Australian author Tahlia Newland, who also founded and runs the Awesome Indies book appraisal programme, shares the psychology of dealing with any negative reviews that may befall your self-published books, to help indie authors everywhere deal constructively with criticism, and to learn and grow from it, rather than losing confidence or motivation.
Truth is essential, but it can also be painful.
It’s natural to feel very disappointed, even devastated, after critical feedback, but if we can deal with it in a positive way, it can be the best thing for your development as a writer.
For the unseasoned writer, defensiveness kicks in automatically. You take the feedback as personal criticism, and that hurts. Understanding the psychological process that follows from viewing it in this light is the first step towards recognising our reactions and making the decision to look at the whole thing in a more positive, less painful way.
Shock: You thought your book was pretty good. You’ve worked so hard on it. It can’t be true. They must be wrong.
Defensiveness:You criticise and reject the reviewer and their evaluation. What credentials does the reviewer have anyway? What do they know? It’s only a personal opinion. It doesn’t mean anything. You tell yourself this to try to devalue the criticism. You want to be able to ignore it, so you try to prove that the person doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. At this stage you won’t see anything worthwhile about the reviewer, even if it’s staring you in the face.
Depression: You feel terrible, crushed, even devastated. If they are right (despite trying to dismiss the feedback, part of you says that at least some of it must be true), then you’re a terrible writer and you’ll never be any good. (They didn’t say that; it’s what you’re reading into it). You feel like giving up.
Letting Go: You give up your defensiveness and seek a way out of your depression. You may give up completely for a time, or you forget the book and do something else. You may decide you’re never going to write again, or that there are more important things in life and you put your focus elsewhere. This isn’t a bad thing. You need to let go in order to clear your mind so you can start fresh with renewed energy, and giving up is a way to let go, so is putting your energy and focus elsewhere. I recommend giving up for at least one minute. Totally letting go, even for an instant, is a very refreshing thing to do and it realigns your priorities. The bare minimum here is letting go of your defensiveness. You have to come to a point where you’re prepared to consider that perhaps the reviewer has a point and that rather than rejecting it, you could learn from it.
Objective evaluation: After a break, you come back and look at the feedback in a more objective light. Okay, you think, what is this person actually saying here and does it apply? If you don’t let go, you can’t do this. You’ll be stuck in defensiveness or depression.
Acceptance: You recognize the value of the feedback and see where it’s valid. A professional review (one that evaluates the craftsmanship of a book, not just whether the reviewer likes it or not) has more value than a reader review for evaluating your craftsmanship. Readers’ reviews are the most important thing for indicating potential sales, but not for indicating craftsmanship.
Moving On: You consider how to improve your work in light of the feedback. Then, if you just can’t face working on it again, you put the book aside, and focus on improving your next book, or you do the work and improve the book.
Satisfaction/gratitude: You recognise the improvement in the book, or at least in your knowledge and are glad you went through this process.
OVER TO YOU
Have you ever found it difficult to deal with a negative review? How did it affect your writing? Do you have any coping strategies to share? We'd love to hear from you via the comments box.