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?