Monday, 30 December 2013

Dealing With Bad Reviews

It was bound to happen at some point. Getting on for four years of publishing stories, novels, blogs, poetry, articles, newsletters... Pretty much anything and everything that can be published (and getting paid for it too, which is always a nice bonus), a bad review was sure to come along eventually. In all honesty, I think I'm lucky that it took this long, and that it's only happened on one published work (ironically, the one that is selling best in paperback form... Well, there you go!). I came across the review by accident when I was searching for an Amazon link, and, I'll admit, it did take me a few moments to realise what I was reading.

It's not that I'm a complete egotist, it's just that I wasn't prepared for it.

My initial reaction was to comment on the review, to point out exactly where the reviewer had gone wrong, to correct spelling and grammar, to basically, very passive-aggressively, get a little of my own back. In essence, I wanted to review their review.

I didn't do it. Oh, in my head I commented a thousand times, ripping the reviewer apart for tearing into a project that I - and a small group of friends - had put together as a little bit of fun between us, but in reality I ignored it completely. Was it hard? Yes, it bloody well was. My book, something the group and I had slaved over and enjoyed working on, had been mauled, and I wanted revenge.

I guess it's a natural human reaction.

When backed into a corner, when hurt (literally or figuratively), the first response is to fight back. It's evident all over nature. But, just as in the wilds of Africa or the Amazon rainforest or the Jeremy Kyle show, or any other place you care to name, it is far too easy for the whole situation to escalate until you find yourself in a snarling, brawling, biting, name calling never-ending loop of pain and misery.

So my advice to you, whether it's a one star review on Amazon, or a bad report, or petty squabbling between so-called friends, is to ignore it. Take a deep breath. Hold your head up high. Walk away. Because the review is one of three things:

1. It's an attempt at trolling. Basically, it's a deliberate and mean spirited way for the reviewer to have some 'fun' at the writer's (or worker's etc) expense. And that's just not worth getting into - as they say, don't feed the trolls. Check out the reviewer's other reviews; are they all one star? Is he or she mindlessly cruel in general, or was it just you? This will give you an idea as to whether the review is worth anything or not.

2. It's a review left by someone who had a grudge against you. It has been known for other authors to rubbish their 'competition' by leaving one star reviews. It's petty and close minded, but they wouldn't do it if their work was any good, and if they didn't feel threatened by yours. It's almost - almost, but not quite... - a compliment. These kinds of people just don't have it in them to understand that they would be better off joining in and helping their fellow writer. It makes for a much happier existence, and much better book sales!

3. The review is correct. Hard as it may be to swallow, sometimes people don't like what you create. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it leaves you with an empty feeling. Yes, it is a truly horrible thing. But no one is perfect, and everyone is different. Those seemingly trite phrases are absolutely accurate in this situation. You may not have got it right, in which case a reviewer is perfectly justified in saying so. Even if you have dozens of five star reviews, that doesn't mean that everyone is going to adore your work. Just let it go; have you loved everything you've ever read?

Whichever one of the three the poor review your work has been given falls under, the best course of action is to ignore it. Time will move on, you'll write more, you'll publish more, you'll receive more reviews and one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, that one star won't mean anything anymore.

The key, is to just keep swimming...

