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Thickening Skin and Review Scars

“Grow a thicker skin.”

I really, really hate those words. Authors hear them all the time, generally when discussing reviews. Seriously, can we please stop telling authors that?

It’s not that I don’t think authors need thick skins to deal with bad reviews…it’s just that telling someone to “get” one is like offhandedly telling someone to fall out of love. Or to stop being sad.

You can’t just turn off your emotions. Growing a thicker skin is a process, and sadly, the process involves being exposed to bad reviews over and over until you become desensitized. Until your skin toughens up and you develop some scar tissue.

Yes, there are people who are naturally thick-skinned. Yay, them. I wish I was one. I’m not…I tend to be a little tender when it comes to animals, children, and my work. I try to look at the bright side of being sensitive — sure, it hurts like hell and makes me obsess about the puppy lit on fire by scumbags or the child bullied and beaten at school. But that same sensitivity also makes me passionate and apt to speak out against abuse and stick up for the underdog.

Being “sensitive” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need people who feel strongly about issues, no matter what they are. I think we all have thin skin about certain things. What hurts me won’t hurt someone else, and vice versa, and simply telling someone to toughen up isn’t going to help. It has to happen naturally.

I know this because I realized something recently. I realized that I’ve definitely developed a tougher skin when it comes to reviews.

See, by accident, I clicked on a link that led to a blogger who reviews for a book review site, and she was doing a contest. This blogger will forever stick out in my mind because…well…let’s go back to the beginning.

It’s July 2008. My very first novel is about to hit the shelves. It’s the first book in a new series, and I’m excited, nervous, and terrified. If that first book doesn’t do well…the rest of the series is screwed. I’ll have let down my editor, my publisher, my agent, myself. I need good reviews. Need them badly.

So I wait on pins and needles for those first reviews of Pleasure Unbound to come. And suddenly, in my inbox is a note from a review site. Pleasure Unbound has been reviewed! My very first review!

I’m sweating, my heart is pounding, my fingers are trembling so hard I can barely click the link.

I start reading. Starts off good…whew! Then…then…devastation. The reviewer thinks the storyline is weak. Oh, horror of horrors…she hates it!

My very first review leaves me aching for days. Compounding the ache was the fact that she left comments in other blogs detailing all of the book’s faults. It felt like she was going out of her way to warn people off my books.

Fast forward to yesterday. For some reason, I decided to look up that old review. I prepared to cringe.

But you know what? It’s not a bad review! OMG. If I got that review today, I’d shrug. Heck, I don’t know that I’d even spare the energy to shrug. That’s how NOT awful it is.

Oh, it’s not a great review for sure, but in the days since that review, I’ve been torn apart far, FAR worse. I’ve had scathing, snarky reviews that made my jaw drop. I’ve been accused of copying other authors (seriously, Twilight???) I’ve had hate mail. Threats of violence, harassment from people who swore to ruin my career. None of that is fun, and I’ve had a lot of stressed-out days.

But I’ve also come a long way. My skin has toughened up so much that I look at the review that was devastating to me as a new author, and brush it off. For a while now, I’ve grown much less sensitive about reviews — I still don’t like negative reviews, especially if they are extremely harsh, but it takes a lot more harshness to make me blink. I can now shrug off reviews that, when I was new, bothered me for days. Now they’re out of my mind in about 30 seconds.

I think that’s partly due to the fact that in retrospect, those old reviews are really not that bad. (Okay, there are a couple bad ones, especially for the first Sydney Croft book that still sting, but for the most part, those old reviews simply seemed horrible at the time.) And I’ve also gotten that thick skin that people told me to get. Getting it wasn’t pleasant, but ultimately, it’s made my online life a lot easier.

So what is the point of this post? Mostly, I just want to tell new authors that it will get easier. You will grow a thicker skin, and though it’ll hurt like hell along the way, it’ll happen.

Sure, if you’re like me, you’ll still feel the sting of a particularly harsh or vicious review, and steam will probably still come out of your ears if someone gets the facts wrong or whatever. But for the most part, it’ll get easier. If it doesn’t, then I suggest avoiding reviews altogether. I’ve gotten to the point where I never read Goodreads reviews, for example. Too much potential to ruin my day. I avoid Amazon reviews as well. And there are a couple of review sites and blogs I avoid. It’s just better for my sanity.

Just remember that reviews are subjective — what one person likes, another won’t. The reviews are not for you…they’re for other readers. We might not like every review, but reviewers perform a service to both authors and readers, and ultimately, they bring us exposure we might not otherwise have.

