When Bad Reviews Behave Badly

Grad school was something of a mixed bag, and at some point I'm sure I'll go into more detail about that.  But one of the best things I took away from the two years I spent studying writing, was how to take criticism.

Writing workshops -- particularly in grad school -- seem to thrive upon harsh judgments.  There's a pack mentality that kicks in when a group of people are sitting around a table, discussing a classmate's work.  It's honestly kind of hard to believe, because it can be so very, irrationally, mean.  The idea, it seems, is that by tearing everyone down, no one can be better than anyone else in the room.

Eventually, you learn to take these criticisms with a grain of salt, and you learn which ones are useful and which are just spiteful.

This isn't to say that I don't still have to fight my gut reaction to criticism.  My wife will tell you that I have to take some time before I can respond to any comments she's made on my work -- and those are comments I get from someone whose judgment I know and trust.

When my book, "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" was released, I expect to get some bad reviews.  You can't please everyone all the time, and while I think the book has mass appeal, it doesn't have uniform appeal; I expected negative reviews.

I got them and they were understandable.  Like I said, "Pray" isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea.  But I never got a negative review that crossed the line, or that was illogical.

Never say never.

Such a review showed up recently on Amazon.  It was actually brought to my attention by my dad, who was up in arms about it.  Before reading the review, I just assumed my dad was overreacting, as he was protective of his family.  And then I read it.

It was just as bad as he'd indicated.  It wasn't just that the reviewer didn't like my book, it was that the criticisms bordered on the personal (some might say "bordered" is too kind of a word).  And even the things that the reviewer mentioned that came from the book itself revealed a gross misunderstanding, or perhaps a flat out inability to read.

What bothered me the most, though, was that the reviewer called my nephews "bratty."  I go into great (some might say too much) detail in the book of the developmental problems my nephews have for a variety of different reasons.  They're special needs children, and calling them "bratty" wasn't just insulting to me, but to them and anyone who has special needs kids in their family.

The silver lining in all of this isn't just that the reviewer purchased the book (although I'll be honest that, under other circumstance, I would feel bad about someone forking over cash for a book they didn't enjoy, but in this case I'm okay with it), but that it was brought to their attention by a recommendation on Twitter.  In other words, there's at least some marketing component out there that's working, which was great to read.

Initially, I figured I'd ignore the review in question.  Then I considered taking the high road and leaving a comment that was overly nice.  Finally, I decided to share the review with others, just to make sure I wasn't being overly sensitive.  They assured me I was not.  A few of them even came to my defense on Amazon.

In the end, it wasn't really bad reviews that I needed to prepare myself for, it was irrational reviews.  And given how much time I spend on the internet, you'd think I would have been expecting them.