Writers, Rock Stars, and Bad Reviews

Today’s Ask Melinda Question: Have you ever gotten a bad review?

Yes, indeed, of course, I have. Every writer has–whether he or she admits it or not. When I put myself out there as a writer, nationwide, with the release of my first book, it took about five minutes before I figured out that some people are going to love my books, and me, and some people are not. That’s just the way it goes. I learned to pull up my big girl panties, stow the pout, and deal with it–without throwing heavy objects or resorting to drink.

On the upside, avid readers often turn into fans. There is nothing more fun than a book fan. Fans sometimes become groupies. They buy matching T-shirts, form reading groups, and name their pets after me. (Somewhere out there is a dog named SWAG, just FYI.) Unfortunately, upon rare occasions, groupies become cyber-stalkers. That’s a little creepy. Other readers are merely lukewarm about the books I’ve spent the best years of my life writing. They can take me or leave me. And despite my best attempts to touch every reader in America, most have never heard of me or my books in their lives, and they never will, which makes me sad, since I am confident that if I could just get to them, I could make them laugh. I just know it.

For writers, reviews come with the territory. Like any other job, you don’t get to pick and choose the aspects of the job you’d like to participate in. There’s no drop-down menu.  If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you get the just-up-from-a-nap toddler hugs, but you also get to clean up vomit when your kid doesn’t quite make it to the bathroom. C’est la vie.

My experiences with book tours taught me that whenever I make public appearances to speak, sign books, and answer questions, I will be treated in one of two ways: like a rock star or the hired help.

Sometimes, people stand in long lines to talk to me, ask to have photographs taken with me, and shove their books eagerly in my hands to sign. For those events, I am queen for the day. I get a fabulous hotel room, sumptuous meals, cocktails with the literati, and the opportunity to sell scads of books to people who write speaking fee checks with nary a whine. At other book events, I am nothing more than the hired help—one step up from the dishwasher.

The truth is that I read reviews when I stumble up on them, but I don’t actively seek them out unless it’s something long-anticipated—The New York Journal of Books or The Library Journal or Publishers Weekly, something like that—a publication I’ve been longing for a good review in. When it’s bad, what can I do? I can’t call the person up and try to change his or her mind or argue a point with them or anything—even though that’s usually my first instinct.

“That’s not true!” I think to myself in righteous indignation.

You can’t make people you don’t know like you. For the record, I’m a nice person. I swear it. I am. The really nasty, personal attacks shock me. Generally, I have to know someone to get that riled up; don’t you? Sometimes people think they know me when they read my books, especially since I write nonfiction humor. Just this week, a woman rushed up to me in the mall, threw her arms around me, and hugged me. I couldn’t decide whether to hug her back or reach for the pepper spray.

Recently, I’ve become a Goodreads author. You’ll never read a book I “recommend” there unless I can really recommend it. That’s the whole point; isn’t it? I have to like the book to tell you why I like it, how much I like it, and who else I think will like it. If I don’t like it, I won’t write a review. I’ll leave that to the readers who DO like it. That seems fair to me. There are so many wonderful books to recommend every year! I’d never waste time pointing out the bad ones. (This is also my political philosophy. I don’t want to tell you about the candidates I hate. I’ll gladly tell you about those I admire and want to see win an election.)

Does a bad review hurt my feelings? Sometimes. After all, each book represents about a year of work. Most often, they make me feel indignant or misunderstood. As a Southern woman, I feel that everyone should like me all the time. It’s a cultural thing and not something you can talk me out of. I work hard to be polite to every person I meet, charming to as many as possible, and in general, I attempt to please every person who has chosen to spend a few hours of his or her precious leisure time with me or my books.

Happily, truly nasty reviews are few and far between. Often, there is clearly an agenda for that reviewer that has nothing to do with me personally. And, yes, occasionally, I’d like to call up some devoted fans and say, “Could you go online and say something nice about me? I just got blasted by somebody in ________!”  I’m afraid some of them might go armed into the fray, however. Like I said, I have some loyal fans. Boy, am I grateful for them!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Writers, Rock Stars, and Bad Reviews

  1. Beth

    You recommend good books, just saying.

  2. Linda Rainey

    Well said–perhaps that is a good lesson in life; some good reviews, and some bad.

  3. I can attest that you are not only a great writer but a wonderful person, too! I have the privilege of being a fan AND a friend. Anytime you need a counteractive positive feedback generator, you let me know. I can also break a few legs if you need it! XXOO

    • Well, now, what a great offer? I have a friend whose husband says, “Do you want me to beat ’em up?” I have to say: that would be mighty satisfying sometimes. . . I have a list! Best of luck with your week! Good luck!!!

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