With over half a million keystrokes, creating a full-length novel can take the best part of a year—sometimes much longer. Over those many months obsessing over the plot, worrying about character development, and yo-yoing between first person and third person before weeks of ploughing through countless edits and rewrites, our stories become massively precious things. So it’s not hard to understand why we writers can become defensive when feedback comes our way, particularly when our nascent masterpieces are subject to early critique by friends and loved ones.
Then there’s the test we all fret over: the moment when the book goes live and is suddenly out there for the entire world to read and assess. Once a novel is published, most writers I know brace themselves for the early reaction from readers with a mix of excitement and trepidation. We all want readers to love our work, but before the book hits the shelves, there’s no telling whether or not complete strangers who have shelled out hard cash will actually like what we’ve created.
Like many authors, at first I found negative reviews hard to swallow. I’m not talking about the one word reviews posted by trolls who’ve not even read the book—we all get our fair share of those. No, I’m talking about negative feedback from those people who actually bought one of my novels and didn’t like it. It hurt. Complete strangers were attacking something into which I had poured my heart and soul. It was hard not to take some of their comments personally. I know some authors who’ve been so injured by poor reviews that they have entered into heated online debates with reviewers, treating them as the enemy. Rarely does such action reflect well upon a writer, and it normally proves counterproductive.
With time, however, I came to appreciate the value of all reviews, both good and bad. Sure, it still feels great to discover another five star review popping up on Amazon. Who doesn’t like their work to be praised? But now I am almost as excited to read those less than positive assessments of my work, too. I’m not saying I welcome poor reviews, but I no longer regard them as bad news. I’ve come to realize that those readers who have kindly taken the time to rationalize their negative opinions of my work—setting out the specifics of what they didn’t like and why—are providing me with an opportunity to improve as a writer. Of course, I don’t always agree with everything a reviewer says, but when common themes emerge from multiple reviews I pay attention. Often in those circumstances, if I am being brutally honest with myself, I find the readers are right and I kick myself for not spotting the flaws in my work. Then I try to learn something from them.
If you are a writer who still feels bruised by negative comments from readers, then I suggest you start looking for the kernels of truth they may contain and use this valuable audience feedback to help perfect your trade. Once you see poor reviews in this light—as opportunities to develop as a storyteller—then, like me, you might even begin to appreciate them.
After a thirty year career in private equity and corporate finance, Martin Bodenham moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at a number of private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed first-hand while working in international finance. His latest book is SHAKEDOWN and early next year Down & Out Books will be reissuing his exciting thriller THE GENEVA CONNECTION.