Fear of the bad review

The biggest fear of any author is that people will hate their work. All authors suffer with this anxiety to a greater or lesser extent; whether they have a history of success or are just starting out; whether they are traditionally published or self-published. In fact, the fear is greater for a self-published author because they don’t necessarily have the sense of validation that winning and agent and a publishing contract provides (not that this is any salve for anxious traditionally published authors). To publish you need to overcome this fear but sadly, for many, they never do. You need to be a special kind of masochist to become a writer.

I’ve spoken in previous posts about how you cannot write something that everybody likes. It’s impossible. Why? Because the things that makes a book interesting and engaging are different for different people. Some people love flowery prose, others detest it. Some like their action loud, with explosions; others prefer the explosions to remain on the inside. The best, most revered books receive one-star reviews, as this wonderful post by Heather Hill explains, so at some point in your career you should expect to receive a bad review (or two).

Even if you have written a wonderful novel and it has reached the right kind of reader, there is another factor that could lead to a bad review. Let me explain.

Like most of you who have self-published, the first people to buy Second Chance were family, friends and acquaintances. This was both a good and a bad thing. The good part was that my book charted, giving me visibility and the sales boost that provides. The bad news was that I knew a lot of people who had bought my book, and the urge to ask them their opinion was almost overwhelming.

Here’s a tip: people you know who bought your book, read it and liked it, will tell you without you having to ask. This is a wonderful feeling. Those that don’t approach you? The chances are the book wasn’t their kind of thing but they’re too polite to say.

Of course, being a newly published author, I didn’t know this. So I asked. Most still hadn’t read my book but one or two had. One particularly good friend owned up said she didn’t like my book. She had tried to read it but she couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t the type of thing she normally read (you will hear this a lot if you’re a genre writer) and it just wasn’t her thing. I took it on the chin, mainly because she hadn’t said I was a terrible writer (my biggest fear) but that the style and genre wasn’t to her liking.

Six months or so later this same friend published a glowing review of Second Chance on Facebook, telling all her friends to buy it, even those that “don’t normally read sci-fi because it really is that good.” She even provided a link. I was obviously delighted (especially with the resultant sales spike) but also a little surprised. The next time I saw her I asked why the change of mind? Her answer got me thinking. She told me that what had changed was her frame of mind. The first time she attempted to read my book there were a number of distractions going on in her life that meant when she did get a chance to read, she couldn’t fully concentrate on what I’d written. It was only once she was on holiday that she could give my book the proper attention. Once she had the right mindset, she really enjoyed my book.

It was one of those eureka moments but one I should have recognised because there are a couple books on my Pay it Forward reading list with which I’ve also struggled. I’ve tried to read them both, more than once, but have been unable to get into them. Not because they are poorly written (quite the contrary), or that the stories aren’t interesting, but because they are aimed at a younger audience and I’ve been unable to make the mental switch from the type of adult fiction I write and usually read to appreciate them properly. It would have been easy just to write them off but the problem isn’t with the books themselves, but with me. And it is something we should all recognise. For example, how many of you have tried to read a book and failed, only to come back to it later and love it? I have. Lots of times. So these books remain on my reading list until I’m ready to give them the justice they deserve.

So what are the books you either hated on the first read, or failed to get on with, only to love on a subsequent attempt? I’d love to hear from you.