In the last two weeks, I’ve witnessed two New York Times bestselling authors caught up in online drama related to book reviews. As a writer myself who has my work out there for others to judge, I feel their pain. Even though we’re supposed to have a “thick skin,” no one wants to see our book babies called ugly. Some reviews even go so far as to “tag” the author so the author sees the ugly remarks. Nice? No. But even when the uglies are called to our attention should we stand up for ourselves? Offer the person a refund? Get others to defend us?
No. And here’s why. Responding makes a mountain out of what could have been a molehill and actually draws MORE attention to the wart. And reviewers – whether they are the buyer, a blogger or even the New York Times criticizing a book – is that person’s right. I remember vividly in 2008 when I got an early review for Dating da Vinci. It was overall a very positive review, but the reviewer mentioned how bothered she was by all the mentions of vomit in the book. I had to really rack my brain. I wrote about puking? All over the place? I wanted to defend my book. But my publicist said, “some people are just more averse to that than others. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
And she was right. From my standpoint, the few scenes that involved someone throwing up seemed very natural. I’m a mom. Puke happens. But if I step into the readers’ shoes, I could see how if you hated seeing or thinking about that, it might bother you.
Even if we are crazy upset about a review or online talk, it’s best to keep our feelings professional and offline. Here’s what a few experts say on the subject:
Harriet Lerner, PhD, a psychologist and the best-selling author of The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Connection, says you can forget about not feeling crummy when someone tells you something you don’t want to hear. “The first thing is to accept that you will feel defensive,” she says. “We all wish that we could become so mature that we’re not vulnerable to the criticisms of others. But that’s not real life.”
In real life, though we may not have a choice about how we feel, we can take charge of how we react. The first step, according to Lerner, is to calm down so you can focus on what the person is really trying to tell you. “Sometimes when the other person is being their most obnoxious,” says Lerner, “the challenge is for you to be your best self.”
Then there’s my go to chill master, Eckhart Tolle, who says the more awakened we become, the more we can witness our personality (ego) and not feel like we have to be defensive. The more we can separate from it, the better. Really, rallying troops (if it’s one person or even an army) is still unlikely to change the critics’ mind because it was his/her opinion, not group think.
From a business perspective, idea guru Seth Godin says to ignore your critics altogether. He also say to ignore your fans. The first can’t be placated, the second don’t want you to change, but he suggests paying attention to your sneezers – those that tell the most people about you. I call them your brand soldiers. At Buzz Books’, I’ve recently set up a program to do just that called Wings.
In a nutshell, then what should we do if people close to us tell us people are badmouthing our art/business/life?
1. Don’t click. (I know I post similar statements often, but why read what someone just old you was bad? I believe what you focus on gives energy to it and grows, so DO NOT GIVE IT ENERGY.) This also means LISTEN, and don’t argue back. As my grandma said, “don’t get in the mud with the pigs.” (That being said, if YOU are in charge of customer service and/or you are the social media manager who is supposed to seek these things out, in that case it would be handled under protocol, which would be professional versus a passionate defense.)
2. Keep your pain (ego) to yourself or your close knit confidantes, not your Facebook wall. I have five people I can rely on to call and tell them if I feel I need to vent, but even then I don’t want record of my weak moment in writing. You can also JOURNAL your feelings. I promise when you wake up the next day and see what you’ve written, it will sound a lot sillier than the heated moment when you wrote it.
3. Do the opposite and give gratitude to those who love you. I recently read a quote that said if you gossip about another person, it puts a hex on you. (it was about women putting women down, but applies to all) No, the person wasn’t literally talking about witchcraft, but it does go back to the energy thing. If you believe in the boomerang theory at all, then you can see how saying something bad about someone or defending yourself – which could make you seem petty or unprofessional – could come back to harm YOU when if you stayed out of it you could’ve been praised for taking the high ground.
One of my authors shared how nervous she is about people reviewing her book, and that’s a very common feeling. We’re human! But I suggest while you can hope for positive reviews to realize that it’s out of our hands, we aren’t in control and we should not hinge our happiness on the response of others. It’s HARD. But it can be done.
Don’t let criticism keep you from your dreams or take energy away from your creativity. If you’re like me, I run low some days and want to channel all that I can toward my work and writing and family.
Do you have a favorite quote about dealing with criticism? And what are the professional ways for criticism to be handled. If you badmouth a brand online do you hope they will respond to it and try to make it up to you? Are there differences depending on what the product or service category falls in? I’d love to hear it.
Buzz Books is having buy one/get one on ebooks through Labor Day, so if you’re interested, check it out here.
If you’re a mom and you love to laugh – and vent with like-minded moms – TMI Mom now has a Facebook page and she did a funny video today about the new Bic Pens for Her. (Oh, and a TMI Mom journal will be out before Christmas so you can vent in writing.)