Monday, 4 November 2013

Why People Hating My Book Can Be A Good Thing

So ... I’m writing this blog post as a kind of ... therapy. To convince myself that what it says in the title is actually true.

If you’re reading it, I was game enough to publish it. And believe me, posting something like this is hard. I feel vulnerable. Misunderstood. Disliked. My heart is an open wound right now. I’m a little depressed. But hopeful—I think—too.

Let me start at the beginning.

I wrote a book. A book about horrible people. Risky, I know. But I believed in it. I believed that exposing the ugly truth about the characters in this book was the right thing to do. I let the story “be.” I couldn’t help but let it “be.” Because what it is, is organic. It’s real. And the ending. The ending—it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But that, too, had to just “be.” It was the right thing to do.

Ultimately, this book is about not knowing the truth, and how not knowing eats away at a person’s heart and soul. So, how could I possibly reveal all the answers at the end? I wanted my readers to feel what my characters felt. I wanted them to feel the hole, and how frustrating it is to be left with it open and raw.

Clever. I thought. Brilliant, even. Yup, I’m not ashamed to say that I thought it was fucking brilliant.

But it backfired.

So many people hate my book. The amount of 1 and 2 star reviews about this book is growing at a rapid pace.

I’m not ashamed to say that now a hole is growing in my heart.

I’ve been crying. I’ve been feeling like it’s only a matter of time before the cops find out I’ve done something horribly wrong and will arrest me.

Just handcuff me now. I’m guilty of writing a book that, though melodramatic at times, is real. My work will never—EVER—be traditionally written or wrapped up with a pretty pink bow.

I’m sorry. That’s just how I write. Take it. Or leave it.

Okay, I’m rambling. Let me get back to the point I’m trying to make: why people hating my book can be a good thing ...

These people felt so strongly about the book that they had to explain why. They didn’t get half way through, and give up on it out of boredom. They read till the very end. They had to see how it concluded. They hated the language I used because it was offensive. They hated the characters so much that they wanted to slap them. Then they had to write about it. They had to write about it. They HAD to write about how they felt about my book.

This is a good thing.

Though they haven’t expressed the way they feel in a nice way, they still ended up feeling how I intended them to feel. And instead of recognizing it as a job well done, they see it as a betrayal of their time and commitment to the book. But I made them feel something as strong as hate. I made them feel frustrated. Which was the point. It was the point of the book. Life never gives us all the answers. And sometimes, it’s better just not to know.

So maybe ... these 1 and 2 star reviews mean success. I should feel proud of these 1 and 2 star reviews. Maybe, every time I see a bad review from now on, I should break out the bubbly and celebrate, because my book did exactly what it was meant to do.

I’m going to admit, that I do not completely believe this yet. But I am trying to. Because if I don’t try and see this as a good thing, I might just keep crying. And it’s not good for me to cry. I get headaches when I cry. And I don’t sleep well.

It’s been a headache and insomnia ridden ride this past week. But I think—I think—I can turn my mindset around. I have to. For my own health. Because this book is like my flesh. I can’t live without it. And when it gets beaten, it gets bruised. And my limbs ache.

So I’m making a shield.
A shield made of hope and self-belief.
Because it’s the only way I will survive the attack.


________________________

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55 comments:

  1. They tell us that ambivalence is the greatest death of all - for no one to care. For a reader to not bother to rate the book, to not write a review. To feel nothing at all at the end of our hard slog.

    I've noticed a few one star reviews creeping in on River of Bones. I feel like a failure when I see them especially when someone has thought so little of the book to give it one star (and to offer no reason why). To me a one star means shocking writing, a plot that makes no sense, absent editing, a poor cover design - stuff that makes a book, by definition, rotten.

    Not a book you don't gel with, a book that prickles you.

    Be heartened by the fact the small star ratings are accompanied by a compulsion to explain why.

    It's hard to be hated. It's hard for your characters to be hated, even if you set them up to be unlikeable. It's harder to be forgotten.

