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Sep 17

Guest Post | The Aspiring Author and the Temple of Bad Reviews – Kristi Charish

About the Author

I’m Kristi, the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon & Schuster Canada/Pocket Books US), an urban fantasy about Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix— better known now as Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

I write what I love; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second instalment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. My second series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a Seattle voodoo practitioner who rooms with the ghost of late grunge rockstar, Nathan Cade, will be out May 2016.

Besides writing I’m also a scientist. I have a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. My specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which I draw upon in my writing.

Authors I love: Ernest Cline, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Diana Rowland, Cassandra Clare, Ian Hamilton, and Suzanne Collins to name a few.

Read more about her on her website.
Buy her book

The Aspiring Author and the Temple of Bad Reviews

By Kristi Charish

Ok, so maybe I shoehorned the Indiana Jones reference in there a little tight, but come on; when it comes to navigating online review etiquette, a temple full of booby traps, giant bowling balls ready to crush you at the first misstep, and an army of poison dart wielding internet goers lying in wait is a pretty apt description of the potential mind field awaiting you. Especially if you don’t watch your step.

With the constant occurrence of author flame wars on Twitter and the strange paradox we’ve entered in the internet age where author interaction with fans and reviewers has reached a nebulous grey zone, I thought it’d be a great time to talk about how we authors might want to consider navigating the Temple of Bad Reviews.

Why am I donning the fedora and taking on this adventure, you ask? Because as a cohost on AISFP and as an author with two urban fantasy series, I am firmly entrenched on both sides of the fence. That’s right; not only do I write the odd bad review, I see the odd bad reviews about my own work. Two sides of the coin, right here folks!

So where do we begin our Adventure? The first booby trap you are likely to encounter and how to disarm it:

Your very first, dreaded 1 star review

Strategy: Just be really *&^%ing happy someone read your book.

Tough love, I know, but seriously. And I’m saying this from both sides of the fence- reviewer and debut author. Not only have I hated someone else’s debut, there are people out there who thought my first step out of the gates was an abysmal effort not deserving of the paper it was printed on. And they had no problem explaining why.

Good on them. I’m just happy they picked up/downloaded my book. I get the impression a lot of authors (especially the debuts) don’t quite understand just how many books are published each month. Ask any reviewer out there; the sheer volume of books we’re inundated with on a weekly basis is staggering. Not dozens, there can be HUNDREDS. There is no way a team of us can go through all the books.

If someone bothered to pick up your book and read enough of it to give it a 1 or 2 star rating, they were interested in it enough to open the cover. Seriously, you should consider that a huge win. It will actually appear on their Goodreads page or blog roll. Fifty other novels they could have just as easily downloaded off NetGalley won’t. Also, keep in mind they may have hated your book but chances are good they’ve given 5 and 4 stars out to other authors and vice versa. Intimidating reviewers from honestly rating and discussing a book hurts all of us. 

…But they’re a one star troll!

Similar trap: ‘they said horrible things about my mom!’

I worry this one get’s thrown around a little too fast and loose. Yup. You betcha. 1 star gremlins (and mom haters) exist (and like gremlins usually come out after midnight and multiply like crazy if you feed them). For those not in the know, the true one star gremlin species is a reviewer who has an account on Goodreads and/or amazon and 1 stars every single book they come across. Also closely related to the two star wunderbeast. I’m guessing it’s a form or entertainment. To each their own/pick your poison.

How to deal? Ok, I’m not going to pretend this doesn’t exist. It totally does. Like every other debut author out there, I also went through the one star troll initiation. Technically it’s against most review site policies to simply troll reviews with those pretty little solo stars, but it’s hard to enforce…and do you really want to be the person to blow the whistle…or spend hours combing your reviews on Goodreads for a gremlin…I mean, it’s like hanging out in the first segment of the Indiana Jones temple trying to find all the little poison darts…For Gods sake, Indy- just run for it!

And keep it in perspective. Keep in mind that in over 600 Goodreads reviews, I’ve encountered exactly 2 Gremlins (I checked for this post, and believe me it was a colossal waste of time). The other 20 odd bad reviews? They genuinely and honestly just didn’t like the book, and the majority of folks who expressed why had great reasons on why it wasn’t for them.

