Tuesday, February 23

Bad Reviews, An AWOL Muse, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)


So, bad reviews suck. That’s a fact. Whether it’s from a book blogger, an anonymous Amazon customer, or even a beta-reader, a bad review can drill a hole through our Muse and scare the poor little sprite into hiding amidst the laundry pile or even diving into the dirty toilet—taking us with them, sorting clothes, scrubbing nasties, anything to avoid writing, which we automatically decide we’re no longer good at because…bad reviews suck and when we get one it is easy to lose perspective.

And perspective is everything.

One of my worst reviews ever—scathing, cold, contemptuous, sarcastic…everything about my novel pulled ever trigger of hatred for this reviewer—came on the best possible day I could have received it. There I was, reeling a little and stinging a lot from the annihilation, trying to lose myself in the mindlessness that can be social media, when a Facebook friend posted one Red Hot Chili Peppers track. Then another. Still another. Red Hot Chili Peppers everywhere. Dominating my newsfeed. I was already full of all sorts of butt-hurt over my novel’s scathing review and…Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Please know that I really—really, really—do not like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And let me tell you: I know music. I listen to tunes all day long. Have specific track-lists for working out. A soundtrack for every fiction project. I kick butt at music trivia games and I even put myself through University working in a record store (remember those?). There isn’t a musical genre out there that I do not a) have in my collection and b) appreciate thoroughly (okay: maybe no 1970’s I’m-wearing-my leisure-suit-and-crooning-about-cheating-on-my-wife-yet-you-should-feel-sorry-for-me country. A person’s gotta have some standards). So talk about insult to injury: a craptastic review, and then I get to be serenaded by the Peppers.That’s just wrong, man. So many shades of wrong.

Strangely rabid, though, I started to fixate. To count the ‘likes’ my friend’s Chili Peppers vids were getting. A couple likes. A dozen likes…50 freakin’ likes?! How? Whhhyyyy? I sneered my way through the positive commentary, all my inner angst and impotent loathing focused on the poor old Peppers.

And then, finally, there it was: a comment that said, oh-so pithily: RHCP suck.

I swear to you I read that and looked, immediately, like this:



…and, I can also assure you that the irony had not quite settled over me. Yet.

Books and music. Art and poetry. Isn’t there a saying that goes a little something like: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” I think so. Alongside that it should also say: “And no one, in the big scheme of things, really cares what your opinion is.” People will like what they like. Love what they love. Despise what pisses them off and hate things that grind every last one of their gears.

And who knows why? And, what’s more? It’s okay. It’s okay even when it does feel crappy that your novel just got shat on, or when some self-important music aficionado just barfed on your favorite band.

I follow publicist Beverly Bambury and she frequently grabs the authors she reps by the ear, yanks them clear away from amazon and goodreads, implying that nothing good can come of following their own reviews. That’s probably true and yet, here’s a confession: I love goodreads (I know lots of folks don’t). I like to add and organize my bookshelves on there (those wee covers are so *cute!*) and I am an enthusiastic reader who loves to share everything that made me fall head over heels for a story. That said, though, I think that as writers we might do ourselves more good than harm when we just keep scrollin’ past the bullets (aka: the scathing reviews) that might jar our already rickety beliefs in our own talents, skills, and abilities. ‘Cause we are artists, and we should expect ourselves to react sensitively. It’s actually our job as writers to be sensitive.

So what’s left to do, though, when you either give into temptation and look, or even accidentally trip over a review that makes you want to light your work-in-progress on fire (which I did once in an epic temper-tantrum. Possibly not my finest moment). I confess I am really not sure what the best course of action is. I am still really new at this. But…maybe it would help to pour a bathtub-sized glass of wine. Drink deeply. Rinse. Repeat.

Booze not your thing?

Chocolate is never wrong. In fact, chocolate is a multi-purpose panacea; good for both celebrations and solace.

Eat the chocolate.

Not got a sweet tooth?

Potato chips are not always the enemy. Crunch them. Splurge and buy dip. (Knowing that if it’s Herb & Garlic there’s a good chance I’ll come over, my own bottle of wine under my arm (hey, if you don’t want to drink that doesn’t mean I won’t) and a few errant chocolate-covered almonds rolling around in the bottom of my purse).

Get the bad review and drink the wine. Savor the chocolate. Crunch the chips and…listen to The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have enough fans to populate an entire country. They sell out stadiums. They are iTunes darlings. And their critics—like me—are neither right nor wrong, but one thing I can tell you for certain: they are definitely not the majority.

Hey, Oh

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

24 comments:

  1. This articles comes at a perfect time in my writing career. Thanks for posting it, and for what it's worth, I share your disdain for RHCP.

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    1. You're welcome and...now we are two, squinting at all the RHCP fans....

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  2. Chocolate. That's my go to when I stumble across a terrible review of one of my stories.

    But bad reviews are part of the writing life.

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    1. They absolutely are; in a bizarre way, bad reviews are almost a sign that you've 'arrived' as a writer.

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  3. I got a 2-star review the other day, in which the reviewer said the only character she liked was my hero. I figured, 'hey, at least Ryan worked for her', and kept scrolling. What are you gonna do?
    And the RHCP were cool in about 1988. Since then, though...

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    1. Your 2 Stars far eclipse my 2 Stars...the reviewer didn't like a stinkin' thing - including me: "This writer doesn't know *anything*!"
      Oh dear.

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  4. RHCP fan here, but I do agree with you on reviews. My current sting is from rejections, but I feel your pain ((hugs))

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    1. Hey, I'm in Rejection Purgatory too! Ain't it oh-so special?! (said no one, ever)
      Keep on keepin' on, sistah!

