It’s a fact of life when you publish something that not everyone is going to like it. And some of them are going to say so in the form of reviews on Amazon or some other forum. Brace yourself for it.
As a writer, I just have to get used to that, the same as I had to get used to taking–and using–critiques of my work in order to improve as a writer. And, especially when it comes to reviews, the one thing you must not do is argue about it. That only leads to a downward spiral. Doesn’t mean that’s easy, though.
I had to remind myself of this earlier this week when someone gave my novelette “Heart of Oak” a one-star review. Ouch.
Now, by definition, a reader cannot be wrong about their experience of a story. It’s their experience, after all. So this reviewer read some things into this story that I had actually tried consciously to suppress. To me, it’s a story about an outsider trying to cope with a world she doesn’t understand and a bit of a romantic fantasy (as in, yes, there’s romance in it, although not ’til the very end). This reader found an environmentalist message that had not been my intent. But that’s what they read, so I won’t argue with it.
The part of the review that stung a bit was where the reviewer referred to me as a “beginning author”. Well, yes, this is the first thing I’ve published. But it’s not close to the first thing I’ve written. I didn’t just jump in without first practicing and honing my craft, as the reviewer implies. I’ve been working at this for four years now. Believe me, the first short story I wrote (the first that actually was a story and not a vignette) won’t ever see the light of day again.
I don’t, in fact, write very many short stories. I’m more comfortable taking my characters on longer, novel-length adventures. But I wanted to put my toe in the e-publishing waters with something that wouldn’t be too complex to format. Short stories, even novelettes, don’t have things like hyper-linked tables of contents.
I selected “Heart of Oak” as my first attempt at e-publishing for a couple of reasons. Most everyone who had read it, liked it. And, yes, I do have critique partners who will tell me if I accidentally turn out complete drivel. It happened earlier this year with a misguided attempt at science fiction. I’m just not comfortable playing in that sandbox, yet and it showed.
“Heart of Oak” had been submitted to most of the paying publications that will accept that genre and length (almost 10,000 words is a tough sell). And, although it hadn’t sold to any of them, it had gotten some personal rejections and kind words. Including, from a well-respected and professional-paying market, that they liked my writing and characters, inviting me to send more stories.
Between what my critique partners said and that rejection, I felt confident that “Heart of Oak” was good enough to be the first thing I put out. If anyone found it a disappointment, I’m sorry.
Nothing will kill sales faster than a bad review. I always think about that before I post a review on a book that doesn’t work for me. Just because it’s not my cup of tea, doesn’t mean it won’t be the best thing someone else has ever read. So much depends on personal taste. (Which is a topic I’m going to take up next time.)