    Break open the champagne to remind yourself you dared to risk it. And in doing so inspired others to follow down the harder path when the temptation is always to deviate from it. XXX

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    1. Thank you Jodi. I'm devastated but trying really hard not to be ... :thanks so much for chiming in. Means a lot. <3

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  2. It means about as much as everyone loving your book - not much at all. Personal taste drives, well, personal taste. Some people love Hemingway, others hate him; some love Mills & Boon, others loathe them; some people hate brilliant writers, some people hate bad writers - all is perception.

    No book is ever liked by everyone. The only opinion which ever matters is your own and beyond that, the only other opinions to be seriously considered, in my view, is that of an agent who wishes to take you on or a publisher who wishes to publish your material. The rest is meaningless.

    Sure you get warm fuzzies if lots of people like your book but it doesn't mean anything unless it is the beginning of huge sales and great success. And yes, you get cold pricklies if lots of people hate your book, but it doesn't mean anything.

    Don't take it personally. Books are our babies and it is personal but really it isn't. Books are like food - everybody eats but lots of people hate particular foods, dishes or cuisines but that doesn't make what you cook bad anymore than it makes what you write bad.

    So, after lots of tears and deep breaths, let your heart ponder what is said and if you think there is anything useful in there, take it on board and if you simply disagree with them then just ignore it all.

    And get someone to hug you. :)

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  3. p.s. the other solution is don't open yourself up to it. Who cares how many stars you get on Goodreads - guessing that is the source. It doesn't mean anything really in terms of your life or future as a writer. Concentrate on the words and forget about what people think. Your ultimate success will not be sourced in a bunch of 'stars' and neither will the lack of success be anything to do with not getting enough of them.

    It's a bit like getting manuscripts assessed, which I tried some years ago for a couple of books, a few times, and then realised it was an absolute waste of money and meant nothing. So some academic reads my book and loves it or hates it. Someone who hates literature with difficult female characters is not going to like my book and all of these assessors are anonymous as are your 'star' bestowers, in any real sense. You have no idea who they are, how much they know, what they like etc.

    So I stopped getting opinions on my writing and just kept writing on the basis that the only opinion I would ever take on board was one offered by an agent or publisher who wanted me on board. It gives you a lot more time for writing. I never let friends read my work because it is meaningless. If they said they loved it I knew it was meaningless and if they said they hated it, I knew I would have been devastated for days. So I did not bother. Maybe the lesson here is don't bother.

    And tears are good. If you get a headache it is because you have not cried enough. Sending cosmic hugs.

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    1. You are so very sweet, Roslyn. Thank you. <3

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    2. Just take care of yourself. You have a huge heart and a great soul which is why it hurts so much. And that heart and that soul is what is in your writing - you may just be too real for some people.

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    3. Thank you, Ros. I think I am.

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  4. Low ratings on our books can hurt. Understandably so since they are like our babies: conceived as an idea, germinated and nurtured through hard work of writing, rewrites, edits and more edits then pushed out to the world. But, reader reaction is something that can't be controlled. Sounds like you're getting the desired emotional reactions from readers, just not delivered in reviews from the desired perspective of "getting" what you intended them to get.
    From what I've heard, negative reviews can cause others to be more curious and want to discover the truth for themselves. Maybe it really can be a good thing.

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    1. Let's hope so. I'm trying to stay positive about it from now on.

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  5. Hugs, Jessica. I know exactly how you feel (in fact, I'm currently writing an advice book and the chapter I'm working on at present is about not writing to please the wrong people). I write about unlikable people fairly regularly. I wrote one book in which two of them fall in love. I wanted to show that no one was beyond the scope of love. I have negative reviews for it all over the place, but they were concentrated most of all on Barnes and Noble, where I had an average star rating of 1.25. It hurts very badly. But I know it's one of the best things I've written.
    The only way to avoid the negative is to write things that are such fluff they offend no one and no one really cares enough to criticise.

