Chiming In On The Negative Reviews Issue

Just when you thought that perhaps authors were learning to be graceful about negative reviews, this happened.  I’m stunned.  One would think a NYT best-selling author would know far better than to behave poorly on social media.  One would hope a personal assistant would know the business better, too.

I’ve been speaking to others in my circle lately about the pitfalls of social media and how easily connections are forged now in the internet-driven world.  I can recall several instances of celebrities whose work I no longer partake in due to their personal behaviour online (singers, actors and even a best-selling author I once held in high esteem – not the one above, by the way).  While social media can be a beautiful thing, particularly for indie authors such as myself, one must never lose site of a very important fact:

You cannot be yourself on social media when networking for your creations.  You must be “all business” in the sense that you must keep your temper in check, be polite and professional and remember that people are watching.

Authors, bloggers:  negative reviews happen.  They come with the territory.  Good bloggers and reviewers – the ones who do so out of love for the written word and wanting to help authors and readers alike – don’t like to hand out a negative review.  They want to enjoy your work.  If they don’t enjoy it, they want to help you improve it.  Authors:  negative reviews will happen, even if your book is the second coming of To Kill A Mockingbird or the like.  Do not publish unless you are ready – truly ready – to let these roll off your back.

That said, how do we, as authors, handle negative reviews?  John Scalzi and many others do a grand job of explaining this, but I’ll chime in.  I’m a sensitive person; I’ve always struggled with fear of negative critiques in any aspect of my life.  It’s why I hesitated for years to publish:  I wanted to learn that skill of walking away and letting go.  Writers, I get it.  It hurts when someone slags you.  It hurts when someone makes a comment akin to using your book as toilet paper.  It even hurts when someone very nicely says that your book did nothing for him or her.

It’s okay to be bothered.  It’s okay to be angry at ad hominem attacks.  Embrace your emotions, consult with trustworthy friends, but do it in private.  Remember the business metaphor:  the customer is always right, even if you think he’s dead wrong.  Move on, quietly.

Here are my suggestions for how to handle negative reviews of all shapes, sizes and venom quotas:

  1. Walk away.  Do not respond.  Do not even think of any sort of action, private or public, until all of the initial emotion has dissipated.
  2. Have a trusted person read the review over and offer their thoughts.  Be willing to hear that said person agrees with a constructive criticism within the review.  It’s always nice to get the perspective of someone not emotionally invested in your work.  Is the review really bad, or just not what you’d hoped?
  3. Constructive, critical reviews:  once you’ve simmered down, examine the information offered and assess it.  Are there valid points that could help you improve a future work?  Is the reaction indicative that you’re targeting the wrong audience?  Is it simply an opinion, one with which you differ?  Sort comments into these three piles and move on.  Improve your next book; change your marketing; do nothing and shrug.
  4. Attack reviews:  I cannot stress it enough.  WALK AWAY.  It’s not worth it.  Good readers – the kind that love literature – will recognize an attack when they see it and likely dismiss the review, even if it’s loaded with clever GIF images.  If something libelous is said, e.g. “This author molests goats!  I have proof!” or “This author stole their books from Y person”, hand it over to a lawyer and walk away.  Let the professionals do their thing.
  5. No matter what kind of review, do not respond to the reviewer.  Chances are, nothing you say, even in private, will benefit you.  Leave it as is.
  6. If you feel a factual error exists, or a faulty implication that is not libelous, you can choose to make a very general post that, in a roundabout way, corrects that misconception or faulty belief, lest a future reader wonder.  Even then, really consider how much it matters.  In 90% or more of cases, this is unnecessary.
  7. And since it apparently must be said, do not link to said reviews for your social media followers with a “wink wink” implication to attack.  You a) simply do not know who’s reading your feed – perhaps someone willing to make death threats? and b) look like a prat.  Remember:  your name is your brand.  Don’t blow it.  The internet remembers forever.

How do you handle negative reviews?  Have you witnessed authors or even reviewers behaving shamefully?  Drop a line in the comment box and let’s chat!

Writing Tip: Characters Are Crucial

Hello, again!  It’s been a busy few weeks for me at my other writing projects (many of which took a backseat during the home stretch for Change Of Season), so I apologize for my absence.  Rest assured, I am here and always available on Twitter at dillonac so please, say hi!

Last time I posted, I mentioned that there are two crucial things I look for in a work of fiction, two things that set the good apart from the great.  The first is fact-checking and the little details, which I consider a matter of respecting and engaging the intelligence of your readers.  The second is more of a matter of the heart, and is something I believe I specialize in with my own work.

Characters are crucial.  Without characters, there is no story.  Without people to care about, engage with, think about or crawl inside the heads of, what’s the point of fiction?  Reading is an escapist activity, a means of exploration or a seeking of empathy.  Characters are the keys to the doors of your world.  If the key is difficult to keep hold of, or simply doesn’t fit the lock, why bother trying to open the door?

Those little details I’ve previously spoken of come into play here as well.  If your character is a teacher, ensure that their actions and activities correlate with that profession.  If your character is a ten-year-old child, do not write him as having the vocabulary of a college graduate unless he is a super-genius for some specific reason.  Know the vernacular.  Know the nuances.  While writing what you know isn’t always necessary (for example, I’ve never gone to boarding school, nor met anyone who has, but wrote the experience anyway), it is best if you’re not able to research deeply enough to crawl into a character’s head.

What do I look for in a character?

  • Humanity.  Flaws.  Imperfections.  No one is perfect – no one.  Even the hero or heroine is apt to have made mistakes, say stupid things, carry false beliefs that need to be corrected.  Take Daryl from The Walking Dead:  he’s got serious biases, a general disdain for most people, and a chip on his shoulder the size of Atlanta.  But he also has a good heart and when push comes to shove, he makes the right choices.  Fans love him for a reason.
  • Growth.  Characters need to evolve if they are key players.  Have that character learn from mistakes, release misconceptions, heal from emotional scars or gain strength.  It speaks to our inner need to believe in change and life getting better.
  • Humour.  This is a personal preference, but I like my characters to have wit about them.  One of the reasons why I’ve fallen so hard for Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy is the snarky, snappy barbs of Georgia and Shaun Mason.  Without that wry take on the world, the stories would be slightly above average at best.
  • Characters should not be unbelievably stupid simply to drag out your plot.  Don’t make the blonde run up the stairs from the killer.  It’s foolish and I’m not having it.  It’s okay for characters to not appreciate the full picture of a mystery, but if a child could pull it together, don’t leave them saying, “Huh?”
  • Depth and dimensions.  I don’t care to read many romance novels because they’re walking cliches.  Women obsessed with love and babies the moment the guy kisses them?  No thank you.  That’s not how the real world is for many, many women.  I also am not obsessed with clothes, shoes or fashion, so please stop writing women like that.  There’s a reason I run kicking and screaming from so-called “chick lit”…

The rest can be tweaked dependent on your genre of choice, but these are the core basics.  I am fortunate that my characters play out as movies in my mind when they come knocking. I can hear their speech, watch their mannerisms and observe how they play off each other.  When I write a protagonist, I want you to be able to embrace him or her as a friend in your inner circle, a relative, a coworker.  I want that character to be breathing beside you, full of life.  If I’ve managed that, the plot will follow along.