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Dealing with 1* Reviews: Or, Chin Up … You’re Not Alone

By Margaret Whittock

Whether you’re a songwriter, poet, a writer of fiction or short stories (and all the genres in between), one word may well strike terror into your heart: ‘review’. For we women writers, publishing our work has often been likened to giving birth. And in a sense that is so. You’ve spent a long and perhaps laborious time creating what you hope is something beautiful. Now you’re finally ready to present it to the world.

That’s where the analogy ends. For the most part, there won’t be a queue of people lining up to criticise your beautiful new baby. They will come to admire, to compliment. And to begin with that may well be true of your novel/song/story/poem. Friends and family will no doubt be delighted at your success, some will have accompanied you on your long journey. They will be very happy to write you a good review perhaps regardless of the standard of the work. That is understandable up to a point. But do not let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. Be prepared for more ‘honest’ independent reviews that if your book sells, will undoubtedly come your way. Which of course, is perfectly acceptable … you open your work up to general criticism when you go public. However, internet reviewing, such as Amazon’s, has emboldened many so-called reviewers to write spiteful comments anonymously online. They know they’ll never have to face the writer therefore find it easy to be rude.

Recently I received my first 1* review for a novel written and self-published a few years back. Such was my distress it remains difficult for me to admit to this horror in black and white (I’m writing through gritted teeth). I’d gone online to read a recently received 5* independent review, then noticed this other, posted before Christmas. Devastated, both by the one star, and by what this reviewer had written, I no longer saw all the other good reviews I’d received. They might as well not have been there. Staring me in the face was this vile blot at the very top of my review page, the first thing a prospective buyer would see. Moreover to think of someone posting this before Christmas, a gainful time for most authors, was upsetting in the extreme.

Oh yes, I fully admit it: I cried; I obsessed; worst of all I stopped writing, considered giving up altogether. After all if my novel was as bad as this person was claiming why bother to write anything else? Clearly I was a failure. And whatever I did over the next day or so this nagging thought remained uppermost in my mind.

Then I did two things. I went online and looked at the reaction of other authors to such reviews. And I talked to my writer friends. I discovered I wasn’t alone. Most authors, it seems, have had to deal with poor, even vitriolic reviews, over the course of their writing careers. Of course they do … not everyone is going to like what we write, no matter how good we think our work is. Examining fellow authors’ reviews online quickly indicated this did not apply only to indie authors like myself but also to better-known traditional authors. In fact I was able to look at the review page of the person … a woman, I suspect … who’d written my 1* review. I discovered I wasn’t the only writer she’d rubbished. I was just one of a list that included some famous authors. Needless to say I’m unable to identify this person. She uses a pseudonym, it would seem, and is careful not to reveal her identity in any way.

It’s at such times you discover who your friends are. My writer friends provided me with hope and encouragement. One, a well-known historical writer and blogger is going to re-review my book for me and will tell me honestly if there is veracity in what the 1* reviewer has written (and this author had a 1* review posted on her page on … yes, wait for it … Christmas Day!). Meanwhile I take heart from the words of Stephen King, who tells us (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft):

 

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

 

From my other reviews, it seems I did manage to please some of the readers. I hope I’ll go on to please some more.

Thanks to the support I received I’ve gone back to writing determined not to let the views of one person destroy my confidence (though it’s taken a jolly good bashing). Yes, of course the reading public has absolutely every right to comment on purchased … and often expensive … books. Not every person will like everything they read, and that includes me. There is, however, a constructive way to write reviews while still pointing up flaws. A book … whatever the genre … takes a long time to write, often years. Much hard work goes into the research behind it. So I can’t see that there is ever an excuse for vitriol and spite. Unfortunately, should you go online and read some of the reviews I’ve read, you’ll see that these are not uncommon.

When I read ‘my’ 1* review my initial reaction was to go online with all guns blazing and react to what the reviewer had written. Never, ever do this … you will simply open the floodgates, particularly if your review has come from a so-called ‘troll’. A recent online article from The Write Life confirmed what my writer friends have invariably advised. Deal with 1* reviews thus:

 

  1. Ignore it (never respond to a vitriolic review … you are simply inviting more of the same);
  2. Ignore it;
  3. Use it as motivation to make your next article or manuscript even better.

 

That is what I hope to do.

 

Margaret Whittock is the author of three novels, short stories, and magazine and journal articles. For more on dealing with trolls see her blog, Dark Mourne Rambling @ http://www.darkmournepress.com/dark-mourne-rambling

Find more on all the author’s work on her website: http://www.darkmournepress.com

 

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My writing journey and The Artist’s Way, by Camilla Reeve

I started writing poetry about thirty years ago. My first marriage had just ended in divorce and I was keen to meet new people but still feeling raw. A friend suggested I leave dating for a while and join a writers’ group instead. So I tried attending the Room on the Roof group at Riverside Studios. They made me welcome and kick-started me writing poetry. For ages I poured everything onto the page – all my angst and my tentative hopes for happier times in the future. Goodness knows how many fairly dreadful poems I wrote in that first couple of years.
That kept going till, just as an experiment, I tried writing a short story. To my horror the poetry instantly dried up. Where had it gone? And when, two years later, I tackled writing – or trying to write – a novel, my ability to write short stories disappeared as well. It seemed like my brain was wired so I could only work on one sort of creative expression at a time – so frustrating. Poetry had become such a valuable outlet. The blank page had been like a totally accepting friend I could communicate with, but now I felt completely blocked.
Then, during an evening class on novel-writing, I heard about Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. Julia had seen lots of creative people who either couldn’t start writing or for some reason had stopped and wanted to get past whatever stopped them. She swears by two techniques both of which I’ve found invaluable: Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date.
The Morning Pages technique requires you to write about 3 x A4 sheets of diary every morning, just brain-dumping anything and everything that drifts through your consciousness – such as whether you like the new type of cereal you tried at breakfast or you’re overdue for a dental appointment. You can include more creative thoughts if they come to you and my Morning Pages very occasionally leads to a poem. But their real purpose is to help you clear away the log-jam of uncreative, often gloomy or cross, thoughts clogging up your mind. That makes room for creative ideas to come to the surface of your inner “well”.
The Artist’s Date technique is to go out alone, every so often, to have some fun – maybe visiting a food market and trying different types of cheese or sitting in the park watching the clouds drifting across the sky. If you’ve been working hard on a manuscript or some other creative project and are feeling exhausted and demotivated, that’s a good moment to go on an Artist’s Date. The idea is to play rather than work. Julia advises against treating it as a day to write. Instead you are filling up the creative “well” inside you that I mentioned earlier.
Do check out her website http://juliacameronlive.com/ and watch the free videos she offers about both these techniques. Or borrow her book “The Artist’s Way” from the library. And I hope you find her ideas as liberating as I have.
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Camilla Reeve is a published poet and novelist. She recently relaunched her small independent publisher – Palewell Press – and is currently looking for submissions, especially from authors writing about human rights, social history or the environment. If that’s you, why not send 10 pages of your work to enquiries@palewellpress.co.uk ?