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Someone WILL Dislike Your Novel, by Lia Weston

Regardless of what you write, there is someone out there who will irrevocably decide that you suck. They may dislike the particular topic you write on. They may think that the end of your story would have been better if there were more explosions or less expositions. They may despise your lead character because they have the same name as a kid who smelt like custard and bullied them at school. They may just hate your author photo because you look too happy. The ‘why’ is not important. (Well, it might not be, but I’ll save that for a later post.) The main thing is that this person just doesn’t like your work.

No-one is immune from a seething reader. The supremely talented, the sublimely subtle, the steady workhorse – all of them will attract someone’s ire at some point. This is easy to prove, too. Think of your favourite book (I know, I know; it’s a Sophie’s Choice of librarian proportions); the one that changed your life and made you curse the fact that you will never be able to produce such genius from your fingertips. Got the title? Great! Go to Goodreads or Amazon and look it up. Now look at the one-star and two-star reviews.  Eye-opening, n’est-ce pas?

This exercise is also excellent for a day where you’re feeling like the lumpiest hack to ever approach a page. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that someone you regard as close to divinity is getting reviews* such as:

  • Why was this book written? There were so many morals, I never got the actual point of it.
  • A highly forgettable novel with a bleak ending that is not nearly as interesting as it was made out to be.
  • I thought it would have been a much better book if a lot less happened.
  • Stoopid. Horrible way to start the week.
  • Eh. 
  • (and my personal favourite) I’m really not interested in a fat girl who doesn’t believe in God.

We know deep down that not everyone is going to like everything we write, but to realise that our tastes are really this disparate is an amazing thing. Sure, you can bag the bejeezus out of whatever book du jour is the current industry whipping boy (at the moment, it’s still Fifty Shades of Grey. Still.) but you can guarantee that somewhere, someone will be crediting that book as the reason why they got out of bed, or started reading, or started writing, or kept reading, or kept writing. There is truly something for everyone.

The best thing about the fact that you will one day cop a seething reader is realising that there’s nothing you can do about it. Trying to write so everyone loves you is completely pointless. If Anne of Green Gables – a sweet book with nothing that anyone could possibly take offense to – can get ‘Worst. Book. EVER.’ reviews, you’ve got no hope of pleasing everyone.

Anyway, why would you want to? Do you really want to be the literary equivalent of iceberg lettuce? Embrace your polarising, zesty, bitter rocket self. Not everyone can be to everyone else’s taste. And that is an amazing thing. All you can be is you. Now go and write something.

* These are real reviews from a book whose writing I strive to come anywhere near. (No, I won’t tell you which one it is.) Sometimes I wonder if it’s morally wrong to be so cheered by another author’s bad reviews—is there a German word for this? Vergleichfraude?—however, writing is a lonely and often very strange process; take all the consolation you can find, even if it’s in weird places.

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Lia Weston’s author website: www.liaweston.com

Lia Weston’s bio page

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The Fortunes of Ruby WhiteThe Fortunes of Ruby White     Wings of FearStillwater CreekRotten GodsHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

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18 Comments Post a comment
  1. It is really quite useful, both in a pragmatic sense and for the ego, to earn a couple of negative reviews. I recently earned such a two-liner for my novel “According to Luke”, which until then received mostly rave reviews. It levelled out the star-value on Amazon and made it all more credible, and also stands to attest for something you have said here: we cannot write for everyone. When everyone does read our work, though, we must be open to all the comments that come our way. It is humbling, and sometimes astonishing, but always a shot of reality to find a variety of reactions to a work one has spent literally years slaving over.

    March 19, 2013
    • It is a strange process, isn’t it? And, yes, being “open to all the comments that come our way” is a great way to look at it, though it can be very odd when people pick up things you either hadn’t intended or weren’t aware of in your own work.

      March 20, 2013
  2. Thanks – I love this article, and it’s so right. You can please some of the people some of the time… but never all of the people all of the time. But while it’s easy to ‘know’ this it’s a great idea of yours to go check the reviews of some of the ‘great’ books available and get some perspective. Love it!

