Sure, the phrase is cliché, but that doesn't make it untrue. Everyone really is a critic. About everything, no less.
Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes criticism is a good thing. A necessary thing, whether you agree with it or not, but let's face it, sometimes people are just jerks about it. I promise, there's always, ALWAYS, a nice way to critique someone.
Okay, so this blog post is mainly about what to do with bad reviews, however it can be applied to anything, really. Now, I'm no expert, and my thoughts on this may change over time. I am a newbie writer after all, and yes, I still read all of my reviews, so feel free to take my 'advice' with a grain of salt. We all start somewhere, right?
First off, to the author. Expect bad reviews. Heck, expect bad reviews from jerky people. They're going to happen, and there's nothing we can do to stop them. Think of it as your arrival in the wide, wonderful world of writing and putting yourself out there for all to see. Remember, most people will never do that, including those who leave the non-helpful, nasty reviews. It's easier to critique someone when you hide behind a computer. Still, wear it as a badge of honor that you've arrived and can play with the big boys now! Everyone is a critic.
Sometimes, you'll get a bad review that is actually helpful! They're not rude and are genuine in their review. Learn to tell the difference between the constructive criticism reviews and the jerky ones. Because sometimes, the constructive ones have a point. Yeah, it still sings a bit, but isn't that what we're really looking for? Ways to improve in our craft? Personally, I don't want to become so jaded in my writing to believe that the average reader has no good advice for me. Everyone comes to a book bringing with it their own thoughts and experiences, and therefore, they'll read the book differently. See things differently. And that's okay. Writing is subjective, and everyone's a critic.
As for the nasty, borderline bullying reviews, please remember these are NOT HELPFUL to you! They are simply a person who is on a power trip and will most likely never, ever put themselves in a position to be critiqued by others and improve themselves. Most people will see this type of review for what it is: rude. It's funny, those who dish it the most are usually the ones who can't take it themselves. Everyone's a critic.
*STANDS ON SOAP BOX*
I have to add this. Bullying in reviews is not cool. EVER! Please, I beg you, if you receive a review that is of the personal, bullying nature, or you see one on another book's page, please, please, please report it. These are awful, unnecessary, and very hurtful. An opinion is fine; bullying is not. The person who does this is not a critic, they are a bully, and it's time to call them on it.
*STEPS OFF SOAP BOX*
Now, a quick note to reviewers. Personally, I won't rate or review a book if I can't give it at least 3 stars, but that's just me. I don't expect everyone to do this. In fact, it would be unfair if everyone does this. It's okay to leave a bad review. Really, it is. Reviews are a service to other readers. However, please remember there is a nice way to leave a bad review. Be that person. Be the constructive criticism person that authors want, love, and need. "This book was garbage" is not helpful. Most books have far more 4 and 5 star reviews than 1 and 2's. Remember that. The majority of people who read the book you didn't like, liked it. You are probably in the minority. Again, that's fine because writing is subjective. But you need to remember that your review is simply your own personal opinion. You are not the god of grammar, editing, storylines, or books. That author put their heart and soul into that book, then swallowed back the fear to put it out there for the world to see, and that deserves some respect. I realize everyone's a critic, but be a constructive critic.
As a receiver of a bad review, how should you handle it? My advice, read it twice and fit it into a category of bad reviews: Constructive (helpful), Jerky, or Bullying. If it's bullying, report it. If it's constructive, learn from it. If it's jerky, well, those are the worst. It's easy to say ignore it, but we all know that's not really possible, so here's my advice. Cry. Call a friend. Write a response (but don't post it). Have a glass of wine. Go out for dinner. Avoid social media. Binge on a half-gallon of ice cream. Talk with other writer friends. Read the bad reviews of books you love by well-known authors. Then go to bed, and in the morning get up and go about your day as usual. Work on your work-in-progress. The best way to show them they're wrong is to keep going and putting out more books that people will love. Now, I can't tell you that jerky review won't slither its way back into your mind, but I can tell you it gets better over time. Easier.
You'll get far more positive reviews than negative. Dwell on those.
Because everyone's a critic. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the questions I frequently get asked is "How do you come up with an idea and work it through to publication?" Great question!