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    1. Thanks, Dan. You all know your last statement will never happen in my house. :)

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  6. Good points there. Get an outcry and some people will read it just because they heard about it, and they wouldn't have heard about it not for the outcry. Is some of the response though that they expected a different kind of book? If readers go into a book expecting one thing but getting another, they get mad. But if they know what's coming and then complain about it anyway, it's their bad, imho.

    Hang in there!

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  7. I'm so sorry! The thing about low ratings is that you know you provoked an emotion in someone which is an amazing thing. A lot of people are really uncomfortable with the way dark characters can make them feel. That doesn't mean the book is bad. On the contrary, I'd say it's a sign of successfully touching on something real.

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  8. Jess, all we can really do is write what is in our hearts and souls and let go of the rest. It is so hard to do, I know, but you are on the right path with this post. I love your writing. I love how you express yourself, here and in your books and poetry. You allow yourself to be vulnerable, which most of us never do. And there are those who will zoom right in on that vulnerability and plunge a dagger in. Try to find a way to shield yourself from that. Blessings,Karen

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    1. I am. Really appreciate your kind words, Karen. :-)

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  9. I read some of the low-star reviews on Good Reads and what struck me was that nobody was criticizing the writing or the structure, but the characters and the ending. These were your choice and are what the book was about and kudos to you for writing the book you needed to write. I hated most of the characters. There was only one, in my mind who had any redeeming features, but can accept that I read a great book about awful people and not confuse my dislike of them with the book. Others have said, this but I will say it again here. 'There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about ...

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    1. That's what's the most frustrating thing. When people rate my book low, other readers are going to think it's horribly written. Oh well ... I honestly did my best. thanks for commenting, Luca! <3

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  10. You evoked a response. We always want a positive one, but a negative one is better than nothing at all.
    I remember a television show years ago that had a group of people watch two music videos and then rate which one was more effective. Not whether the music was better - was the video effective. One video was a generic pop song and the other this metal song that had a strange creature and some wild images. All of the people didn't like it because it was disturbing and they were very vocal about it. Even the host pointed out that meant it was effective and they were missing the point.
    So when you read those reviews, remember that disturbing video.

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    1. That's a really excellent way to prove this point, Alex. Kudos to the guy who did this experiment. And thank you for your reassuring words.

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  11. Any pr is good pr, right? Thank you for posting this, I've just and a short, nasty one liner (although 3 stars) review on my last novel and it completely devastated me! It's good to controversial, it's the only way! Hx

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    1. Hehe, yes, but we need very tough skin to get through it!

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  12. I think it's definitely true that if you tap emotion, you've succeeded. I think you also write in a genre that isn't for everybody. A lot of people WANT their damn HEA ending. Frankly, I can't stand those. I mean I like hope... and I like justice... but a lot of life doesn't turn out that way and I don't like some fantasy world where it is. Your readers will find you. And those people who want shiny happy novels will learn you aren't their flavor. It's all good.

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  13. Maybe... if you ever choose to do a second edition, you can write a forward that explains what you just wrote about. You have a reason for writing what/how you write. It could be a kind of warning label.

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    1. That might be something to think about. It's a good idea!

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  14. I worry that the anonymity of the internet allows people to be way meaner in reviews than they'd actually be if they were sitting across from the person.

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  15. I'd rather write something that makes people FEEL than have a ton of 3 star reviews that say nothing at all...
    Also. The amount of assholery in reviews is staggering, so there's also that ;-)

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  16. I think it's a very good point. I'm not sure if you'll ever fully embrace it, but i think you can get close.
    This is why i'll probably not look at any of my reviews. God i hope i don't, anyway

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  17. People like to voice the negative faster than the positive. Fact of life. That they were so moved to do so isn't a bad thing. You moved them to action, good or bad.

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  18. As you know, I gave your book 5 stars, even though I hated most of the characters. Fact is that your writing is brilliant, to the degree that yes, it makes the reader REALLY want to slap most of the characters (in this particular book, anyway), and it makes the reader furious. But I am very confused by all those 1 & 2 star reviews from people who felt the same way I did, but didn't see that your book was brilliant.

