With my debut novel, Losing Faith, I was pretty nervous about how I'd handle harsh reviews. They say authors need to have thick skin and not defend their writing, but after so much hard work, I worried that I'd be one of those loose-cannon authors, or one that never writes another book because I was so depressed over reactions to my book.
I'm happy to say I didn't go either of those routes! And while I did have a really positive response to Losing Faith, there were certainly people who didn't care for it as well. That happens with every book--I'm still surprised when I find it happening with some of my favorite novels.
What shocked me with Losing Faith was what kind of negative reviews got to me the most. Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered much by a reviewer who didn't think I could write terribly well, or who thought the plot was lacking. Instead, what bothered me most were the lukewarm reactions I received from a few. Things like, "this book didn't really do anything for me," or, "I don't think I'll remember this one." After all my blood, sweat, and tears, I found that kind of reaction quite devastating. And it took me a long time to realize that it was really nothing personal against me or my characters or my book. They just didn't connect with it. And it can happen with ANY BOOK.
With my second novel, Never Enough, in some ways I felt more prepared for harsh reviews--I had been through them before, plus, with this book, I could see from the start how it would likely affect some readers differently than others. But in some ways I felt less prepared--Loann and Claire and Marcus had been a part of my life for eight years. They were very real to me, and I feared that people criticizing them would be like me standing around listening to someone criticize one of my good friends.
But we're supposed to have thick skin, I reminded myself. And it would probably be better to get reactions of either loving or hating it, than the ones who just felt meh about the whole thing and would never think of my book again.
So--I guess--it was a pleasant surprise that so far I haven't had any lukewarm reactions! I have, however had some readers that had some major problems with the book. I've handled this by telling myself over and over again, "Remember, Denise, you expected this!" And it helps. A little. I still feel somewhat over-protective about my characters and like I want to insert little defensive comments about them to retaliate against critical reviews. But I don't.
However, a couple of cool things have happened too. For one, I've noticed other bloggers standing up for my story and my characters in the comments of the blogs who are criticizing it. Let me tell you, as an author, that is a truly great feeling, to know that some of your readers care enough about your books and characters that they will fight for them.
And another cool thing that happened...before publication, while I was acting a little stalkerish on GoodReads and checking out all the people who were "currently reading" Never Enough, I came across two bloggers who were both very vocal about their thoughts while they were reading through it. One loved the book, while the other was taking issue with some big parts of the book. Being a fly on the wall as I watched the two very different reading experiences of the same book really helped put things into perspective for me. And every time I'm struggling with something I'm reading in a review, I will think back on that moment.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that for any of you who might be struggling with hearing criticism on your work. I do consider myself as having pretty thick skin, but when you pour your heart into something, I think you'd have to be a robot to not feel anything when it gets attacked.
This is a growing process for me too, definitely, and even with all the wonderful things that are being said about Never Enough, (which thankfully far outweigh the negative ones) I wonder if that feeling of bracing myself will ever completely go away.
How about you? Do you have to take criticism in a creative area of your life? How have you learned to deal with it?