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Thank St Anthony

Blame, blame, blame. Nag, nag, nag. That’s all Margaret heard, all she felt. It was, for the most part, all she knew. For years now she had craved a different kind of attention from her mother. Instead of recriminations and impatience, she wanted warmth, joy, love. Above all, she wanted to make her mother proud.
That was her ultimate goal, her main aim. It was an obsession, a compulsion, a need in her. Not because she particularly wanted her mother’s approval. It was too late for that now, too much water had spewed mercilessly under the rickety old bridge that she stood on to watch her life pass by. No, the reason was one of satisfaction for her; it would be a job completed that had been started decades ago.
And now, at almost forty, Margaret thought it was about time she got on with it. This year she would succeed.
Living with her mother made it both much easier and much harder to come up with schemed and plans and plots to get that small smile, that nod of the head, that hug. Easier because Margaret could pounce on the least little thing and make it into something that would help her get what she wanted. Harder because each time the idea failed, she had to live with the jibes and snide comments that went with it.
Nonetheless, she kept trying.
Cleaning the house. That, she had thought, would please her mother. Top to bottom every Saturday, and a run round with the Hoover on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep it fresh. And all this before work. Or after it if she got up late. Or sometimes pushed to the next day if it had to be, if the car wouldn’t start or she got held up. But whatever and whenever, it was done. Eventually.
But apparently it was not done well enough.
“Look at this dust, Margaret. You’ve missed this whole shelf, Margaret. Did you use the blue cloth for the toilet, Margaret?”
“Sorry, Mum.”
It was always, “Sorry, Mum.”
Even when she wasn’t.
These days, most of the time, she wasn’t. She was usually already thinking of the next thing she could do to make her mother proud as the words came automatically from her mouth.
After the cleaning idea came the driving. She became a taxi service, when she wasn’t at work, anyway. Each evening it was bingo or the pub or the book club. Every evening there was something. Her mother was a busy woman, very sociable and very keen on late finishes, whether it be a friend’s birthday party or a trip to the theatre. It was all so tiring for Margaret, who enjoyed being at home early, tucked up and snuggled in, warm and comfy cosy. It was time consuming. It was not, she felt, appreciated.
“You’re driving too fast, Margaret. You’ve missed the turning, Margaret. You’re going to hit that car, Margaret.”
Margaret was within the speed limit, she knew a shortcut, and she was nowhere near the car in front of her.
But still; “Sorry, Mum.”
“I’ll drive myself from now on. I don’t know why you insisted on doing it for me anyway. I’m perfectly capable.”
“Sorry, Mum.”
Margaret did, sometimes, wonder why she was so bothered. She wondered why she stayed. After all, she could quite easily afford it.
Of course, Margaret’s pride was at stake. That was the reason. And she promised herself that once she had made her mother love her, or like her, or at least be mildly pleased with her, she would leave.
It was serve the old bag right anyway.
Why couldn’t she break through? Even as a child it had been the same. Marks in school had been too low (even when they had been the highest in the class). Her friends had been too common. Her uniform always looked a mess.
When she got a little older, her boyfriends had all been rude, ungrateful, potential thieves and mass murderers. Or they may as well have been, according to her mother.
So eventually, Margaret gave up on having one.
It was easier that way. Much, much easier.
And the easy route was always the best one, wasn’t it? Which was probably why she had never said anything to her mother about the problem. It was just easier not to. Margaret supposed the habit of criticising had just stuck, and now her mother didn’t know how to stop it.     
Margaret didn’t know either. Which was a problem.
And she was close to running out of ideas that would – or could – make her mother proud.
She had been awarded a first class honours degree in English. Her mother asked her why she hadn’t done any of the sciences.
“Sorry, Mum.”
She had already changed her job. Twice. To no avail. She had loved nursing, but her mother mentioned that she might be better off teaching. And when she had settled in at the new school, her mother had suggested that all the best jobs were to be found in banking.
Margaret sat at the dining table, sighing loudly, Open University brochures sprawled out in front of her, reams of job applications to this school or that hospital piled up to her side.
She was making a decision.
It was time.
Mother be damned.
Margaret could her hear mother complaining on the phone to a long-suffering and terminally patient friend. “I’ve lost my glasses again, Henrietta. Lost them completely. I only had them a moment ago and now I’ve no idea where I put them.”
Mother may not have known, but Margaret did.
And Margaret had an idea. She got up from the table and rushed away to the other end of the house, to the kitchen, where she had seen her mother’s glasses earlier that day. She would retrieve them, and all would be well. So off she went.
 She was soon busy searching for the glasses that she knew – just knew – had been left in the kitchen. And there they were, wedged up against the bread bin, squeezed in next to the toaster.
Margaret plucked them out and held them up, triumphant. She smiled to herself, forgetting all about the plans she had been making to live her own life. No, these glasses were the key to everything.
And then there would be no more excuses.
No more reasons to stay behind.
No more reasons to not do what she wanted, to have to stay where she was.
Where it was comfortable. Where it was easy.
Where it was safe.
Margaret slowly put the glasses down on the counter, where they could easily be seen. Where they could easily be found.
She shuffled back to the dining room and sat again, pretending to look through brochures that she would never really read.
Her mother’s voice drifted in through the open door and the words settled on Margaret, heavy and damning.
“And I’m worried about my glasses. I wonder if Margaret knows where they are?”
Sorry, Mum, Margaret thought. You’re just going to have to thank St Anthony when you find them. It’s nothing to do with me.

She gathered the shiny prospectuses and crisp forms together and wondered whether they would all fit in the bin.