    Also, here's another e.g. to illustrate my point. I thought the movie REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was one of the most horrible movies I've ever seen. I saw it once and will never watch it again. But the movie still gets 5 stars because it was horrible, yeah, but it was also brilliant. Same with TRAINSPOTTING - another movie I never want to see again, but whose brilliance I can recognise and admire.

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    1. Wow, thank you so much, Trisha. Your kind words mean so much to me! <3
      I agree with you about those movies too. But the way they disgusted me is exactly why I would rate them so high. The way some people think boggles my mind.

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  19. I agree with Trisha, Requiem for a Dream was a horrible movie but I'll never be able to forget it. Same with the movie Dancer in the Dark which was heart-wrenching. Your book, your words went out and did exactly what you wanted it to do. You tapped into people's emotions, made them think, and they may not like it but they were moved. That is also success, so chin up, Jess. (:

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    1. Thanks, Elise. It's what I keep chanting to myself. lol

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  20. I don't know if the book went out on a freebie promo. If it did, then negative reviews are par for the course, and negatives often follow a pattern of similar comments as though trending from a "negative group" environment. If the book didn't go out on a freebie, then chin up, it's selling. It's disturbing the cosy sense that all books have a beginning, a middle, and an HEA ending. Few people like open-ended left in the void (think what you like) thought-provoking climax. And that's because these kinds of novels invariably go over their heads! ;)

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    1. It's wasn't a freebie in the traditional sense, but I think most of these reviews came from people on NetGalley. I'm never doing that again. I don't think the readers on their truthfully display the kinds of books they like to read.

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  21. Dry your tears. Those reviews will drive the curious to read, and the outspoken to say their piece, this means you have readers, and that is the goal of writing. You are successful! I read many books by GREAT names, and didn't enjoy them all. When I see a low star, I tend to investigate a little more, and often have become a fan of the author. Dry your tears - you have succeeded. X

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    1. Thank you Glynis. Actually, writing this post made me feel a lot better. And the support is wonderful. I'm so lucky to have you all.

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  22. Sorry, Jess. I've heard Netgalley reviews aren't always pleasant. I don't know why that is. Kudos to you for being yourself in your writing and that's what most important. I know that a few years ago I started thinking and reviewing books based on what I thought the author was trying to accomplish - not whether if I liked the way they did it or liked the ending. Because that's too subjective. ((hugs))

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    1. Thanks Laura. See we, as writers, understand that. I'm not sure it's possible to realise this if you're not a writer, unless you're a professional critic.

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  23. I'm so sorry, Jessica. But as someone above said, those reviews will make others curious about what's in your story. And here's a little thought: I remember some of the stories I had to read in college I HATED! The characters, the language, the plot, everything about the stories grated at every fiber of my being. BUT those are the stories that I remember because they got such a visceral reaction from me. They were REAL. If a character can drive you to hate them, if something they do can drive a reader to lash out, then YOU, as the author, have done your job. You write real. Never, ever apologize for that! And never compromise just for a review. I know you won't. You're much to strong for that.

    Jen

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    1. Thank you, Jen. I won't. I'll stick to my guns no matter how hard it gets. xx