So when it comes to a bad review, I’m not going to tell you to toughen up or get over it or to just deal with it. I’m going to tell you that it gets easier. Cry, scream, binge on chocolate…do whatever you have to do to feel better (though I would avoid going whackadoodle on the reviewer’s blog, but that’s just me,) and then get back on the writing horse.

Write, write, write! How else will you get more bad reviews to toughen you up? :tongue:

36 Responses to “Thickening Skin and Review Scars”

  1. Laura Kaye says:

    Great reminder about perspective. My first books are coming out in a few months and I’m in that terrified place you talked about. I’m not sure how I’m going to approach reviews, but I might prefer being ignorant to them than risk the devastation! :huh: :) Thanks for a great, useful post!

  2. Meljean says:

    This is so, so true. No author can control how they react to a review … but I’ve also found that it gets a lot easier with time.

  3. Perfect timing for me, Larissa, since my first book just came out. Thank you! I’m still in the cringe/OMG stage.

    A very successful author friend with many years under her belt give me some great advice that I’m trying to adhere to. She doesn’t read reviews for two reasons. The good ones make you think you’re better than you are, and the bad ones make you think you’re worse.

    I’m so glad you didn’t let that early review hamstring you! I love your books!

  4. I love this post simple for the use of the word “whackadoodle”….I also hope no author ever does that on my blog LMAO

    Keep on going Larissa…for every 1 bad review is 10+ positive ones! :)

  5. debbie haupt says:

    Great article Larissa, and show me the author who isn’t sensitive and I’ll show you an author I don’t want to read, it takes emotions to write so who are we to say grow a pair. You just obviously sent the arc out to the wrong reviewer :).
    I’m just glad that you kept on, keeping on because you are one of the reasons I now love paranormal romance, before I read the first in the series I wasn’t a fan of the sub-genre but oh boy you showed me just how interesting demons, weres and other species could be, now I have a steady diet of the unknown and you are partly to blame for my towering TBR pile.
    BTW I do take bribes as in arcs or early reader copies :)
    Kudos to you and keep it up!!!

  6. :grin: I love this post! It’s so true I think some authors believe everyone has to like their work lol. I’m a newbie 7 months into my new career as a author and honestly I’ve learned so much from editors already that I blush over the quality of those first few books.

    I hope I never think I’m such hot stuff that I don’t have room to grow. Thanks for this great post, it’s nice to know that it gets easier. Ps love your books!

  7. :grin: I love this post! It’s so true I think some authors believe everyone has to like their work lol. I’m a newbie 7 months into my new career as a author and honestly I’ve learned so much from editors already that I blush over the quality of those first few books. Thanks for this great post, it’s nice to know that it gets easier. Ps love your books!

  8. Molly says:

    Your post applies to everyone, not just writers. Everyone has a review in some way or another (my yearly work review is coming up, so I’ve been thinking about this lately.) Recently I’ve been getting some really negative comments about my work, when I know damn well that I’m doing a good job. Oh, and I cry. I might cry more easily because I know I’m doing a good job and the negativity seems unfair. But when I think back to a couple of months ago when I was approached by my manager about some mistakes I made, it doesn’t seem as bad as it did at the time.Maybe it’s not really developing a thicker skin, but understanding the point of view that the criticism is coming from (and then choosing whether to live or die by it!)

  9. Karen Tavares says:

    Great post and so true. No matter what stage of the writing game your in, you need/want that coveted “thick skin” because if it’s not scathing reviews then it’s multiple rejections or yearning to simply finish the ms. But donning a thick skin doesn’t mean you don’t feel every cut or bruise from getting from point A to point B. The point is somehow you make it and somehow you’re okay with it :grin:

  10. Lambie says:

    I adore your honesty.

    Bad reviews hurt, no matter who you are.

  11. Laura Wright says:

    Perfect timing for a perfect blog post! And your right, it does get easier. I wonder if it is also because there isn’t as much time to stew anymore. Gotta get to edits or onto the next book. There was one particular review I read by accident that – at the time – was so awful, so mean, so much hate for that book my entire body sank – now I read it for yucks!

  12. Cid says:

    Why would you want to copy Twilight? I don’t care for it, but copying it is silly! It’s too well known. If you’re going to copy something, copy something obscure… I’m kidding. But I’m shocked at what some people put into reviews. I write, I’d like to be published some day, but for now I’m a happy reader and reviewer. I also really don’t like writing bad reviews – I’d much rather, ah, not admit my feelings for a book if it’s that bad 9 times out of 10. I’m glad that reviews aren’t what they once were for you!

