“In this business of show, you must have the heart of a lion, and the hide of an elephant”
– Tobias Funke
There was an episode of “The X Files” that focused on the show’s villain, known only as the Cigarette Smoking Man. “CSM” was the epitome of hidden power, manipulating policy and policymakers under his invisible thumb. In this episode, he was trying to have a manuscript of his life’s work published as a fictional account. This man who’d been responsible for the rise and fall of presidencies sat in front of his editor grinning like an eager schoolgirl. Then, he watched life’s work ripped to shreds in front of him.
There’s a vulnerability to writing. You put pieces of yourself out for public scrutiny, and it hurts when somebody doesn’t like them. Or worse, hates them. I bring this up because I just received my first negative review, sadder still because it’s my first review from anyone in the publishing industry.
Before I start, the review wasn’t completely negative. I can hang on one sentence: “There is some strong writing, and most of the scenes are well played out, and sometimes quite suspenseful.” Coming from an industry professional, that is definitely a big deal for a first-time author who hadn’t written substantial fiction since high school.
The rest of the review was troubling, though, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. The reviewer made statements that were plainly dealt with in the book; did she pay attention, or just skim through? Or is it a result of my failure to communicate clearly enough?
The review starts out with an ominous sentence. “What starts with the potential to be a time-travel story with a light, humorous tone, quickly becomes a pedantic story in service to its message…” The problem here is that I never intended the book to be light and humorous; it is a “message” story in the vein of “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “The Shack”. Character comes in one way, experiences an event that gives them a new and otherwise impossible perspective on their life, and comes out transformed in some way. The reviewer seems to have wanted a different story! Does this, in some way, make the rest of her review invalid?
After taking an evening to introspect, I’ve come to the conclusion “yes and no”. It’s important to know who your audience is, and make sure the story is both appealing and accessible to them. The review gave me some clues as to where potential problem points might be. On the other hand, I’m not concerned about the message-based nature of the novel; as long as it’s not heavy-handed and presents the two sides of the debate evenly and respectfully, it’s meeting the purpose for which I wrote it in the first place.
Not everybody will like your work, and this was just one person’s opinion. Take the criticism, move forward, and don’t let the haters get you down.