One of the things you must be prepared for when you publish your work is the public’s reaction. Before going into my experience thus far, I just want to reiterate how important it is to remind yourself why you write, and what your goal is. Here’s an obvious warning: if you want to please everyone throw in the towel now as it will never (ever) happen.
Anytime you venture into the whimsy of consumers you are going to have people that LOVE your work (and everything about you), and *HATE* your work (and everything about you), and every shade of gray (far more than 50) in between.
I’ll be honest, logically this all sounds well and good. After all, it’s to be expected. But thinking this through is much different than the barb your heart feels when you read something grossly negative.
I’ve been very lucky to date. I had four fantastic reviews of Readers’ Choice, and a number of positive responses on Amazon.
But I have had two very negative reviews. I found myself wanting to talk with those people to understand things better. In the end, rather than responding, I just absorbed it as information to trend against other reviews I receive.
Don’t bother looking for the bad reviews, here they are:
“Zummo’s space saga, a planned trilogy, is based on a short story and role-playing game he created in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, the resulting tale is a derivative take on several sci-fi series. The protagonists are two-dimensional characters seemingly targeted to appeal to certain demographics: there’s the widowed hero learning to use his newly acquired superpowers; an anime-inspired techie and her robotic pet; an ancient and wise teacher who may be the last of his kind; and a young girl whose talent is defense. Even the powerful and evil aliens are never fully realized as bad guys; in one world they’re simply in the technology business. Too many grammatical mistakes mar the prose, more showing and less telling would have ramped up the action and the ending is simply the jumping-off point for book two.”
“While the writing isn’t bad at all, the story telling and plot is a mess. From the very beginning you dont(sic) have a clue whats(sic) going on or motivating people other than vague notions. As things progress and characters are added, not much makes sense at more than a superficial level. The plot is absurd and follows its own logic, what passes for logic at any rate. I struggled to finish it as our expanding group of heroes bumbles into one absurd thing after another. Plot convenience is one thing but this takes it to new levels. I wont(sic) be buying a sequel.”
Everyone is entitled to their opinions. People have their preferences for the type of story they enjoy (for instance: hard-core action or hard-science vs. soft fiction, etc.). Perhaps the book was far outside the type of science fiction they enjoy.
I would prefer people who post their “reviews” would do so in a professional manner looking at the things that were and were not to their liking, citing specifics, and kept a civilized tone.
(Really brief rant)
My favorite review word is “derivative.” It’s such a generic and dismissive term to describe someone else’s work. Sure, high story arcs sound the same, but it’s the details that make them unique—it’s the individual characters and their actions that differentiate “my story” from “your story.” If people want to see derivative, look in any genre. Anything having to do with individuals having abilities/super powers could be said to be “derivative” of Stan Lee’s work. Or how about space adventures? Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, FarScape, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, V, and so many others present materials that directly inspire so many other series. Okay, I’ve made my point on that word.
(/Really brief rant)
Then there’s when they get things wrong in their reviews. One has to ask “did they really read it?”
I will give the rtbookreviews post one concession; they saw the preview version of the original print which DID have more errors in it. Those have been fixed in the new print and ebook versions.
So stripping out emotional reactions, what did I learn from the two negative reviews?
- Preview copies must have the same high quality as the finish product (blatent error on my part)
- “…more showing and less telling would have ramped up the action”
- There was a feeling the ending was “simply the jumping-off point for book two” and perhaps wasn’t as satisfying for the reviewer. Strengthen the “book’s” story arc more, while still supporting the trilogy’s progression.
- My intention of dropping people into the story is loved by some and reviled by others (“From the very beginning you dont(sic) have a clue whats(sic) going”). It was a deliberate decision I made because I wanted the reader to feel the chaos experienced by the main character. Just because you’re the reader, I didn’t want “you to know” what was going on and the main character not. You know what he knows, nothing more. Some people don’t like that. My anticipation of this risk has been realized.
- My intention of traditional stories progression (especially following that of Japanese animes and video games) isn’t liked by all reader types per the comment “convenience is one thing but this takes it to new levels.”
Some positive notes:
- There was a clear level of chaos introduced at the beginning which readers picked up
- “The writing isn’t bat at all” (HURRAY)
- They picked up on the homage’s and ties to well established science fiction universes
There are always going to be people that hate your work. That’s expected and it’s okay. Do your best to take the emotion out of it (even if they were snarky and/or one-sided, or just flat out inaccurate about things they say) and see what you can learn. Something things have already adjusted my approach to editing in book 2. Other things I’ve just kept in the back of my mind, assessing when something may be appropriate to challenge a component of what I’m working on.
Future books and projects will be better off for absorbing and internalizing every piece of positive and negative feedback you get. That doesn’t mean take it to heart, get disenchanted with sharing your stories, and quit. Nor does it mean you have to change your style of writing.