Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shaking off bad reviews

I've been giving short shrift to the blog lately because I'm spending so much time in the garden. More on that tomorrow, probably, with some photos. Today I'd like to respond to a comment left by Janny on this post. Janny's polite, thoughtful remarks on why she didn't care for my latest book are too long to quote here in their entirety, so you curious types will just have to click on the link. But here are some snippets:

I was one of those people who got the free book, agreed to blog about it...and then found myself reading, and reading, and reading, trying to like it. I just couldn't. And yes, for once in my life, I was actually thinking before putting my writing foot in my writing mouth and hurting feelings....

My biggest problem was the conflict set up between hero and heroine, which to my mind simply didn't amount to enough to keep an entire book going....

I couldn't deal with these people anymore and put the book down.

That's the truth...that this book just didn't work for me. So there you have it, for what it's worth. I'll be glad to publicize your book on my blog now, but I didn't want to go into that with this kind of review...at least not without telling you first....

I hope this didn't sting too badly...

It didn't sting at all, Janny. And because I think it might help some of my writer friends deal better with criticism of their work, I'd like to explain why.

When I send a book out into the world, I'm offering readers something I'm proud of, something I hope will delight them. But I'm a realist, so I readily acknowledge that not everyone will love my books. Publishing a novel is very much like presenting your special cheesecake to a family that has just moved in next door. You don't know those people, so you don't know whether they're on strict no-cheesecake diets or have weird allergies or just plain hate cheesecake. Even if they adore cheesecake, they might not care for your version of it. But you make the gesture with the best intentions and the neighbors thank you warmly. If you find out later that your marvelous creation was dumped in the trash ten minutes after you left, you're disappointed, but you don't burn your recipe and sign up for a cooking class. You know you made a darn good cheesecake.

So the neighbors didn't agree. Big deal. Life is still worth living.

Every time we read a novel, our life experiences, personal values, and individual tastes color our perception of the story and determine whether we will be engaged or turned off. Some readers might be captivated by a sweet heroine that others find cloying. Some might rave about an exciting plot that others find boring and predictible. Even the greatest books are never universally loved. And have you noticed there's always somebody sticking up for the truly awful books?

In general, a book review says more about the reviewer's tastes than it does about the quality of a given book. On the surface, Janny's comments might appear to be an indictment of my writing. But look closer and you'll see that she's really talking about herself. She's telling us what she likes and does not like in a romance novel--and my book didn't meet her standards.

Okay, Janny didn't like the book. I'm disappointed. But my editors liked it, reviewers liked it, and I get e-mail every day from readers who like it. More important than any of that, I like it. I enjoyed writing it and I'm proud of the way it turned out. So my self-esteem is in pretty good shape.

You can't please all of the people all of the time. Any writer who fails to acknowledge that simple truth is inviting others to suck the joy out of her writing life.

I hope this post encourages somebody.


Marianne Arkins said...

Very, very true -- as a writer who also runs a reviews site, I am more than aware that a review is ONE PERSON'S OPINION. That's why it's valuable to get many, many reviews. Somewhere in the midst of the raves and the panning is the average truth.

As an author, it can be difficult when someone doesn't like your work. OTOH, I'm a reader, too and I find that there are many very popular authors whose work I can not stand ("Outlander" being one of note - hate the book, yet most people love it).

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

There will always be "bad" reviews of our work. Heck, I'm sure if some adults read my stuff, they'd laugh, well, that's because it's geared toward the younger adult.

As long as our heart is focused on God during our writing, and we're trying to glorify Him----ultimately that's all that matters, right?

It might sting a little, we're human, right? But it's not going to stop us from doing our work. Heck, it'll probably make us stronger in the long run.

Press on, through the praise and the criticism, it's all good, shapes us... IRON sharpens IRON, right?

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

I can't add anything more to that. Very well said!

lisa said...

you took that very well! I haven't read this one yet...but if it's anything like your others, it HAS to be good.

Will read it soon!

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, Lisa. You sound just like my sister.

Marianne, Sheri, and Chad, thanks for reading and commenting. You people are the best.

Becky Calhoun said...

Well, I guess the world would be a boring place if everyone loved the same things. But you touch a lot of hearts and lives with your work. No one could touch them all but you are probably reaching more than you know. This was the first inspirational romance I've read (I'm a cozy mystery fan) but it just made me feel so good that I went back for more. Since finishing At His Command, I've read all the others you have written and felt just as good about every one!

Brenda Coulter said...

Becky, I am enormously flattened. Thank you so much!

Brenda Coulter said...


In addition to being enormously flattened, I am flattered.

Debra Ullrick said...

I've read every one of Brenda's books and I loved them all. In fact, she has quickly become one of my favorite authors. The thing I love about them is there uniqueness. Brenda's books have characters that act like real people. They have flaws and they respond accordingly. I think so many times we put writers in a box. Like we do God. We want them to write a certain way, say it a certain way etc., and when they don't meet that criteria, we pick it apart and refuse to read their stuff.

One thing I'm learning is we all have different likes and dislikes. I hate liver. My friend loves it. So is she right about liver and I'm wrong? No, it's all in taste. Good thing that God made variety. And His variety shows up in our books.

Brenda, I know how it feels to get negative feedback. When I was looking for endorsers for my new book, Déjà vu Bride, ten people read it and nine of them loved it. I've learned to accept that there is nothing I can do about the people that don’t like my stories. I write what the Holy Spirit gives me, the way He gives it to me. I take the steps He asks me to take, when He asks me to take them. And if someone doesn't care for it, yeah, it hurts, but I respect their opinion. An author friend of mine reminds me continually that it's just one person's opinion. Now, if nobody like my stories, I’d be doing some heavy duty praying. *smiling*

I'm sorry that lady didn't like your book. But there are scads of others who absolutely love it! And it really is okay that she didn't like it. She's allowed not to. *smiling*

Also, I discovered something that’s made a huge difference. Before I became a writer, I just read books because I loved them. If I started one and I didn't enjoy it, then I just put it away. Now that I'm a writer, I find that as I’m reading I'm more aware of POV shifts, passive writing, showing vs. telling, back story etc. At first it drove me nuts because I was constantly picking books apart and couldn’t just enjoy reading them like I used to. I hated that my mind seemed to find all the mistakes. I couldn’t figure out why I did. Finally, I realized that I needed to remove my “editor's cap” and put on my “reader's cap”. It's made a huge difference. I now just enjoy reading again. I think so many of us writers have been so programmed to follow the writing rules that we now judge books by those rules, instead of whether or not it’s a good story.

I want to clarify something. I’m talking from my own experience. I’m not putting anyone down here. Even the person who didn’t like Brenda’s story. She was honest in her opinion and she has a right to it. Just as every reader does.

Okay, I've prattled on long enough.

Brenda, I love your books. They’re fresh and unique. Please don't change a thing. You're writing rocks! Superb!

God bless you as you endeavor to serve Him through your writing.

Debra Ullrick, author of
The Bride Wore Coveralls
Déjà vu Bride
Alabama Weddings

Karen Harrington said...


Wow, you put the perfect words to how I feel about reviews and books in general. There's something for everyone. Bravo! The only problem is - now I want cheesecake.

I am going to link this post to my blog this week to share with my writer buds. (And I'm also linking my blog to yours.) So happy to have discovered it!


Brenda Coulter said...

Gosh, Debra, thank you for saying all that good stuff about my books!

Karen, I want cheesecake, too. All the time. And, hey, thanks for linking to my blog.