When one exposes one’s “art” to the general public, one takes the chance that some of the public won’t like said art. In fact, some of them will be loud about it … and mean.
I’ve heard artists from all mediums say they don’t read their reviews, for this very reason—some people are needlessly cruel. They’re not leaving constructive criticism, they’re just trying to tear the artist down so they can feel superior.
I try not to read my reviews but, once in a while, some scary part of myself drags me to my Amazon page and forces me to read what strangers are saying about my books.
I’d like to be cavalier about it but, as a matter of fact, your words did hurt.
Most of the time, the reviews are friendly and glowing, but once in a while, someone posts a review that really hurts.
Those seem to be written by other writers, or by people who fancy themselves to be. They generally bash my writing style, implying that they coulda woulda shoulda done a better job. I don’t know if they’re professional writers, because they never say. However, I’d like to think that the pros don’t leave bad reviews for their peers, because they know better. They know how it feels to get bashed for their hard work.
My wide-eyed “wanna-be” theory brings small comfort, however, when I see how much thought and effort some of them have put into their well-written criticism. They felt so strongly that they went out of their way to publicly trash me. (Should I be flattered?)
I’m addressing one particular review of Fear of Our Father, a book which has received over 100 reviews on Amazon—75 percent of which give a four- or five-star rating (mostly five-star :-D). It’s still on bookstore shelves almost three years after publication, and has had a few TV shows based on the story. So it must not suck that badly.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that 75 percent of the reviewers have wretched taste. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be more helpful to offer useful suggestions on how to improve next time, instead of being nasty about something that cannot be changed? Or are these reviewers actually more interested in sharpening their pithiness on my back?
Plus, how about a little credit for what I did accomplish? I wrote a book that hit #1 on Amazon’s True Crime list. Do you know how hard it is to do that? Only frustrated writers who want to take the piss would try to make another writer feel bad about their accomplishments.
I’m specifically talking about a review that said my co-author, Stacey M. Kananen, should have hired a ghostwriter, instead of letting a friend write the incredible story of how she was unjustly accused of and tried for murdering her parents. (Her story is similar, in some ways, to that of Steven Avery in Making a Murderer.) Fear of Our Father could have been so much better, the reviewer implies, if only a more capable writer had been assigned to the task. (Isn’t that the case with every book?)
For the record, I’m not just some random friend of Stacey’s who thought, “Hey, I’ve got a computer and I took an English class once. Why not try my hand at writing a book?” I’ve earned more than a few impressive writing credits. And, yes, of course it would have been a better book if I wrote it later in life, with more experience and maturity. However, Fear of Our Father dropped into my life exactly when it was supposed to.
I “just happened” to move to Gulf Coast Nudist Resort right before Stacey and Susan did. I “just happened” to work with her and Susan in the resort’s office. I “just happened” to witness the story leading up to Stacey’s murder trial (which aired on national television) as it unfolded.
And, I “just happened” to be a professional writer, with an award-winning background with MSNBC News, and three previous (albeit self-published, but well-reviewed) books under my belt.
This story fell into my life as an assignment from the Gods, and I took it that seriously. Someone needed to be there to witness and tell Stacey’s story, and who better than an objectively-trained, supportive friend, who “just happens” to be a professional writer?
I watched the tale unfold over the course of seven years. That’s how I know the subject matter well enough to properly tell it. I am Stacey’s friend and she is mine. She trusted me enough to confide horrifically intimate details, knowing that I would tell it like it is, while displaying respect and compassion for her entire family—even those who turned against her. A stranger would have never been able to do justice to their story. And, if the Gods had wanted a “more capable” writer for the task, they would have assigned one.
Of course it’s not my greatest, all-time writing achievement, because I’m not dead yet, but it’s my best so far. Artists—or, for that matter, all beings—are constantly striving to improve. Does it really help to be nasty when pointing out the flaws in someone else’s honest creative work?
I’m not saying I’ve never done the same—after all, the Internet’s offer of anonymity is seductive—but I haven’t done it since I became a grownup. All it accomplishes, really, is to point out who the critic is actually talking to. —>
In closing, here’s you some dogs, to illustrate how it feels when someone tries to tear you down, instead of offering helpful, uplifting, constructive criticism. (In other words, I’ll continue to strive to become a better writer in spite of your words, not because of them.)
Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author and editor/manuscript doctor (and former stand-up comedienne—is there anything she can’t do???). Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first in the series is Be Careful What You Witch For!, a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife, mom and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her.