It works differently for every author, so I'm speaking only for myself here. Step-by-step, off we go!
Step 1: AN IDEA
This can come anywhere, anytime, and from anything. I've had story ideas that hit me in the middle of the night, in a dream, driving, or showering. Ideas, unfortunately, don't ask my schedule before just showing up in my life. I'm ALWAYS thinking about something book-related.
As for where the ideas come from, well, from anything. A name. A song. A scene. A title. Scenery. Absolutely nowhere.
Step 2: MENTAL WORKOUT
It's like calisthenics for the brain. Now that I have this great idea, I have to work it out in my head. I need something more solid than just an idea before I put it down on paper, so to speak. I don't need everything about the story, or even the ending, but I do need to know where it's going to go. This step usually takes a few months and continues until I turn it into my publisher.
Step 3: THE ROUGH DRAFT
I pick the story that won't leave me alone. It's that one that's forcing me to tell it. Sometimes I'll write up a rough outline, sometimes I won't. It's constantly changing, anyway.
Now I type out the story as I see it in my head. Depending on tons of factors, this can take me 6 weeks to 4 months.
Step 4: EDITS
The rough draft is the fun part; Editing is actual work. Line by line, chapter by chapter, I dig into the story. This includes content, copyedits, revising, re-writes, and cutting. The whole book gets a complete make-over.
Step 5: REPEAT STEP 4
Whoa, wait a sec? Again?
Yep. Again. From beginning to end.
Step 6: REPEAT STEP 4
This isn't an accidental step; I do another round of edits.
Step 7: CRITIQUE PARTNERS - 1
When I have the manuscript as good as I think it can be from my perspective, it's time to start swapping chapters with my amazing critique partners (CP's). These are other authors or inspiring authors that go through my work line by line, chapter by chapter, giving their thoughts and trying to tighten up my book. In exchange, I do the same for them.
Step 8: EDIT
As I get my chapters back from my first CP, I consider their comments and make changes.
Step 9: CRITIQUE PARTNER - 2
Then I give it to my next CP to work their magic.
Step 10: EDIT
And edit all chapters, taking in CP #2's comments.
Step 11: CRITIQUE PARTNER - 3
You get it by now. Per book, I usually do at least three rounds of CP's, and this can be happening fairly simultaneously. One CP might be on chapter 10 when I start exchanges with another, beginning at chapter 1.
Step 12: EDIT
If this is my last CP, I not only take their advice, but I comb through the manuscript one last time for my own benefit. There's always stuff to edit. Art is never finished; it's just abandoned.
Step 13: BETA READERS
Almost done! Now I send the polished manuscript off to beta readers, people who read through my book, beginning to end, as if they're reading a novel. They make sure it flows well, it's consistent, and there's no logical errors in the storyline. Again, I use at least three.
Step 14: EDIT
Yeah, there's definitely a pattern here. After talking with each beta reader, I make my final changes and do one last round of edits.
Step 15: SEND TO PUBLISHER
Ahhh, that feels good. Now, I sit back and bite my nails to see if they want it or not. (I try to lave it alone, but I always end up making more edits!)
Step 16: FIRST ROUND EDITS FROM EDITOR
YES! They want to publish it! For a while, everything is out of my control while they send the manuscript to the editor and cover designer. When my editor is finished, they send me their suggestions.
Step 16: EDITS
I bet you didn't see that coming? LOL! I make edits suggested by my editor and send it back.
Step 17: SECOND ROUND EDITS FROM EDITOR
This goes on until everyone is happy!
Step 18: EDITS
And I keep editing until I'm happy!
Step 19: FORMATTING & FINAL EDITS
The formatter sends me the final formatting for my approval. This is my LAST chance to make any edits, so of course, I do! As soon as I send it back, it's finished!
And that's all! The book gets published and all the amazing readers have the chance to read what I've been working on the last year or so.
It takes me 8-9 months from start to publisher. From publisher to public depends on their schedule. During the editing-CP phase, I'm usually working on my next rough draft, though, so it doesn't seem like that long.
I love writing novels, and as long as you keep reading them, I'll keep writing them!
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