I received my first bad review for my book Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve been expecting it for some time, but after having my book out for over a year and a half, I was starting to think I was safe. Wrong! Now before I start, I must say I absolutely respect the right of the reader to post her opinion. I’m merely exercising my right to respond.
The review was posted on amazon.com along with my book sale information. It will stay there with my book for as long as I keep it on amazon. I will see it any time I check my book – which I do about once a week to see if there are any new customer reviews. I don’t wish to rewrite what the reviewer said here – feel free to check it yourself. But the gist of it is that I write like a twelve-year old and that I probably put “Mrs.” along with my name in order to make me feel older. I had to laugh at this. I only wish I weren’t as old as I am! Also, the “Mrs.” is there simply because I had to enter my title when I was filling in my information to publish.
So what does it mean to write like a twelve-year old? This is the question that keeps spinning around my head. Does it mean I did not include sex, swearing or tragedy? I did this on purpose as I wanted to write in Jane Austen’s style. Did I do a bad job of writing in regency style? This is quite possible. I did my best by reading Jane Austen’s books continually as I wrote and watching movie adaptations of her work. Is my grammar poor? Another possibility as I did the editing myself with some help from friends and family. I’m certainly a product of the whole-language movement. I go by what sounds good and have difficulty picking out parts of a sentence. I hope I can afford an editor next time. Have I been reading too many picture books to my children? Another possibility.
Ironically, my most recently published book, Subgirl, is written from the point of view of a twelve-year-old. I had an editor say she didn’t believe the narrator was twelve, so I reworked my book, hoping to make it sound like it was written by a twelve-year-old. In the end, this criticism is not very helpful. There are too many possibilities.
In defense of the comment that I should spend time refining my writing processes, I must say that I've been working on this since I could hold a pencil. I studied journalism and professional writing for two years at college and have been writing and honing my skills in the fifteen years since. I majored in English at University, am part of a writers group, read constantly, and attend any writing event I can. I really want to become a better writer. I have embraced the suggestions I’ve had from other writers, friends and family in regards to my writing.
My introverted instinct was to keep the review to myself and not mention it to anyone. I thought maybe no one would see it. But after half a day of this, I decided I should at least tell my husband. Then I thought I’d mention it on Twitter – most of the people there don’t know me personally, so it seemed rather anonymous. But I kept feeling this burning shame and discomfort so I decided to post it on Facebook. Why not let my friends give me their opinion on the article? Definitely a good decision. Somehow, the kind and encouraging words of my friends, assuring me I have a gift and should ignore the review and keep writing, have given me the courage to keep writing.
I hope this might help any other writers faced with a negative review. There is the temptation to believe bad reviews are the truth and good reviews are written just to be nice. Emily Brontё kept her critical reviews in her desk at all times. I will not be doing this. I don’t think it would be helpful. The pain of negative words has faded over the week and I have been able to put it into perspective. I just think of all the books I’ve loved that others haven’t and vice versa. Writing is very subjective and a bad review can be seen as a way to get the conversation started. I'd love to hear about anyone else's experience in this regard. Just post a comment. I'll read it!