One of my books recently received a bad review on Goodreads (two stars out of five), and it makes me feel glum. It also got me thinking about some of the strange issues associated with this most ancient of causes of glumness. After all, bad reviews must date back to the very invention of writing -- and art, too, for that matter. I'm sure someone back in the caves in Lascaux thought the bison didn't really capture the right spirit.
Let me start by saying that the reviewer who didn't care for my book was in no way mean-spirited or nasty. She received the book through the Goodreads giveaway program and posted the review because I had most earnestly entreated her to. I was being honest when I said I wanted her review, and I really do appreciate that she was honest in her posting of it. So I am not in any way bitter… but I am still bummed. And this brings me to the first big question: why does one negative review seem to bring me down farther than any number of positive reviews can buoy me up? Clearly reviews do not follow the rules of simple arithmetic. This equation seems to be something like 6 - 1 = 0.
Secondly, how come I have no difficulty accepting that various readers happen to disagree in their assessments of any other books, yet it seems so hard to accept that various readers are bound to disagree about my books, too? I mean, I'd obviously be delighted if everyone in the universe thought my writing was perfect, but I certainly have never had the faintest delusion that this would be so. Indeed, I'm sure the only books ever written that nobody disliked are the ones that nobody ever read. So why the glumness when I happen to encounter someone with a different opinion that I already knew must surely exist?
Presumably armchair psychologists can point to some deeply lurking fear that no one will ever love my work, so that any bad review seems to confirm what I already suspect, while all the good reviews are less convincing. Feelgood life coaches can admonish me to ignore the negative and stop feeding my inner critic so that I can feel wonderful about myself all the time. My ever-loyal children can gasp with utter disbelief that anyone could possibly be so incredibly wrong about their dear mother's genius work. There's a certain value to all those responses, no doubt, but I'm not sure how useful any of them really are.
So I think there can really be only one truly constructive response to a bad review: read it through carefully and non-defensively to pull from it any criticisms that might provide me with instruction not for that book, which is already out there in the world, but for things I might improve upon in my current and future writing… and then use it, if there's anything applicable, as I move on from what's already finished and get back to work on the next story. Come to think of it, that's really the only appropriate response to a good review, too!
(It sounds so wise… but I'm still just a little glum!)
[Picture: Weeping Willow, wood block print with chine collé by AEGN, 2007.]