I do? Nothing. And that is, once again, the right move.
- The Crusader. Oy vey. These are among the most difficult to deal with because they have an agenda prior to even reading the sentence of your book. They’re taking a square peg and hammering it into a round hole and damn the consequences. Using magic? You hate Pagans. A man makes a decision? Misogyny. Not enough Lithuanian characters? You must hate Lithuania. You get the picture. Example–Terry Maggert manages to subtly insult every single practicing Pagan in the world and maybe some atheists and other religions as well. This is radioactive. Back away, forget it ever happened, and keep writing your novels. I’ve written stories about the Pope being a vampire and zombie sex, but reactions like that one are best ignored. This also speaks to the issue of censorship. I’m against it. Period. I can’t allow exterior forces to shape a narrative in a fictional place. This is my policy, and as I tell people at conferences, “Your world, your rules.”
- The Scholar. *Heavy Sigh* Some people could take the fun out of a naked demolition derby, and they will invariably show up in your reviews. They’re experts on virtually any topic you choose to write about, and they’re going to let you know. They will chide you for perceived errors, and in some cases even reach out to you personally to do so (I’ve had it happen at signings). I write fantasy and science fiction. Therefore, I operate on the principle espoused by Mark Twain, “Get your facts straight, then you can distort them as you please.” This ties in to #3, but also stand on its own as a cautionary tale about the immediacy of “expert opinion”. Example–The Adirondacks were named by the Mohawk, not the Huron, so Maggert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Setting aside the concept that original cultures moved around, this is a shining example of The Scholar. They’re angry, they don’t like your book, and they’re going to make it a personal attack based on their perception and bias about your intellect. If they paid for the book, sally forth, I say. If they got it for free, well, you should be warned that NetGalley is where dreams go to die (more on that at a later date).
- The Soul of Brevity. Often cross-pollinates with the Compulsive Cusser,, these reviews can be as short as two words, leaving no doubt as to the position they’re taking about your book. I actually like these, because more often than not, they strike me as honest. Example- Totally sucked. Attaboy. That’s at least honest, and it leavens the other windy reviews. There are varieties in which the reviewer channels a soldier or stable hand’s language, but that’s okay too. If nothing else, it pumps up your total and gives you data about who is– and isn’t– reading your books.
The common theme here is this: there is no scenario in which engaging a bad review can end well. In point of fact, I’ve personally watched two NYT best-selling authors nuke their career by clapping back at bad reviews. If they can’t withstand that kind of pushback, then I know I can’t. *
At least, not until I have my island filled with giraffes and rocket launchers.
See you in Frankenmuth, Michigan this weekend. I’ll be the guy eating. All the time.
*I can, however, have someone I dislike die a horrible death in my next novel. I’ve done this four times. True story. Be careful, change their name. 🙂