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  5. Rejections and re-writes are my main menu. After raising three kids though, rejection isn't so painful! Thanks for your fun insights, Bonnie.

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    1. You're welcome - add some chips & chocolate to that diet of rejections & re-writes ;)

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  6. I entered a well-known annual writing contest in which you enter a query, synopsis, and 2500 first words of your novel... to a virtual agent. If all 3 score high enough you get a critique. My critique came back headlined with 'this is a perfect example of poor amateur writing'. The critique comments went down from there. I disagree with that and was more mad than hurt. As a result I'll never enter that contest again and probably no other ones. It was, however, good training for the day I publish a book and get a review or two. Thanks for making us better and tougher writers!

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    1. Ack!
      In whose Universe is it okay to demoralize someone with a headline like that?!
      I got nothin' other than this: people's feelings should matter, and writers (especially agents, 'virtual' or not) should know, better than anyone, that words have extraordinary power - and should be used both constructively and compassionately. I am so sorry that happened to you.

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  7. This came at the perfect time for me. Thank you. I got a scathing 2 star review last night (shocked it wasn't a 1 star) in which the person said I have no respect for the Arthurian tradition (I write Arthurian legend and have spent 15 years studying it). That really hurt. (She also blatantly misread one character mistaking him for a grown man going after a 15 year old girl when the character is 17 and the year is 495 so both are considered adults). Anyway, I'm learning that we can't control what people read into our books. And I'm allowing the good reviews to cancel that one out. But thank you again. I really needed this.

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    1. There's sure a solidarity in each of us knowing that we're not alone - myself most certainly included!
      Phooey to all those stinky little 2 Stars out there. Hurrah for all the 3,4,and 5 Stars - and hurrah to each of us who are brave enough to put our work out there to collect any Stars at all!

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  8. My favorite bad review story is when I was doing a class visit and the teacher told me the students all read this bad review of my mig-grade novel. The class response, according to the teacher, was "what book was SHE reading?" Always consider the source and never lose sight of your true audience.

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    1. Great feedback! Thanks for sharing that story!

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  9. Who are the Red Hot Chili Peppers? lol, kidding--I may know one or two songs by them, but I'd have to look it up (not kidding). And YAY for salty chips. And YAY for Goodreads; I love all those tiny little covers too. I swore I would never read my reviews but I ended up doing so anyway. And I've gotten tougher along with realizing everyone has his/her own opinions--and my books aren't going to please everyone! :)

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    1. I thought I was the only person enamored with the teeny little covers! Huzzah!
      And here's to all of us whose skin just gets thicker and thicker - after all, even deities don't always please *everyone* ;)

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  10. I'm with Carol. Red Hot who?

    That said, my attitude towards the occasional negative review on my books is that it gives me street cred. Some people *won't* buy a book that has all positive reviews. And as a reader, I look at other authors' negative reviews with the same eye that I used to read Roger Ebert's movie reviews -- to see if what he disliked is something I normally love. It's at least as useful as reading the positive reviews to see if the reviewer likes the same stuff I do.

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    1. Great point and, come to think of it, I do that too - read the neg and the positives both before and after I read a novel. Sometimes I'm like "Yeah, okay, I can see that" about a negative review (even if I loved the book myself) and other times I'm like "Are you on glue, man?"
      And that's so true about street cred; too much positive, ironically, makes it look like someone stacked the proverbial deck. Hmmm. Much food for thought here. Great insight! Thanks :)

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  11. I got a contest review back that hated the title of my work. Every time she read it she cringed (her words). My story was cheesy, hero was cheesy, everything was cheesy. Many chocolate-covered potato chips were consumed. After, I thought - well the opening was supposed to be cheesy and overplayed. Guess she missed that point. So I went back and made it cheesier. :) BTW, that same entry went on to final in another contest.

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    1. Reviews are anything goes, but in a crit or a contest I hate—*h-a-t-e*— when people say they cringed,et al, over the writing. Why? Because that’s not constructive. The writer learns *nothing* from a judge or crit partner who says they cringed (other than to feel uber-crappy about their work, that is). Judges and critters are writers, ergo they have a wide selection of words to employ in a critique or contest assessment of a story. So telling the writer they ‘cringed’ is not just lazy. It is also, IMHO, just a way to jam a stick in the spokes of the writer’s bike—and that’s not constructive, and that’s not cool. My two cents.
      Oh, and you went on to final in a different contest? NICE!! #winning

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  12. I'm curious...what about RHCP don't you like? LOL I'm not a big fan (I save that for Linkin Park), but I like a lot of their songs. I don't plan to publish in ebook or print format (just on my site), but as a lover and reader of adult romance books, I can understand why authors dread reading reviews. I'm a fan of authors like Lori Foster, Melissa Foster, Jaci Burton, Lorelei James, etc. Some of their stuff is incredibly erotic and I remember a one-star review for one of their books that was something like "I couldn't read this book because there was too much sex." That pissed me off and made laugh at the same time. I felt like replying and saying "Have you read this author's books before? You DO realize she's an EROTIC romance author, right? IDIOT!!" I'm not even the author of the book and I was getting mad FOR the author. LOL

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    1. RHCP…Their signature sound just kinda bugs me, it’s the vocal style, how Kiedis pulls out his ‘a’s and ‘o’s.

      To me everything they sing sounds like the track ‘Hey-Oh’ (“Listen what I say-o.” Ugh.). It’s all too….sing-songy.

      And yeah...wth is someone dissing a book being sexy for if the author is renowned for writing erotica? I-yi-yi

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