From Authors to Authors: Book Reviews & How to Deal With That Stinker!
Hello, everyone, nice to see you again! I’m kicking off a new series on the blog aimed at helping authors, the new or the still shy or undecided. And who better to give advice to writers than other authors who’ve gone through it? Debuting this series, today’s guest is Anna Butler who’s talking about authors, book reviews and how we should deal with them.
I honestly was thrilled to see Anna Butler wanted to participate, seeing how I was totally engrossed in her gay science fiction Taking Shield series! So welcome, Anna, and over to you.
When I dashed up to Alina like the proverbial eager puppy, with the “Oh please, please let me write some blog posts for you! Pretty please!” and she agreed—probably to stop the slobbering—I then had to think a little harder about what she’s trying to achieve here: advice to new and aspiring writers. Not airy fairy stuff, but good practical tips and hints, and the passing on of hard-won experience.
Over the weeks, I’m sure Alina and her guests will cover a bazillion things. World building, characterisation, plotting, conflict and tension, editing and revision… all essential stuff to know if you’re going to write well. Then there are so many tips on what you might call the peripherals to actual writing: how to choose a pen name, develop a social media strategy, market you and your book, think about your website and on line presence, find a good cover artist. Being contrary, I decided to go to the end of the process, and talk about how to deal with the aftermath of writing.
Book Reviews – and how to survive them
We put our books out there, our wordy little children, and we want readers to find them, buy them and like them. And because we authors are needy creatures, we want readers to tell us they like our books, to give us those coveted five stars (four, at a pinch), and a stellar review that assures us that we don’t suck.
How I longed for reviews when I started out! I dread to think how often I refreshed the Goodreads page those first two weeks. And then I got a stinker of a one-star review on Amazon that cost me my sleep for the next two. Lord, it hurt. As if the reviewer had scraped me raw and rubbed salt into the exposed patches. I think I went through the classic grief/anger process:
- shock – but this is my book! My baby! How can people say they don’t like it?!
- anger – and what the hell do they know? Where’s their published book, huh? Idjit!
- depression – oh lord, I really am a shit writer. I should never have tried to publish this book. I’m no good. Wailing. Gnashing of teeth.
- letting it go – although without the Frozen snowman to help me on my way and definitely without me singing. Looking at the good reviews helped. So did the realisation that my book provoked a reaction, which, while it might not be the one I wanted, meant I engaged with a reader, that my words had enough power to reach them.
- acceptance – time to look more objectively at the review. Is there anything constructive there I should think about that might actually help with the next book? The answer to that particular review was no, but other critical reviews? Yup. Some had good points to consider.
- moving on – I finally realised I couldn’t do anything about it and haters gonna hate. So I sat down and wrote the first Shield book and a steampunk romance, which were issued by two different publishers in the same week. It was exhausting, but the best riposte I could come up with.
Still, it was a painful process that took me a couple of weeks to get through.
I learned something the hard way that I’m now passing on to you: you can’t please everyone. Not every reader will like your style or your plot and they may end up hating the characters you feel you gave birth too, like Eve, in travail and suffering. And what’s more, they don’t have to like you and your book. They’ve paid their money for your work and they have every right to tell the world what they think of it. Even if that isn’t very much. And you, as writer, have to take it on the chin, and just keep on going.
Authors + Book Reviews – Here’s What to Do
- ignore all reviews and don’t look at them. Riiiiiight. As if any normal person could resist looking.
- if you insist on reading them—and you will—then cherish the good ones. They’re there, and they show far more intelligent insight into your books, they get what you’re trying to do and they’re all round Good Things. Smirk. Have chocolate and a glass of wine because you are a star and you deserve it.
- do absolutely nothing about the bad reviews. Chill. Every single writer gets bad reviews. J K Rowling? Tolkien? Dickens? They all got some stinkers. Have chocolate and a glass of wine because, again, you deserve it and they’re comforting.
- for the Lord’s sake, meet every bad review with dignified public silence. There are too many object lessons out there of authors behaving badly. Don’t be one of them. No matter how hostile the review, no matter how undeserved, say absolutely nothing online. Not on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. Behave as if you have been struck dumb. Remember, that review is as dust beneath your feet and not worthy of your notice.
- find the silver lining. I have a reviewer who hates everything I write. He (I’m sure it’s a he) puts out reviews for the Shield books that say things like “I’ve been following this entire series but the books are all terribly written and poorly characterised and they suck” and says so in the nastiest tone possible. I comfort myself with the knowing that he had to buy the books in order to review them and the bastard gentleman had to pay me a royalty first. That always makes me smile and jingle the coins in my pocket.
- grow a thick skin. It isn’t personal, most of the time at least, and as we’ve already noted, the very greatest writers all get bad reviews. Of course you can take a moment to be sorry it’s happened to you, but remember the value of good chocolate and wine as universal comforters, pick yourself and keep going.
- Wine. Just because.
- keep writing the stories that are in you.
And that brings me to the final thing I wish I’d known when I started out: it’s okay to fail. Not every book you write will be a best seller. Not every book will win prizes. Not every book will be noticed.
Embrace that. Learn from it. Take that stinker of a review and remind yourself of two truths. First, that you’re a writer and nothing and nobody can deny you that, and they’ll have to pry your keyboard from your cold dead hands. And second, and most important, you write what makes you happy.
I’m a writer, and I’m happy. Doesn’t get better than that.
Meet Anna Butler
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.
Anna is currently working on two, quite different, series of books:
- The Taking Shield series is a classic space opera with handsome young men wielding lasers and trying to save the last remnants of humanity. This is a profound love story, but it isn’t a romance. Four books and still no HEA for Bennet and Flynn!
- The Lancaster’s Luck series (The Gilded Scarab is published, The Dog Who Swallows Millions is coming soon) is a classic m/m romance, but with the added twist of a steampunk world setting where aeroships fill the skies of Victorian London and our hero uses pistols powered by luminferous aether and phlogiston.