Friday, August 19, 2011

“Bad Reviews: What do you do when it happens to you?”

For a long time I was riding high receiving excellent reviews of my books, especially my first novel, Homecoming. It is the first of a four book military science fiction series called Osguards: Guardians of the Universe. The 2011 Hollywood Book Festival just notified me that Homecoming was recognized with an Honorable Mention Award. In the same week, I was truly delighted to receive a five-star rating from The Midwest Book Review. I was starting to feel very good about my work. However, when I went to to see The Midwest Book Review, I read my first negative review right under it. This review was written by a customer and was a five-paragraph, full-page scathing assessment of my ability as an author. As I read it, I was mortified. My mouth just dropped. My heart stopped beating and the world became silent around me.
I quickly started to respond to the review, but thought better. I walked away from the review and sulked for about an hour and then came back and read it again. This time, I read it without emotion and dissected the words. As I dissected the words, I realized the review was not professional, but a personal attack on me and my wife, who is one of the four editors of my book. I also recognized the reviewer was talking about an earlier version of the book that I self-published in 2001. Since then, I hired an editor and revised the book several times to its present form, which the Hollywood Book Festival and the Midwest Book Review favorably recognized.
I talked to my family and friends about the review. Then, something clicked. The more I talked openly about receiving a negative review the better I felt. Then a couple of days later, I received another national review that was not as positive as the Midwest Book Review. However, it was professional and didn't read like a personal attack. I was more receptive to this review, understanding what in particular this reviewer found needed improvement in my work. I was able to grasp more readily the salient points and store them in my toolkit for future projects. That is what a credible, well thought-out review will do for an author...become a tool to teach, train, hone and push the author to be better. In summary, all reviews are subjective, and depending on the reviewer, they can be mean-spirited or constructive. It is the author’s choice to be discouraged or use it as a learning tool. Remember, one reviewer’s five-star novel may be another reviewer’s one-star reject. So my advice to authors is to judge the veracity of the review. If it’s professional, revise your work if able or use it as a teaching tool. But most of all get as many reviews as possible

In conclusion, after reading these two reviews, rejecting one and learning from the other, I made travel arrangements to California to accept my Honorable Award Recognition from the Hollywood Book Festival for my first novel, Homecoming.

 Malcolm Petteway,

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