“Are you kidding?” Book Reviews

4dce3343fd0ad1618bbfe2c22f43a293I know it’s inevitable. Every author gets their share of bad reviews. You know, those one-star postings and half-baked opinions of “chosen” readers, indicating that you, as an author, haven’t got a clue how to write a simple phase, how to plot a mystery, or create a believable story. Obviously, we can’t all be as talented as Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We’re simply members of the Homo sapien writing tribe with more than our share of weaknesses, imperfections, and fragile reactions. Quite often, we find ourselves typing non-stop for days on end, allowing trapped emotions and caged creativity to escape in equal portions. We offer ourselves up to the world’s judgment, begging for acceptance—for someone to see the merit of our artistic efforts. But then it happens in an instant, even to the best of us. Critics and wannabe writers take careful aim, releasing venomous words, killing a novel purely for the pleasure of doing so.

I understand that not everyone appreciates the written word and the painstaking effort that goes into fully developing an idea. However, for an author, it’s tedious, time consuming work, and the act of writing can become an obsession in the art of perfection. Every word, scene and character on the page has value, and the ability to bring a story full circle can feel like a miraculous achievement at times. And yet, a single insult has the ability to take down not only an individual’s self-esteem but also their ability to write…at least for the time it takes to recover.

The solution to this madness? I’ve been told the most powerful action you can take to neutralize your brain’s wiring is to prove it wrong.  Your brain fears being cast out of the “qualified” author circle, so calm it by connecting to your personal tribes—family, friends, other struggling writers. See brain? I’m not being thrown to the dingos—I have love, talent and the ability to carry on. Once the brain calms down, you can use reason and logic to center yourself. You can also talk to authors who have drifted in the same boat, bordering on the brink of despair.

Writers, like myself, fall into two groups. Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who hide their reactions well. Usually, I fall into the second group, holding my breath and looking away until the shock value wears off. But when a new book is released, it becomes a balancing act between elation over great reviews and irrational anger for the vicious ones. Some of Stephen King’s latest novels received up to 500 one-star and two-star reviews on Amazon. Was this done out of spite for his success as an author or simply a way to demonstrate powerful opinions?

Book stores are packed with best sellers that have a lot of bad reviews. Prove it to yourself. Do this: Go to idreambooks.com, the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the book world. They aggregate book reviews from important critics like the New York Times and rank best selling books according to the percentage of good reviews they received. Notice anything? Almost all the best selling books have a significant number of bad reviews. Imagine that.

Now think about this. How much could bad reviews affect sales if they’re all best sellers? I’m not ignoring the aftermath of cruel intention—bad reviews are undesirable. But they’re not necessarily the deal-breakers you think they are. Well, that’s what I continue to tell myself anyway. And even more interesting…bad reviews can actually help sell books.

What do you think of a book that has nothing but five-star reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit suspicious. Just like restaurant reviews, if you see nothing but 5 stars, I’m thinking the author or restaurant owner got all his friends, family and associates to write the vast number of reviews, delving out glowing praise. In a twisted way, bad reviews give a book legitimacy because their very presence indicate that the good reviews must be genuine. Right?

Well, I have to admit that all this venting has helped a wee bit. The sting of the cursed one-star review has eased a bit, and I’m reminded that the toughest critics are often the worst writers. That’s why they criticize, don’t you think? So now it’s time to laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, and move on until the next zinger comes along, and then maybe I’ll have the commonsense to look away.