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  24. Jessica,
    I'm going to give you the best advice I've ever received from a writer, to a writer. In my case, it came from Ellen Hopkins. I too, wrote a book about an edgy, mean and seemingly hate-able character, because I felt that is what she was going through, it was real, I was emulating real life, and I too, did it very well-- to the point EVERYONE HATED HER. Mission accomplished. Or so you'd think. Then along came Ellen Hopkins, who said, I see what you are trying to accomplish here, she is real, her anger is real, and it feels real, but what is missing, is the REAL LAYER that is down deep in the soul of every REAL person--the REAL feelings the character is experiencing that cause that anger to surface, to which your readers can relate and therefore empathize with and forgive that character, and hope for them and cheer them on to a conclusion where hopefully, in some small way, they begin to see the light...and start to change. Redemption. Readers are looking for redemption. They hold onto hope. They crave success, no matter how small. You see, as Ellen explained to me, life is crap for a lot of people. Fiction is their escape from that crap. Fiction is a reader's release. And though characters do mimic real life, and should, characters through the story experience still need to provide readers with some sort of "take back." Where is your "take back" for your reader? You need to ask yourself this. Where is that grain of hope they can hold onto that shows them, no matter how much crap life throws at them, life will be okay...
    Hmmmmm, I scratched my chin...
    This advice made me revisit my novel, about an edgy bitter teen, who was downright hate-able...who now has a heart and shares it on the page, so readers understand her anger, and cheer for her to come through it to the other side, and find that morsel of joy she needs to make a change...no matter how small...

    That is now my reader take back...

    Food for thought. Chin up. Keep writing.

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    1. Jacqueline, thank you for such a detailed comment. It was a conscious choice to not give them redeeming qualities though. It's that type of book. For YA its a little different. Most teens need these qualities to enjoy a book. But my book is literary adult so typically one would think an adult who reads literary could handle it. :-)

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  25. This happened with Cinders -- a literary novel most people didn't expect to be literary, and that was part of the problem. But after awhile, it all evened out with the reviews. Honestly, I just don't even look at Goodreads anymore, and if I do read reviews, it's only on Amazon and only right when the book comes out so I can get a good feel for the reception. That has been with the past four titles anyway. When Cinders came out, I was really obsessive. Oftentimes, I've found that writers who want to support other writers will often read genres they would not pick up otherwise, so perhaps some of these reviews you're getting are from readers who normally wouldn't pick up your genre or understand what it's doing.

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    1. I'd say that is probably the case, Michelle, as I think many of them have come from NetGalley members...

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  26. While I do think bad reviews (3 stars with constructive criticism) are helpful, 1 and 2 stars lend themselves to mean-spirited comments. Very often those reviewers leave the brutal comments ("so horrible I wanted to stab my eyes out"). There is no point to these kinds of reviews except to draw attention to the reviewer. At least - IMO. Because you liked the post Jessica I did on bad reviews, here is the link (hope that is okay to post here): http://capecodscribe.com/2013/11/06/why-negative-book-reviews-are-bad-for-the-reviewer/

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    1. Of course it is! Glad you linked to it! I personally agree with you, but as you said in your post, I am only human and the viscous reviews hurt, but I have to find a way to cope with it as they're not going away any time soon. :-)

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  27. At least people read the book and they were fired up enough to leave a review. I think that says something good about your writing. You stirred the pot and people ate the stew even though some choked on it.

    I've read more than one book based on bad reviews. Sometimes those are the reviews that make me the most curious and actually the bad reviews are the only reviews I read. I don't always trust the rave reviews as genuine.

    Lee
    Special report today on the "Story Sprouts" book launch in L.A.
    Lot's of pictures in this one!

    Tossing It Out

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  28. So sorry to read this and was thinking of potential cheer-you-up things but fully aware that our books and stories are so dear to all writers – but – in the spirit of making you laugh, read this review:

    "The wisdom of a million camels reflected in his beard like cascading streams of gibberish."

    I wanted to post the review link but it's not allowing me but it's for 'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts.

    If you’re not getting any hate mail, it’s not because you’re the world’s most lovable writer. It’s because you lack the conviction to say anything of substance. Don't forget the huge achievement it is to even write a first draft, let alone the subsequent work involved before your book is on sale. You have plenty of good reviews too, celebrate those and let it warm your heart to know that every successful author receives bad reviews (if they're saying anything of substance).

    Stephen King wrote: "“Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foulmouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or downright psychopathic.” Great writing polarizes people. Some people will love it, and some people hate it. It’s the way you know you’re on the right track. "There are lots of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they see… or to at least shut up about what you do see that’s different. They are the agents of the status quo.” Keep writing.

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“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris