Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Coping With Adverse Criticism

Our guest post this week comes from author Jane Bwye who gives some advice on Coping With Adverse Criticism

If only reviewers would realise how much angst they cause by just one or two hasty words! There are more ways than one to clothe your comments, turning them into constructive thoughts and aiming at the readership rather than the author or the book.

Coping with adverse criticism is difficult. We may be advised not take everything personally - it is the book which is addressed, we are told; people don’t think of the author when reading a book, unless it’s an autobiography. And the writer should have got used to exposure and criticism in the battered journey towards publication.

And at least someone has taken the trouble to read your book. That’s all very well … in my case (don’t you find you’re always worse off than anybody else?).  I requested a review for an e-zine, and sent her an e-copy. I waited and waited … then eventually gave her a little prod.

An email came winging back. She didn’t have an e-reader, she’d tried reading my book on her computer, had read the first chapter, but it hurt her eyes. Could I send her the book? I didn’t blame her – apart from anything else, I prefer to curl up with a book in my armchair, than sit on an ergonomic apparatus peering at a screen. She held out a carrot: as well as publishing the review in the e-zine, she would also put it in the next issue of a Newsletter she wrote for her local exclusive Club, which had a large library.

Fair enough. I despatched a copy to her and waited some more.

Every month I scanned the e-zine in vain, until – I couldn’t believe my eyes! She summarised the story and started to question its credibility. It was a NOVEL, but perhaps she was reading it as a history, trying to identify places, which I’d deliberately kept vague … then I came to the final sentence.

The entire book will satisfy neither Kenyans, nor Colonial survivors if they read it: they both surely are the only authentic judges.

My heart tore in two and dropped into my boots. Then righteous ire welled up, mixed with intense hurt. The cheek of it … I was there – where was she?

I took a deep breath. Cool it, Jane; sleep on it. She was probably put off the book from the beginning, trying to read it on the computer; I had often started reading books myself while in the wrong mood and that had coloured my perception. And perhaps I’d  made a miscalculation sending it to her in the first place.

I only felt marginally better in the morning so I waited another 48 hours before drafting an email, and another two days before amending it and sending it on. No point in antagonising her further, but she did have a precious copy of my book.
I thanked her for taking the trouble to read it, and asked her if she would donate it to her Club library.

Back came an email saying she felt horribly embarrassed about producing a negative review, but it was her honest opinion. Of course she would donate the book to the library, and on behalf of the Club, she thanked me for the gift. She would not publish her review in the Newsletter, as she felt it was not a wise move and much better to leave it to library members to form their own opinions. I was grateful for that small mercy and relieved that if we met in the future I would be able to greet her with a genuine smile. No doubt some members at her Club might hold the same views, but perhaps a little controversy would stir up interest in the book, for several of my contemporaries from Kenya had expressed their enthusiasm and praised its authenticity.

So there you go – swings and roundabouts, mountains and molehills. But it hurt while it lasted.

Come to think of it, coping with adverse criticism is but one step further on from dealing with indifference, really – especially when you socially network like mad and the best response you get is but a few “views”. You scan your feedback daily and try to draw comfort from one or two “likes”. You are over the moon when one person comments and your day is well and truly made when a couple of people respond to your thread and you can get a conversation going.

Blogging can be worse. You spend hours honing on what you want to say, and even more  time searching out and scanning photos so your readers’ eyes don’t blur at all those words on the screen. It’s all ready, and you have to get up early to make the post and propagate it because you’re told readers like to have regular bursts and the rest of your day is full. Then when you return that evening, a mere dozen hits have been recorded on your website and none but a few spam comments have appeared. (How do they do it? These spams appear with no corresponding rise in number of views I’ve discovered – but that’s a subject for a computer geek, perhaps).

You doggedly blog on, then in desperation, send out a heartfelt plea … like a cyber-friend, who talked about blogging a dead horse. My heart went out to him and I told him if it were any consolation, his record number of views in a day outstripped mine by far. We’ve been buddies ever since, and I’ve actually put his book at the top of list next time I top up my kindle (it helps that we both love horses).

The secret is to write from the heart, rather than worry about views and comments, but we’re all human, I guess.

You can read about Jane’s book BREATH OF AFRICA, listen to the trailer, and sample some reviews on her website:

Critique Service for Writers

Flash 500 Home Page: Flash Fiction, Humour Verse
and Novel Opening Chapter and Synopsis Competitions


Cameron Lawton said...

Well done, Jane. I would have had to eat half a laundry basket before I could think about that review without yelling. Yes, I don't think people give enough thought to what their reviews contain. "Words can never hurt me" was not written by a writer.

Z. Allora said...

The words of my first negative review still ring in my ears. I'd never stop writing but that review almost made me stop publishing. As I think back on those words they weren't terribly harsh but anything other then a gushing glowing review with Five Shiny Stars feels like a failure to me. (I think that's most writers though most rarely admit it)

I know as a writer I'm supposed to pretend snarky reviews don't feel like a knife in the heart. I'm supposed to act like it's water off a duck's back. When someone slashes my work I'm supposed to smile and say thank you for taking the time to read my book. But I truly wish when readers/reviewers would remember words matter. The old adage sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me... is incorrect. Words have the power to cut people to their very soul.

By all means feedback and criticism it can help writers grow...and give other readers your opinion on a book but tearing someone's work apart to receive giggles is cruel. I've turned several of my critics into Beta Readers because I value feedback given in a constructive manner.

Very good blog post.

Hugs, Z.

Anonymous said...

I am very impressed with your response to the negative review. As you say, there's a huge gulf between a horrible review and constructive criticism. Well done you!