Book Review

Bad Reviews

This post isn’t about what you think. I am not going to address how to handle the emotional sting of a bad review. Instead, I am going to talk about those closest to you, showing how your friends and family can hinder your writing career.

If you cannot stand the thought those you love may be undermining your career, stop reading now and go make yourself a smoothie and relax.

For those of you who are still reading:

Every aspiring or experienced author needs a lot of emotional support to sustain the writing process. You need understanding friends and loved ones to give you space so you can create.

But the same people who support you, know you and love you are the worst reviewers you can have if you are looking for input on your writing.

Of course they love what you wrote…they love you.

In the second grade, I painted a picture of Bozo the clown and my mother hung it up in my room. Her reaction led me to believe that I had a long career ahead as an artist.

She was wrong.

Are your friends, family and loved-ones involved in an elaborate conspiracy to undermine your writing career?

Yes…yes they are.

Under the cover of “friends support friends” and “that’s what family does for each other,” they are setting you up to be squashed like a bug by an evil literary agent who spends their off-hours burning ants with a magnifying glass.

Seriously, using only personal connections for reviews is not a good idea if you are interested in establishing yourself as a writer. Friends are terrible gauges of quality because their job description as friends require they support you.

OK, they might tell you have a piece of food caught in your teeth. They helped you avoid embarrassment.

Nothing wrong with a good measure of support, but at some point, you need to cross the Rubicon and do battle with objective judges of writing quality. It can be intoxicating to stay on the safe side of the river with all your supportive friends and family. We get that.

I recognize that sometimes when I decline an author for representation I might have been the first person who said in effect, “This isn’t good enough.”

Seeking out critical reviewers rather than only being around supporters is a complicated and emotional process. There is probably an element of avoiding critique in some indie publishing, as you don’t need to expose your work to agents or publishers who might be discouraging before your book is made available.

But both indie and traditionally published authors still expose themselves to the harshest of critics…the public who doesn’t know you and can hide behind an anonymous screen name to blow up your book online.

Serious writers expose their work to objective review and actually ask for constructive criticism from people who are qualified to give it.

Those people are more often not friends or family.

Some authors use rejection or critical reviews to stoke the flame of bitterness against literary gatekeepers who seemingly conspire to prevent them from succeeding.

Others take criticism and rejection and turn it into a way to improve their craft, the way an athlete accepts coaching.

The great Carl Sandburg once said, “I wrote poems in my corner of the Brooks Street station. I sent them to editors who rejected them right off. I read those letters of rejection years later and I agreed with those editors.”

Listening to the right people will make you a better writer.


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