    March 19, 2013
    • Thanks, Maria! Yup, I highly recommend the review-checking whenever you feel low; on the flip side, it reminds you that, while some people will never like your work, some others will love it. 🙂

      March 20, 2013
  3. Great post – thanks Lia. Bad reviews ARE difficult to swallow. As is suppressing the impulse to rush to our own defence. ‘But it had to be that way because… ‘
    Bad reviews can be seen as a good thing for writers. It means that there are plenty of readers out there who are looking for a satisfying read, and if they don’t like my stuff, they’ll certainly enjoy another writer’s efforts. More to go around for all of us, don’t you think?
    We don’t love every person we meet in life, we eventually find our own kind. I think authors are the same. We find our own kind of author, whose work we confidently enjoy. The ones we can’t relate to we leave for someone else to enjoy. There’s no point beating yourself up over a bad review. Take it as a given and hope that the people who like your work take the time to say so, so the whole thing balances itself out.

    March 19, 2013
    • Thank you! You’re absolutely right; I think we too often focus on the bad review(s) and brush off the good ones – I know of at least one author who has been reduced to tears by one person’s negative comments, even though they had received almost universal praise from many others. We’re weird, aren’t we? I like your analogy about not loving everyone we meet in real life; too true.

      March 20, 2013
  4. I cannot think of any German word for this except ‘Schadenfreude’, which means you think it’s funny what happened to someone else (and he/she deserved it to happen to her), which is probably not the right word.

    March 19, 2013
    • Hi Gregor! I was trying to invent a new word which was a variation on ‘schadenfreude’ (I think I was working on a ‘comparison joy’) but managed to mangle it quite a bit — oops! It’s probably best I stick to English from now on. 🙂

      March 20, 2013
  5. Great post. I hate negative reviews where they just say they/hated/loathed/despised it and should be pulped and used as garden mulch. They hurt and what’s more they don’t get you anywhere. I don’t mind a review that is ‘bad’ but is also constructive, that points out features that can be improved on, areas of development which resonate with you, the writer. Somebody once wrote about the Russian-British character in my first book, ‘she made the hero Russian because she thinks it’s sexy or something’, and I thought to myself, ‘what would you know about my reasons?’ Stick to the text, honey, because that’s all I’m giving you. As Lilian Helman said, reviewers don’t have the privelege of access to a writers motivations or personality.

    March 20, 2013
    • Lia #

      Absolutely. Ugh – what an odd thing for that person to say. It’s fascinating how much people’s biases colour their views about other people’s motivations. (She says, clumsily.) I had one-sentence review where someone called my book ‘nonsensical’. I was so curious as to the issues she had with it – I wanted more information!

      September 13, 2013
  6. Excellent post. ‘You can please some of the people some of the time,… but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’

    March 20, 2013
    • Lia #

      Thank you! And, yup, that advice applies to pretty much everything. 🙂

      September 13, 2013
  7. Love this post, Lia. The iceberg analogy is gold! At the end of the day it’s unlikely that there will ever be consensus on any book and diversity is what makes life so fascinatingly infuriating at times.

    Good reviews are to be cherished and dug out on the days when our doubts assail us. Bad reviews? Ha, let them eat cake, I say!

    March 20, 2013
    • Lia #

      I will join you in the cake-eating! Thanks for your kind comment, Helene. ‘Fascinatingly infuriating’ – you’ve captured it perfectly.

      September 13, 2013
  8. What a great post! It’s hard not to take criticism personally, but if we remember that there are many reasons why a reader doesn’t like a work (including the reasons you mentioned) it becomes easier to bear. You certainly can’t please everyone. Countless people won’t like Tolstoy, or Shakespeare, or the films of the Coen Brothers – so why should I be so arrogant as to assume everyone will like me? In the end, I like my stories. That’s the most important thing – and if others agree, bonus!

    April 2, 2013
    • Lia #

      Thanks, JB! And excellent advice – hell, if Shakespeare can’t please everyone, who can?

      September 13, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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