It’s very difficult when somebody looks at something you worked very hard on and says it’s no good, or if they don’t say anything at all.
But I never understood why 10 compliments are outweighed by one criticism.
And they are.
Don’t kid yourself. That bad review sticks with you much longer than the good ones. Maybe because it strikes a nerve that we disappointed somebody enough for them to tell us; maybe because we fear it will start a trend. Usually I think it’s because we fear they’re right and the other 10 that said they liked us were actually wrong somehow.
Let me explain something, and remember this.
The best movie maker of all time may be Steven Spielberg – and a lot of his movies SUCK.
(Continental Divide, Young Sherlock Holmes, The Money Pit, Batteries Not Included, Hook – oh my God, Hook was awful. AWFUL.)
Some of his movies are my favorite movies of all time.
(Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Used Cars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Back To The Future.) I can watch a lot of his movies again and again. (And I do. Now that I mentioned it, I may watch Jurassic Park again this afternoon.)
Get this: not every Steven King book is awesome, either.
He wrote a lot of good stuff, but I spent this summer starting (as opposed to reading) quite a few books of his – and putting them down because THEY SUCK. And while The Shining might sell a zillion copies every year, the marketers will make you think Mr. Mercedes sells just as much – but it doesn’t, and in my opinion it was unreadable.
Spielberg’s sales are posted in Variety. King’s aren’t.
Hmm. We have proof of Spielberg’s duds. King doesn’t disclose his as readily.
That’s okay. I know which are which.
So what’s this all mean?
Allow me one more diversion, if you will.
Do you like wine? There are many kinds, but if you like wine, you might prefer white over red, or a deep tannic red over a light fruity red. You might, if you had a choice, drink sweet white wine all the time and stay away from dry, harsh reds. That’s okay. But because you are polite, if you love sweet white wines and detest deep reds, you wouldn’t say the reds suck; you’d say you prefer the sweet whites – because you know the reds are supposed to be better, according to the wine snobs. But for you, they aren’t; the sweet whites are.
Do you play sports or watch them on TV? Lots of people like to watch football and lots like to watch golf, and lots like to watch basketball – NBA or WNBA, whichever. Let me say this: I have lots of European friends who watch soccer and can’t stand watching American football because the action stops constantly; they like the nonstop play of soccer. I find soccer BORING. To them, our football sucks. To me, most golf sucks. And basketball is insanely sucky. I hate basketball. I like football. Basketball, to me, sucks, and WNBA basketball is even more unwatchable. But I like tennis, and whether it’s men’s tennis or women’s tennis, if it’s good players, I find it intense and well worth watching – but I rarely watch it either way.
Gang, that’s just taste and preference.
You’re never gonna convince me scotch is tastier than ice cream.
And I like football and some Stephen King books and a LOT of Steven Spielberg movies, but not ALL of them. Despite their “duds,” they are still amazingly talented!
Approval should come from the audience from which the product was intended, and
a bad review usually simply means the book got to someone it wasn’t intended for.
I don’t read romance. I roll my eyes at book covers displaying shirtless cowboys with six pack abs. I don’t even want to open it, and if I did, I’d probably say it sucked. But it wasn’t meant for me, and they tried to tell me that with the six pack ab guy on the cover, didn’t they? But I was a critique partner for an erotic book by a New York Times bestselling author that blew me away because it had mystery and intrigue and twists – and sex, yes – but it was very well written plot! And I said, shame on me for being prejudiced against erotica. But I also know that particular writer is the exception, which is why she is a NYTBSA. Her books have great plots aside from the sex, and most erotica books don’t.
I don’t get enough good reviews and I don’t get enough bad reviews. Overall, I don’t get enough reviews.
But I have people tell me they have LOVED characters I’ve created, and maybe they will remember those characters for YEARS after they put the book down.
How does one person saying my book sucks compete with that?
Pfft. It doesn’t.
More importantly, what would it take to actually erase the impact of a negative review?
