Okay, we need to talk. Gather round my fellow indies, this is a safe place. A happy place. Relax and take a deep breath. Pull up a chair, some stale coffee is on the back table but the doughnuts are fresh.
Whether you are new to the self-publishing biz like me or have come to accept rejection and criticism like a pro after years or decades of writing, let’s be honest with each other – criticism hurts. If you’re like me, your writing is a very intimate part of your soul. You open up your very being and put pieces of yourself on the page. In the simplest terms, you make yourself very vulnerable.
I knew going into this whole thing that Collapse would not be everyone’s cup of tea. People’s tastes are particular. I know my tastes are particular. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, however, I can’t stand the books. I found the first one much too difficult to follow along with the dozens of characters. I tried my best to read it but had to stop about a quarter of the way into it because I just couldn’t get into it. Martin is obviously a successful and talented writer, but I’m not a fan.
Do you remember your first negative review? I know I do. The funny thing about it – it was a three star review. The reviewer was not kind, claiming that my writing style was horrible and that my dystopian thriller was aimed at twelve year olds. Not sure how a book with graphic violence and language, a racist skinhead, and the victim of Richard Dupree’s crime was material aimed at twelve year olds. That particular review bothered me a lot. It raised my blood pressure and upset my stomach enough to warrant some pepto. Then another negative review, another three star mind you, came just minutes behind the first one. This review made the claim that Dupree’s escape from the courthouse was lifted completely out of Silence of the Lambs. This upset me even more because I couldn’t see the parallel at all. Dupree didn’t cut someone’s face off and wear it as a mask or dress up a corpse in his own clothing to confuse his captors. I chomped on some more pepto tablets and realized I had a serious problem to contend with. If three star reviews bothered me so badly, how on earth was I going to cope with one and two star reviews?
Then I got my first two star review. My stomach started churning and I could feel my heart pounding. My hand was actually shaking when I clicked the mouse to see what horrible bashing was in store. Was a grown man about to cry?
It didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I had nothing but respect for the reviewer’s opinion. Collapse was just not his cup of tea. He was expecting a different type of book. He thought the book would be geared more towards survival fiction in the same vein as James Wesley Rawles Patriots. He also wasn’t fond of the main characters. I totally get that. To each his own.
As more time has gone by, I’ve collected seven two-star reviews and four one-star reviews to tarnish my combined fifty-nine four and five star reviews. Most of them didn’t bother me at all, they made claims that they didn’t enjoy the story or the format of multiple storylines was too confusing. Not a big deal. Two in particular freely admitted that they gave up after a few chapters and stuck me with a one-star review. Really? You read less than 10% of the book and think that your very limited knowledge qualifies you to leave a review? Gimme a break! This is just my own personal gripe, if you think that you can give up on a book very early on and leave a review, that’s your right to do so. I just find it to be unfair and in poor taste. If I give up on a book a few chapters in, I simply move on to something else and wouldn’t dream of leaving a review.
Over at GoodReads I got two reviews that really offended me. The two reviewers could not separate the storyteller from the story. The first reviewer directly accused me of being anti-Islam. Not the story, not one of the characters, me personally – “The author doesn’t seem to like Islam very much…” The other reviewer stated “…the writing of a man that not only has major issues with the current US Government but has little faith in the populous to fix the problem of corruption.” Let’s be clear, I wrote a piece of fiction. Actually, let’s take it a step further and point out that I wrote a piece of dystopian fiction. Clearly this reviewer doesn’t understand the definition of dystopian. Let’s take one final step further and point out that I actually work for the US government in my full-time job.
On the last page of Collapse, I included a list of contact information so that readers could interact with me via Twitter, Facebook, this blog, and by email. I understood that this decision would expose me to both glowing praise and harsh criticism. A gentlemen sent me an email all but condemning me to hell for the offensive language in the book and was shocked that I let my wife read it. (I’m guessing he believes that a woman’s delicate sensibilities couldn’t handle an F-bomb.)
Did I write this blog post to garner your sympathy? Am I fishing for your complements to boost my ego? Not at all, far from it. Well then, Mr. Stephenson, what is your point you may ask? I hope that by sharing my experience that other indies will learn the simple fact that you are going to get a lot of negative criticism. That fact might be obvious to everyone, you might even be waiting on your first negative review at this very moment confident in the fact that you are prepared for it. I thought I was prepared and ready, but I was not ready for criticism that just defied logic and reason. I was prepared for criticism about a great many things. Towards the end of the book I wrote a love scene that I knew would offend some people, I was prepared for that. I wrote several scenes containing graphic violence that I knew would offend some, I was prepared for that as well. Some portions of the book might lead you to believe I’m a hardcore liberal that hates conservatives and wishes to offend them (I’m not, by the way). Much of Collapse requires the reader to suspend belief as a lot of fiction does, I was prepared for people to not being able to make that leap.
What I was not prepared for was criticism that, in my opinion, came out of left field and just flat confused me. I had to fight the urge to leave comments on those reviews and engage the reviewer in debate, explaining my side of things and hopefully change their mind. I decided against it because in my experience, once someone has made up their mind about something, it is often an exercise in futility to make them agree with you. It often makes the situation far worse and in my opinion, is just not worth the time.
My advice, prepare yourself for anything. Get ready for criticism of all types -constructive criticism that is tactful and polite, criticism that makes you ask yourself “Did this person actually read my book?” Be ready for criticism that is harsh, rude, offensive, and even says your writing style is terrible.
Even better, if you can resist the temptation, don’t even click on the ones and twos.
Richard Stephenson is the author of best selling dystopian thriller, Collapse.
Click here to view Richard’s blog.