|photo by Jlhopgood, via Flickr|
Because I knew it was going to happen at some point. I knew it.
I think it’s physically impossible not to have someone at some point give you a really, really bad review. I mean, J.K. Rowling has 1-star reviews for Harry Potter. Heck, The Goldfinch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, had 1,604 1-star reviews when I checked for this post. Not everybody likes every book, and books don’t come with a mind-meld sensor that warns the reader that what they’re about to read really isn’t for them. Bad reviews are a fact of life as a writer.
I told myself this time and time again. I steeled myself for bad reviews every time I popped on Amazon or B & N to check. I knew they would come, so I was prepared.
And then came The Review Which Shall Not Be Spoken Of.
It was my first book, The Loyal Heart. The review came about six months after it had been published. I had had other less-than-enthusiastic reviews, and while I wasn’t happy with them, I was able to take them in stride. For this one, I saw the one star, cringed, and prepared myself to swallow a bitter pill and move on.
Nothing could have prepared me for that review. It was long. Like, essay long. It was vicious. We’re talking spiteful, cruel, and personal. The reviewer accused me of plagiarism (not understanding the actual meaning of the term, mind you). They picked the book apart bullet-point by bullet-point and ripped every comparison between my story and Robin Hood to shreds. And then, to pour salt on my writer wounds, they said the book was terribly written on top of all that.
So two weeks later, once I’d stopped crying and thinking my career was over and that the literary police would come cart me off to prison based on someone’s cry of plagiarism, I awoke to a bitter truth. The Review Which Shall Not Be Spoken Of was written by a troll. Not only that, the troll won. I started to second-guess that story, wondering if I’d let my collection of inspirations leak too sharply into my work. I doubted my originality and my skill. And, yes, to this day I have lost interest in promoting that book or even remembering that I wrote it. All hail the troll!
It’s a sad story. It’s also a cautionary tale. My greatest fear in writing was realized to a level that I couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine. But it also taught me the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my pursuit of a full-on writing career: Trolls are out there. They are horrible. They thrive on destroying the light that drives us to pour our hearts out into our work. Sometimes they win. And you cannot avoid them.
So how do you deal with these inevitable black moments in your career as a writer? How can you face that deep, personal fear that someone with malicious intent will flay you in public? Because you can’t stop it from happening.
The best advice I can offer on that score is to forewarn you that it’s going to hurt. Take a deep breath and accept that. You will cry bitter tears and/or rage against the trolls. No, it’s not fair or right or just, it just is. The only way to get through it is to accept the battles you can fight and the ones you can’t. That review, when it comes, is not going to go away. The trolls are not going to suddenly feel bad and apologize.
But you know what? You’re not going to stop writing. Bittersweet as it may be, there will be another book and another and another. That awful troll review might hold nothing of any value for you, but there will be other reviews that are constructive in their criticisms. The very thing that scares you can also be a tool for improvement if you can take away the emotion of the criticism and judge the validity of the reviewer’s complaints. And there will be great reviews to balance out the bad ones. No writer’s career is the frozen point in time of a single review.
I wish I could have a better attitude about my bruised and battered baby. Honestly, the key thing that I learned from that nightmarish experience was to not read my reviews. That’s much harder than it sounds, by the way, but these days I honestly don’t read reviews. In the end, that may be the best way to fight the trolls, by ignoring them.
|Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.|