or How That Bad Review Isn’t The End of the World
– a guest Post by Todd Keisling
[You can enter to win an ebook copy of A Life Transparent by leaving a comment below. A winner will be drawn at random by Todd and announced on Monday. – RJK]
I may be stepping out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a writer or works in some facet of publishing has heard about Jacqueline Howett’s little meltdown a couple of weeks ago. I won’t go into detail here because, frankly, that’s been done to death, and I’m of the opinion that we should give the poor woman a break. In a nutshell, she got a bad review and attacked the reviewer. This led to a whole mess of problems, including 75 one-star Amazon reviews. Like I said, let’s give the poor woman a break.
I only bring it up here for the sake of context. See, that same week, I was also graced with a blistering review of my novel, A LIFE TRANSPARENT. It isn’t the first, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but boy, did it sting. I went through a self-imposed mourning period that lasted about 48 hours before I woke up, put on my big boy pants, and got over it.
That period of 48 hours was spent quietly rocking back and forth, reassuring myself that the book isn’t that bad in an incomprehensible babble. Friends called to console me. My wife cooked a meal of comfort food. My editor, in typical editor fashion, simply told me to get over it and stop reading reviews.
“But how can I not? They’re reviews! Of my book! And this one was bad! It’s like if a teacher tells you your kid’s an idiot.”
(Full disclosure: This is all for dramatic effect. The conversation was way more subdued and less weepy. My editor may tell a different tale, however. Fortunately, this isn’t her article.)
And then she said something that knocked me out of my stupor self-loathing and doubt: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
She was right. It was a sobering thing, realizing that one bad review (or even three) wasn’t going to kill my career, but could only serve to pique curiosity. In some way it was a sort of Sisyphean moment, like I’d pissed off the gods by finding comfort in the rock, and in that fact I could find some form of solace.
I realized that, bad review or not, people were still reading the book. They were allowed to form their opinions based on their experience. To date, ALT has had far more positives than negatives, with an average of 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. Do those low ratings stick in my craw? Absolutely. But I’m not going to stop doing what I love because of it. In fact, I see those poor reviews and bad ratings as incentive.
Every time I sit down at my computer, or take a pen and notebook in hand, I think of those folks who hated my work enough to speak out about it. I think of the honest reviewers who really just didn’t like my work. I think about their words, and then I put pen to paper or fingers to keys and I do what I was put here to do: I write. I write because I want to prove them wrong. I write because I want to win them over with that next work of genius. I write out of spite. With ALT, I wrote the best book I could, and with my editor’s help, we made it even better. Some people love it, some only like it, and some absolutely hate it. I’m okay with that.
The Jacqueline Howett scenario made me realize that that easily could have been me. It could have been you, or anyone else, for that matter. It’s our natural instinct to defend ourselves when we’re under attack. That’s not to say that what she did was right—far from it—but the negative reactions and attention she’s received because of it is far overblown. Best of all, regardless of all the reviews and negative press, her book was selling way better than mine. I hope it continues to do so, and I hope she continues to write. I hope her next book takes everyone by surprise and becomes a literary legend.
Now, two weeks on, I’m reminded of THE STRANGER by Albert Camus. On the eve of the protagonist’s execution, faced with the absurdity of his predicament, he comes to terms with his place in life and the indifference of the universe:
“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
I hope Ms. Howett greets those cries of hate with a smile on her face, and continues to write. I will do the same.
Todd Keisling is a two-time recipient of the Oswald Research and Creativity Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in a number of print and online publications including Limestone, Kaleidoscope, and 365tomorrows. Born in Kentucky, he now lives with his wife and son somewhere near Reading, Pennsylvania. Contrary to popular opinion, he is a cat person. A LIFE TRANSPARENT is his first novel.
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