Someone doesn’t like your story.
Lots of people do, I’m sure. But there’s someone out there, someone who falls firmly into your target demographic, even, who doesn’t. And they just posted about it on the internet, where it will never go away. Where carefully trained Googlebots have already found it, and without regard for your feelings, delivered news of this great misunderstanding right to your Inbox. The sad thing about Google tracking is that unless you’re willing to miss something, you’re going to get everything. Googlebots have no automated “will this make the author cry?” opt-out.
They probably didn’t like it for a stupid reason, too. They didn’t like your character’s name, because they were bullied by a girl named Sam in high school. They don’t like science fiction without an Earth-based society. Or worse- they have a point, a real flaw in your writing, and now that you’ve seen it pointed out you just can’t let it go. You really do use italics too much. Your plot tie-up was too simple, and robbed your characters of meaningful growth. It’s right there, this huge, disgusting smear of wrong, and you can’t stop looking at it. People tell you to let it go. People tell you not to engage. People tell you all kinds of well-meaning things, and maybe you smile and agree. You know they’re right. You can’t go knocking on some reviewer’s door with a copy of your book and say, “Um, excuse me. I just wanted to share some brief, highlighted passages with you. I think it’ll really change your mind about that review you posted that I absolutely didn’t cry over. No, those aren’t tear stains on the page.”
You’ve got yourself together. You know better. But that voice isn’t really theirs anyway, and it’s not going away.
When I hear that voice, I listen to it. I listen too hard, sometimes, and I become still inside, and the doubt eats at me. Do I need to rewrite my work in progress? (Probably. But we call it editing, so it seems okay.) Do I need to issue a public apology because I didn’t deliver on the emotional promises made in chapter five? (No. Hearts lie, and people read what they want to into any given situation.)
Do I need to write a tighter plot? Do I need to improve my vocabulary? Do I need to be a better writer?
Yes. Every writer needs to be a better writer. Not every new author. Not every small press author. Every author needs to improve themselves somehow. My goal, with every story I tell, is to be just a little bit better than I was before. It’s an ideal, a goal I may or may not reach, but that’s what I tell that voice, when it eats me up. That I can take that nugget of wisdom, buried in something that I might find hurtful, and keep striving to be better. Better is all I hope to be, with every word I write. Because better is a journey, not a destination, and there is no such thing as the perfect book.
If you can’t stop circling the reviews that hurt you, then consider not reading any of them. Make better a personal goal, and silence that voice with it. If you think what you wrote wasn’t good, edit it. If you think you’ve done well, but the voice doesn’t, maybe the voice isn’t worth listening to right then. Focus, instead, on better.
As a writer, I want every story I tell to be the best I’m capable of writing. That’s my promise to a reader. That’s my antidote to the voice. There’s always another story to tell, and I will always, always do my best to make it better. Someone isn’t going to like it, but that’s just the way things go. If I send it out into the world as the best thing it could be when I created it, I’ve fulfilled my promise.
Someone doesn’t like your story. That’s okay, though, because you and I know that the next one will be better.