When I released my books, I did so without telling anybody who actually knew me. For more than a year, apart from my wife, not a single person in my family knew that I had written and published a book, had a blog, or even had an interest in writing. It was my own secret pleasure.
Part of the reason for this was shyness, of course, part, I dare say, was fear of being laughed at, and part was that I knew that those who love you will probably not tell you that they think something you’ve created is rubbish. So I blogged in secret and interacted online with strangers.
It was extremely gratifying, then, to discover that almost everybody was very nice about what I had written. They left nice comments. They thanked me. Some even shared what I had written with lots of other people. For years nobody really said anything too bad and, finally, upon the urging of a few of those people and, I suppose, a growing confidence, I collated some of my blog writing and put out a book. Once again people were nice. I garnered a few good reviews and took pleasure in the fact that none was from somebody doing so out of familial duty. I put out another book. It got fewer reviews, sold fewer copies than the first, but still nobody had been scathing about it. Three stars were the fewest I had seen.
That continued for about a year and a half and then – well it had to happen, I suppose – I got my first bad reviews. Two within a week, one of each book and both offering one star and a a few words of sharp criticism.
The first one was for my second book and was, I feel, unwarranted, unfair and nasty rather than offering a critique of the work. Unwarranted because the major criticism seemed to be that I hadn’t written an unrelated history of western colonialism when writing a section about possible frictions in Japanese and Korean relations, unfair because the reviewer claimed I represented a point of view directly opposed to that which I wrote and admitted he had returned the book after just twenty minutes, and nasty because it accused me and two other bloggers and writers known within the foreign community in Japan as being racists and latent white supremacists. Anyway, Amazon clearly deemed it to be unfair and slanderous as they quickly removed it.
Anyway, that was that. Or so I thought.
But then, a few days later, I discovered another one-star review, this time for my first book, the book I prefer of the two, the one everyone has been so nice about. At first I thought it was my hater coming back, but I read the review and I don’t think it is. This one is much more considered. It doesn’t abuse me. It doesn’t repeatedly misspell my name. It simply says that the reader didn’t like the book. And that, I must concede, is all fair and well. Of course, writers will be disappointed to hear such words and they may (as I do in this case) feel the review focussed on an unrepresentatively small section of the book, but that is neither here nor there. People have their right to express their view in a fair and reasonable manner and if that view is that you wrote a rubbish book, you have to accept that and move on. They say even bad reviews help sales, so maybe it’s not that bad a thing anyway.
Still, what can you do to lessen the disappointment? Well, as I said, accept it and move on, probably. That’s what I thought it best to do. But then I did something better. I went online and looked at reviews for lots of my favourite authors, for best-sellers, for hugely critically acclaimed writers. And almost all of them had bad reviews; almost all of them had one-star reviews and a great number of them had suffered vicious attacks at the hands of readers. These are people who can write. Really write. People who I could never dream of criticising because to do so would be like me attempting to tell Lionel Messi why he missed a penalty. George Orwell, Laurie Lee, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, David Mitchell, Bill Bryson, Stephen Fry, David Sedaris and on and on – they have all had one-star reviews. I was cheered up immensely. Not because those writers had suffered criticism but because I remembered the obvious fact that it is quite simply impossible to write something, paint something, compose something or even say something that absolutely everybody will like. If people hate those writers’ work, it would seem a little precious for a self-published hobbyist like me to get upset! Sure, you need a thick skin but you have to write for yourself and if others like it treat that as a bonus. If they don’t, so what?
I am lucky, though. I have a day job. I don’t write to earn a living. I do it for fun. I am sure I will get more bad reviews, a few more one stars and a fleeting sense of disappointment that I have let somebody down or a fear that my poor old mum will get upset and somehow end up in an embarrassing online battle defending her darling son. For me that is likely as bad as it will get. Some writers, though, need sales and struggle to get by. For them, a couple of bad reviews must seem like a hard punch in the gut. So to those I say try not to worry. Just go online and look up a few authors you admire. You’ll soon find you are not alone.