When I get a negative review, I look very carefully at what the person said. I know they don’t craft their statement the way we craft our books; they’re shooting more from the hip, but I look at it and say, “Gee, you didn’t like the teenager antics in a book that doesn’t contain a single teenager, so how smart is this person?” Maybe there a genius but they didn’t write a genius review. Sometimes I look at what they said about other books, and they don’t like anything they read. This lets me know what they said about my product is just who they are; it says more about them than it says about me or my book, so I dismiss it.
A very smart person once told me: you are not your book. Your Twitter account is not your book, it’s you or the personality you choose to portray.
But again let’s look at how we would offset that bad stuff.
If Stephen King knocked on your door and stood in front of you and said, “I loved your book. I loved it. It changed my life. I want you to write a dozen more just like it…”
It’s safe to say you would tell anybody who didn’t like the book to go jump in the lake.
Now, it’s also safe to say Stephen King’s probably not gonna do that – but does it have to be Stephen King to make that difference in your confidence? Could it be somebody a little lower than Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour liking your golf game? Some golfer lower than Tiger but above the instructor at your local golf course?
What if three or four people who sell a lot of books and get a lot of good reviews and write really good stuff, what if those three or four people told you your stuff was really good?
I think you’d forge ahead with the knowledge that you are the Wright brothers before the airplane took off. They got a lot of criticism, but they held her ground. You aren’t getting that kind of negativity, so you’re in better shape than they were. Now it’s just a matter of time. Your audience is going to discover you, or you’re going to discover them – and by that I mean, you’ll tweak your product until it’s enough “you” and enough “popular” to satisfy both aspects.
Recently I was advised to take out some of the humor in my murder mystery novel, and a good friend said, “But that’s YOU.”
Good point. That’s part of what I like to do. So maybe instead of writing hard-core murder mystery’s I should write cozy mysteries and just sit back and have more fun like Lucy does.
I’m constantly looking for that happy medium of me enjoying writing it and the readers enjoying reading it.
I do a good job, but I want greater acceptance.
That means marketing, which means some books will get into the hands of people they weren’t intended for.
They’ll write bad reviews. If my marketing is better, it’ll result in good reviews. It’s rarely going to be about the book; it’ll be about the marketing – because
I know I make a good product.
- I liked it,
- the people I count on for advice liked it, and
- my betas liked it.
That’s all I need to launch my product.
After that, I need to market it properly and believe in myself.
I’m a great writer. That doesn’t change. All that changes is how many people agree with each different book.
But I also know this: if I took the humor out of my murder mystery and it sold 10 million copies, it would quickly become my favorite and I would write a dozen more just like it. Humor would no longer be a part of the equation in any murder mysteries I’d write!
Don’t try to sell robust reds to the sweet white drinker, and make sure the sweet white wine isn’t marketed as a robust red. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Why’s it so hard? Because marketing is hard. We don’t know how to find the people who want the specific item we’ve created.
So in the end who is the audience?
First and foremost, it’s you. Then it’s that small circle of people you rely on for advice.
I’m not Coca-Cola, but once upon a time Coke wasn’t known all over the world – and yet, today they still have to advertise and market, don’t they? Well, if they do, you do.
I am creating a product that I love, and I will learn how to market it to the people who also love it.
There are several billion people on the planet, so there will be more than enough readers of my stuff once I figure out how to market properly to them,
to take care of my needs and their needs, both emotionally, writerly, financially, etc. I’m finding more and more with each day and each year, and the future is sunny and bright because I know I’m going to keep doing better.
I don’t need to jump through hoops but I’m not afraid to write a book specifically to try to “sell” to the traditional markets. Why not? It’s not an either-or proposition; I can do both, and I’ll learn stuff as I do.
Marketing is a constantly changing thing, and I need to change with it, but if I like what I make and somebody else doesn’t, that doesn’t mean what I make is bad. It means I need to do better marketing, because I KNOW I put the quality in; I had the trusted allies make their suggestions, and I followed that advice (it’s rarely wholesale changes, so why not?) and the betas loved the result.
I’m okay with the product, I just need to work on the marketing.
That’s hard, but once upon a time so were a lot of other things I mastered.
I’ll get there.
In the meantime I’m gonna be over here having fun doing what I do.