I think authors loose track of the point, which is that the gremlins and trolls are few and far between. The vast majority of reviewers on Goodreads are there because they love books, not to form a secret cabal to stalk out debut authors and singlehandedly ruin your career…first off, I have it from good authority from a number of bloggers I chat with that there’s no way they’re that organized – think herding cats.

For the 1 star gremlins and 2 star wunderbeasts out there (and mom haters?) If your definition of fun on a Friday/Saturday night is combing Goodreads for new books so you can one star them…which takes COLLOSAL HOURS of effort…I’m going to suggest we leave them to it. We should all feel a little bad they don’t have something better going on – like READING a book or socializing- and we should leave them the one form of entertainment they’ve found.

Trap you say? I can handle anything!

Keeping the Author Ego in Check

This is a big generalization but, much like being an Indy style archaeologist/tomb raider, choosing the writers career path generally requires an above average amount of ego. Understandable considering it’s a profession that is based upon the belief that someone might want to read (and pay for) random ideas you’ve got floating around in your head. I will own up to this one myself. My god, I sent my DEBUT manuscript off to a favorite author’s agent…as Lily Allen would say, that takes a pretty serious pair of tits.

I’m not going to berate the existence of the author’s ego. I actually think a healthy ego is essential for an author, strictly for survivals sake. Writing is a career based on entertainment, where you are going to face a substantial amount of rejection. You need an ego to take that colossal rejection and deal with the question ‘ Am I really good enough?” on a daily basis.

But note I used the word ‘healthy’ when describing the authors ego, and when it comes to reviews that authors ego needs to be firmly leashed and muzzled at the door.

Ex: Let’s dissect a typical online author meltdown in 10 easy steps:

  1. Reviewer reads a book. 2. Reviewer does not care for said book. 3. Reviewer expresses their dislike – nicely or not – 4. Author reads said review. 5. After staying up past midnight staring at the wall and considering said review over and over again. 6. Convincing themselves that the reviewer simply ‘didn’t get it’, author drafts response and publishes. 7. Reviewer is unmoved by authors pleas and defends their right to review and discuss work of art in peace. Other reviewers come to said reviewers defense. 8. Author is convinced there is a reviewer cabal set on ruining their career and now no one will buy their book because of that single review. 9. Online meltdown ensues, let the Twitter games begin! 10. After midnight, Trolls emerge in numbers.

The meltdown can be attributed to two toxic mistakes on the author’s part.

  1. They took the review as a personal critique and, 2. Felt obligated to defend their work.

Taking critiques personally stems from not leashing your ego. Your work is no longer yours. It is a piece of entertainment art meant to be consumed by the public. As Shmendrick the magician would say: ‘You are the bearer, the messenger!’ Once your book is out in the open you have very little to do with it.

A significant part of my job as a researcher was defending my work. On a daily basis I had to present aspects of my research and my hypothesis and defend them vigorously to my peers. Why? Because, once published, other researchers in my field around the world would use my hypothesis and results to move their research forward. It was to be part of a greater piece of research, which others would partake and participate in. That is why scientists argue and tested our theories so much.

A novel is many things but it isn’t that. At its core it’s a piece of entertainment that your readers read to INTERPRET AND ENJOY. Whether they like it or not, arguing against their interpretation of the art they’ve consumed steps over a sacred deal between entertainer and audience…kind of like Indy swiping that idol in Raiders. It’s going to end up bad.

Those are the biggest minefields to navigate as a new Raider/Author. Join us next time for: ‘They liked my book so I should hang around and chat, right?…

3 comments

  1. Bob @ Beauty in Ruins

    “Your work is no longer yours. It is a piece of entertainment art meant to be consumed by the public. ”

    Wiser words have never been written, Kristi. Seriously, that’s the simplest, most succinct explanation I’ve come across for why you shouldn’t take bad review seriously. Great piece!

    1. Kristi

      Thanks, Bob! Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Botanist

    Wise words! I haven’t yet had the pleasure of that 1-star review – readership way too limited & close to home to attract any trolls 🙂 – but it’s advice I’ve heard before and hope I remember when the time comes. I use similar advice liberally throughout the critiquing process though. It’s a sanity saver!

    BTW, good to meet another Canadian author. I live out in Victoria. Beautiful part of the world.

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