  13. Taleka says:

    Words hurt but I’m glad they didn’t cut you. What one person sees as trash, another sees as treasure and that’s the way of the world.

    I adored your book…I remember going out to get Gena Showalter’s LOTU book and came across yours…I loved your cover..blue is my favorite color. I just took a chance and NEVER regretted it. Eidolon’s is my fave book of the series.

  14. azteclady says:

    Emphatic yes to ‘keep on writing’ and to ‘it will become easier to bear.’ (Along with an “I’m happy it’s become easier for you, Larissa”)

    What bothers me, as a reader/reviewer, is the conflation of ‘bad review’ with negative review (I seem to bring it up often, in fact).

    I can see, and understand, why authors may not be able or willing, in the first flash of hurt, to see the difference, but it still bothers me.

    (Probably because it means that I spend a couple of hours crafting a negative review that will be lumped with a two line “this sucks, don’t read it” somewhere online)

  15. ;) yeah, I don’t recommend going whackadoodle…

    Gets easier, you get tougher and one thing that will make it all better? Have a couple of friends you can call and scream, wail, cry to, if you need it.

  16. “Just remember that reviews are subjective — what one person likes, another won’t.”

    Yes, I agree 100%! As a reader, there have been times that I have bought a book BECAUSE of a negative review. Yep. The very thing the reviewer said she hated is something I happen to love. Go figure!

  17. Valerie B says:

    How ironic for you to bring this to your blog today.
    I had commented on Amazon about this very subject. Most of the comments were gee why do people post negative comments attacking the authors?
    I for one, not a professsional reviewer, post reviews on the books I read, on Amazon. I do not attack authors, although with one author I was very tempted, but not based on her book. It was based on her comments/interviews in public. I did not understand her disparity for her readers, and REALLY did not understand her comments about increasing her fortune.
    Moving on – most reviewers at Amazon are avid readers, but not reviewers. While they may show an articulation when speaking, writing is another matter. Some of them NEVER realize they are attacking an author, not reviwing a book.
    So what do I do? I keep reviewing books. I recommend new readers to read some reviews, select a book based on a particular person’s review, and after reading the book, decide if those views coincide with yours. Then continue to select books by the reviewer you like.
    That is one amin reason I write reviews. To steer new reviwers towards really good books and authors.

  18. Gayle says:

    God I LOVE YOU! Did you write this just for me??? Hee Hee! I was just thinking about this the other day. The edits are done and I am freaking out thinking that no one will like my book and since its a series, that means they won’t go for the rest of them. I appreciate what you wrote and will remember it. Thanks Larissa! :smile:

  19. Lisa Sanchez says:

    Fabulous post! Just what I needed today. Mwah!!!!

  20. Thanks for this great post, Larissa! My debut romance is out this month and I’ve been on pins and needles. It’s a great reminder that it will get easier, and the anxiety will pass… :happy:

  21. :happy:

    Love this post and I am going to book mark it. For if I ever get a book published, I am going to be one of those authors who will have to work on toughening my skin. *sighs* It sucks being so tender hearted. Which reminds me… I must make note to tell friend not to go “wackadoodle” on bad reviewers or negative reviews. She is just one of those people who speak her mind and I would hate for her to be labeled “crazy book writer with temper”.

  22. whackadoodle. LOL I love it. Seriously, this is so true. you can’t be thick skinned just because someone told you to. It’s a learning process. I was watching AI tonite and they reminded those who were released how they, too, had received the pain of rejection, and it made me think of authors. Is there anyone out there who has to learn to handle rejection more than authors?

    And just like the reviews, people will say “Grow a thicker skin.”

    I remember my first rejection – it hurt more than my first bad review. I sulked for days. Then I got up and submitted to another agent or editor. And of course, I was eventually successful. I now have enough success behind me to know – not everyone likes what I write. Not everyone hates it either. In fact, there are those who love it. (does a heart good!)

    And like you say, Larissa, when rejected, or when you receive a bad review, it’s time for a good cry, and a box of chocolates (ok, I really don’t understand chocolates, but most do, so go for it). Or, as in my case, a tub of ice cream. Then, eventually, if the drive is there, if you really want to reach your dream, you’ll hit that keyboard again, and continue where you left off. Because when that cover comes, or when that reviewer is later won over by your next book, the feeling is beyond description!

