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What About Negative Reviews?

David R. Stokes
David R. Stokes

[I wrote this blog for VENTURE GALLERIES – check out their wonderful site! – DRS]

Nearly a quarter century ago, my wife and I lived in Brooklyn with our two young daughters. Yes, that Brooklyn—the one in New York. And this was long before that borough of New York City became trendy. All it was back then was, well, Brooklyn.

The late Edward Irving Koch was the Mayor of New York City at the time. He was very popular. He used to go from event to event and ask crowds large or small a signature question: “How am I doing?” He wanted feedback. It was gutsy to ask New Yorkers to share their opinions. It was also superfluous because they never seemed to need prompting to do so.

They still don’t.

While writers don’t regularly ask readers their opinions, those opinions are generally forthcoming. They’re called reviews. They are a vital part of a book’s journey along the path from publication to purchase. Most potential readers of our work read a few reviews before making a purchase.

It’s nice to get good reviews, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In Mr. Koch’s case, there came a time when he stopped asking his trademark question. The feedback was too painful.

What should we make of reviews—the good, the bad, the ugly?

We should realize their importance in the grand scheme of things, but never allow them to define us. If we adopt an approach of calculated indifference, we can glean from some of the constructive comments from readers. We can also find the strength to ignore some of the more—shall we say—caustic comments.

Walk on a roof edgeRecently, I noticed two reviews that popped up about my novel, Camelot’s Cousin. One said, Great read!! It’s seldom that I find a book so captivating. Difficult to put down. When a book of fiction combines an interesting time of history with facts, it’s destined to become a best seller.”

But before I basked too long in the glow of such erudite discernment, I read another review (this one from across the pond), “It is written as though for a ten year old from the USA with little or no education. If the writer was responsible for childrens (sic) American TV, I would not have been surprised. A poor story; unlikely plots; chidish (sic) characterisation. Should not have been published.”

As an old professor of mine used to say, “The middle of the road is a good place to be if there is a wreck on both sides.” Clearly, we must navigate the deep and often murky waters of reviews with the right attitude, and I think I have the answer. It comes from my “day job.” Many years ago, I came across an essay written by a famous preacher in London, England in 1875. His name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and he is still regarded as a “prince of preachers.”

The essay was called, “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear.” It was a reminder of the virtue of deliberately ignoring some of what we see and hear—especially when directed toward us: Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear.”

Do I read reviews of my books? Sure. But I do so with a “blind eye and deaf ear.”

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3 replies »

  1. Just remember what TR said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

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  2. David, as always, I enjoy reading your thoughts! This post reminded me of the warning not to let praise go to our heads, and not to let criticism hurt our hearts. Wise wisdom—that! As you suspect, somewhere in the middle is where we usually find reality. And since only God can truly know motives (of others, of ourselves) then we’ll leave the judgment in His hands!

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