Most of us care at least a little bit about a negative review. For me, it’s like stubbing my toe on a low grey filing cabinet that sticks out a little from under a desk; I’m probably going to yelp once per social media outlet, and by the next day things resemble their previous state. I often encounter one piece of advice which is probably best used to calm me from a most scathing takedown, but it’s not where I choose to stop.
“That’s one reader’s opinion. You didn’t write it for them, and what you wrote just didn’t work for them.”
No phrase presented there is factually incorrect, at least in my case, but let’s make sure we aren’t overlooking something important before we shrug off what we don’t want to hear. Readers often share opinions with each other, being socially connected creatures, and you can at least get an idea of what to expect from other readers who are similar to this reader. When you take note of a pattern emerging from various critiques, at the very least, it’s not going to surprise you anymore. I feel it’s less sharp of a “yelp” when I’ve seen it before and have reconciled myself to the meaning.
And when you see opposite critiques, where for example one person says you’re too long winded while another says you’re too abrupt, you get a chuckle out of knowing two different humans can derive vastly different experiences from looking at the same set of words. That’s an important lesson to consider.
My advice today is here to help you take down the “yelp” factor, if you happen to feel it.
If you plotted your feelings after receiving a negative review in a graph, y-axis being subjective units of distress (SUDs) from 0 being not-at-all to 10 being the most horrible experience you can imagine, and x-axis just increments of time marching forward from left to right, you mark where you think the SUDs are and you can connect the dots, drawing a curve (or just draw straight lines between the dots, if you prefer). For most people, bad feelings take a certain energy expenditure to maintain, so you would see the curve go up right when the negative review hits hardest, then the SUDs would generally taper down over time; other things in life take priority and you just have other things to think about instead, hopefully better things. This is all stuff borrowed from my anxiety therapy, by the way, and I feel like it can map over to this context rather cleanly.
What do I do to help that curve collapse a little quicker than it otherwise would?
I have a private blog elsewhere. Some of the things I need to write in it constitute spoilers, and others, awkward feels, so I spare the rest of you from having to look at that. However, this is just the place for what I do next. Here are the steps:
Look for the specific points or phrases that get to you the most. I know these are the last things you want to look at, but they’re the actual issue, not the fact that the review is overall negative. Reviews are words. We can analyze phrases and question meanings; review the review.
What do you feel you were doing with that thing they didn’t like? Do you think they missed your point? Your biggest asset as a writer is that you most likely remember what you meant, especially when faced with a jarring alternate reading.
Write out your thoughts. Write an essay where you address the “problem points”. Affirm what you know you intended to do, but acknowledge the possibility that the reader didn’t pick up on it. If you prefer, consider what you might have done to help the reader pick up on that better, or whether you already think you did enough. Personally, writing helps me try to make my usual recursive thinking a bit more linear, perhaps carrying a thought to an actual conclusion.
In my case, the reviewer is reviewing a “finished product” already available on the market. Understand that the text is what it is, and all you have to do is consider what you’d do different in a future project if you’ve zeroed in on any actual room for improvement. If we’re talking about beta reviews and workshops, I don’t think this post properly addresses that context.
The privacy of the blog is important. I prefer not to engage in heated public arguments with reviewers because other reviewers can pick up on the behaviour, and the optics of it… not my thing. Especially if you’re arguing against a reader’s subjective experience with your text, instead of an overlooked fact or blatant misquote. My focus here is to help you feel okay with yourself and what you’ve made, and to get past discouragement in a reasonably quick way.
Unless it’s a very high profile blog, I wouldn’t see the need. For the same reason that reviewers took a while to get to your work, that negative review post might fade into relative obscurity, buried under all those new reviews that push it off page one. If it is a high profile blog, actually, I would be even more careful than that. I would write my private blog post first to make sure I have coherent thoughts to share before going public with them.
One minor reason I prefer to solicit new reviews is because they can push old reviews under the heap. This can be good or bad; glowing reviews can meet the same fate over time, and the outcome of a new review is never guaranteed. If you don’t solicit reviews and just let them naturally come in, a benefit might be that you deal with the “yelp” factor a lot less frequently than I do. However, as far as The Gift-Knight’s Quest and The Crown Princess’ Voyage are concerned, I chose to set up reviews months ago and I’m more concerned with accepting the outcome of my choices.