  23. :wink: I couldn’t have said it better myself… Well put and keep on keepin on :smile:

  24. Jax Cassidy says:

    Even though I’ve grown a “thick skin”, a bad review still stings…but it only pushes me to continue writing and it helps knowing there’s going to be someone out there who will love what I’ve written. And for every bad review, there’s one reader who will send an email that makes everything better.

  25. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU! Best advice ever. (Now, how many more years do I have to wait before I have your perspective? Sigh….)


  26. Beth Kery says:

    Maybe all new writers should get this post from their publisher. Well done, Larissa.

    I remember my first review too. It was hell. And I agree, when I look back, it was acutally a better than decent review.

    I would be surprised if there are many people born fresh into the publishing world with a thick skin. I know there are some–few. However, It seems much more popular to be nonchalant…”Oh, toughen up. Ignore it all together.”

    That’s not helpful, and it just makes you feel like a wimp. Telling someone about this article, for instance, or just having an honest talk, would be so much more helpful.

  27. Are you reading my mind right now? Seriously, I just received word that a wonderful book reviewer is reading my first novel. As I prepare to vomit from the anticipation, I log onto Twitter and see THIS post!

    Thanks for the words of wisdom. I really needed them. :grin:

  28. debbie haupt says:”…show me the author who isn’t sensitive and I’ll show you an author I don’t want to read, it takes emotions to write…”

    This is exactly what I wanted to say!

    Although I’m happy to hear that it does get easier over time :-) if a writer is so tough that a bad reveiw doesn’t bother her at all, I have to wonder how much emotion she can put into her stories.

  29. Michelle says:

    Amen chica! I write reviews for a largish website, and I have to say the hardest part is balance. I want to be honest, and honestly I don’t like everything I read. But I am VERY aware and I hope all my reviews reflect that what I don’t like my two best reading buddies normally will LURVE. I’ll be listing character inconsistencies and plot holes in the back of my mind and then ask one of them to check it out and give me a second opinion and they are thinking, “Dang girl, this is so wonderful and that boy is so smokin’ who cares??” So remember, while one says, “Meh” there are two others out there rolling their eyes at her and grinning as they reread all those good little bits. ;)

  30. Kristy says:

    Here’s the thing about critics. Whether you’re a writer or it’s some other passion you strive for, there will always be someone there to knock you down and throw a little sand on your happiness and accomplishments. The only way to throw sand back, is to get back up and keep on walking. Write your story or do whatever it is you love and worry about nothing else, except for making yourself happy. Becuase the reality is, no one else lives in your shoes. So walk tall and walk proud. If you have enough *umf* to sit down and write a book that’s how ever many pages long then forget about the critics just be proud of what you have accomplished and make sure that when you are done to run outside and scream out loud for the whole world to hear.

  31. Kylie says:

    I pimp your books like it’s my job. If people don’t like your books, it is probably because they are uptight and hot demon sex offends their Amish-like sensibilities. The writing is top notch.

  32. reese says:

    Good Post
    side note-Laurie London, bought and read your book last week.Loved it :smile:

  33. Mary G says:

    Brilliant post Larissa. Very wise.

  34. Zoe Winters says:

    Great post! I agree that it DOES get easier. It also helps to think of bad reviews as “not your readers” Obviously they aren’t really your demographic if things they are complaining about are things you love and the readers you’re actually writing for, love. Not every book is for every reader but some people get crazy-offended like the author is obligated to write exactly what they want to read.

    And for the record, I thought Pleasure Unbound was absolutely brilliant and wonderful on every level!

  35. Excellent. It’s nice to have a chance to hear/read other authors express their feelings on this. In some was writing is a lonely business – no water cooler to gather around, no lunchroom to vent in. And friends who aren’t writers don’t always understand, so thank you!

    You’re right that as time passes reviews become easier to handle. My first bad review had me in the dumps for days and I dwelled on it forever. Now I reread it and think ‘well they just don’t like my style but many others do.’ If you count up your good reviews over your bad reviews the good ones always have more. I look at the bad reviews, decide if they have merit – and some do and some don’t- an act accordingly.

    Thanks again for writing this

  36. Janet says:

    Let me tell you a story ….. I heard from Pleasure Unbound and bought it (I am living in the Netherlands). I realy, realy hate prejudice and lets face it Tayla had some ideas of her own and was acting on them. But I so LOVED Pleasure Unbound! Only a sensitive person could have writting that story.So please don’t grow a thick scull!


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