An Unexpected Opportunity

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By Mary Lou Cheatham

Do you ever find a review of your novel that you wish would go away…simply disappear from Amazon…and not be there when you visit your product page next time?

As writers seeking to improve our skills of communication, we thrive on helpful criticism from critique partners, critique groups, and even negative reviewers. But you have a review sent from Ms. Anonymous, whom you cannot judge, and yet it seems Ms. A. means you harm. It’s scathing–nothing constructive intended.

What can you do?

Respond? Please don’t. This situation is one that cannot be fixed. If you must respond, write your rebuttal on a sheet of paper and tear it to shreds.

Maybe you can get a friend to come to your defense, but eventually friends tire of defending you.

Analyze it. Consider the source. Does it have misspelled words, poor grammatical construction, faulty punctuation? In other words, is it written by some poorly educated individual who cannot comprehend what you wrote?

Do you have reviews that say you didn’t say what you know you said? For example, a reviewer might say your description was inadequate because you didn’t tell the ages of children until the last chapter when you know they were holding their report cards on the last day of school when they were in the first grade in the first chapter.

She says you didn’t describe enough because you didn’t say the heroine has red hair, but in the first chapter she was wearing a bonnet to prevent freckles.

The reviewer quotes other reviews, and you know this practice is clearly against Amazon’s rules. You could try to have Amazon remove the offensive comments, but do you want to spend your time that way when you could be writing another book?

She calls you, your editor, and your entire series whatever bad name she can spell. To cap it off, she says she likes Christian books.

Or do you sense the reviewer has a mean spirit and wants to hurt somebody because she’s been hurt? As a writer, you’re vulnerable.

After you’ve exploded, taken a walk or a bubble bath, what? Call a friend or tell your husband. No, you cannot continue to tell a loved one. Eventually even the most devoted human beings grow tired of listening.

Grow a thick skin? No. Writers are sensitive human beings with deep insight into emotions.

You reread the hateful review immediately before climbing into bed. It is present in your thoughts as you try to sleep. Not good.

How can such a review help?

Even a bad review helps. Maybe there are criticisms that can be used to improve future writing.

Most people and also electronic statistic-gathering programs look at the number of reviews. An unkind review simply adds to the numbers.

A bad review proves that the good ones are not merely written by a sweet sister who is trying to promote your book. The ugly one says the reviews of your book are real.

Chances are that a four- or five-star review will soon be posted above the nasty one. Once it’s covered, most people will not bother to see it.

Here is what helps most of all:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 KJV

Thank God for bringing the reviewer into your life and showing you that you need to pray for her. Thank God for the opportunity. Bathe the negative reviewer in prayer.

Sleep tight.Mary Lou Cheatham Photo

Mary Lou Cheatham’s childhood on a farm in south Mississippi near Hot Coffee influenced her worldview. Her family spent their winter evenings playing games, reading, and sharing conversations by the living room fireplace. Mary’s parents, two of the world’s greatest storytellers, bequeathed a legacy of yarn spinning to their children.

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