How to Grow Your Own Rhino Skin
My third novel, “Best Friends Forever”, has just hit the shelves. All my hard work will hopefully have paid off and I will be revelling in 5-star Goodreads and Amazon reviews as my book flies up the charts. It is a story I loved writing, taking me back to the 1980s and memories of friends made and lost over the years, and I really hope readers will enjoy it just as much.
But let’s be realistic. There are always going to be those who don’t like your work, whether it’s the characters or the plot or just the way you write. Many of the characters I create are certainly not likeable people and that doesn’t always sit well with some readers, those that want to fall in love with the hero or heroine and root for them against all odds.
This isn’t my first rodeo. When my debut novel, “The Accident”, was published, I naively thought everyone would love it as much as I still do. I had spent years in the heads of the characters. They were a part of me, like one large, dysfunctional family, complete with the relative you would never invite to Christmas. But that wasn’t the case. While the majority of reviews were (and still are) incredibly positive and leave me warmed with pride, there have also been some savage ones and I have come to realise that if I want to continue as a writer, I will have to develop the skin of a rhinoceros.
Even now, a few years after “The Accident” was published, I feel wounded by a negative review. I read one recently that alluded to the fact that I had obviously written it quickly and that “perhaps putting more effort into the story, character and plot would boost author credibility”. Wow, tell me what you really think…. The truth of the matter is that I spent several years developing the plot and characters, agonising over the details and reworking it. As my finger hovered over the “Comments” button, I wanted to reply and tell the reader how much her review had stung, detail how much work had gone into writing the book and point out that her review may well have put future readers off.
Then I took a breath… and logged out.
How many times had I read a book I didn’t like? Sure, as a writer, I am conscious that there is a person behind the book that has worked really hard and therefore I am more inclined to write that it just wasn’t for me rather than cutting it to shreds. But what I have come to realise was that this wasn’t a personal attack on me. Reviews are very important to writers. It means we are being read. I’d like to think this woman will mention the book to a friend, tell them how awful she thought it was, and that friend will look it up, see the many 5-star reviews it has achieved and decide to read it for themselves. The negative reviews legitimise the positive ones, sparking debate and piquing interest, and I am always thankful to readers who take the time to post a review, whether good or not - and obviously enormously grateful that they have bought the book in the first place.
Writing for an audience will always be a brutally humbling career. From the moment you send out your first manuscript and ask an agent to read it, you are opening yourself up to judgement, laying yourself bare and asking a complete stranger, “So what did you think?” If you’re lucky, you will be snapped up fairly quickly, but realistically it could take months and months (if not years) of rejections; some gentle, others less so. So you have to be persistent, thick-skinned – and possibly a little bit crazy – to keep going.
But would I have it any other way? Certainly not. The fact that I feel every bad review like the prick of a needle means I care. And if I care, then whatever I write on the page has been done with sweat, tears and love for my job.
It is my hope that the majority of readers will love “Best Friends Forever” and will come away from reading it feeling moved in some way and thinking that the money they spent was worthwhile in that I provided them with a few hours of escapism and entertainment. And if you feel moved enough to write a review, please treat it like you would when appraising your child’s dodgy attempt at painting. Remember that there is a person behind that book who has spent years working on it, perfecting it, creating a world from their own imagination and investing a lot of emotion in it. But if it’s not your cup of tea, I’ve still done you a service by making you spend your £3 on a book that exercised your brain rather than on a muffin that you may regret later.
You can thank me by leaving a good review….