When thriller writers publish, critics will hurl, it will hurt, and we will howl. Dr. Bryan E. Robinson shares tips on how to make those reviews easier to swallow.
You’re excited about the release of your thriller. Your publisher is pleased, the ARCs look terrific, and you have positive feedback from your agent, editor, and writing group. You’re waiting for your first glowing critique. Then, from out of nowhere, a critic gut-punches you with an eviscerating review. If you’re like most thriller writers, you want good reviews, but you also know it’s unrealistic to expect thumbs up every time. Writer Danielle Steel once said, “A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it.” While many of us might not share the sales record of Danielle Steel, we probably feel the same pain when critics hurl lousy reviews at us. Let’s face it. When thriller writers publish, critics will hurl, it will hurt, and we will howl.
All of us must be prepared to face the hard news. A rejection or bad review can cut us off at the knees, throw us into tears, eclipse our writing mojo, and make us not want to write again—ever. Okay, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. But it hurts, especially if we take professional feedback personally: “I’m not good enough,” or “Why can’t I write?” or “Why do I keep failing?” But usually, rejection isn’t a reflection of our writing ability or creative mojo. Writing is a subjective business, and critics review literary works from a bird’s-eye view through their own subjective lenses. One reviewer might trash a thriller while another extols the same work.
As difficult as they are, rejection and bad reviews are rites of passage. We haven’t been initiated as writers until the first (or more) rejection or blistering review. Consider it an honor to be inducted in the exclusive club. Every successful writer—from the Beatles to J. K. Rowling to thriller writer Steve Berry—has traveled this same path hundreds of times. Plus, remember what horror writer Stephen King told us he did with his rejections? “The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it,” he said. “I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.” Or what mystery writer Janet Evanovich did? “I received rejection letters for ten years…I had all my rejection notices stored in a box,” she said. “When the box was finally full, I took it to the curb and set it on fire.”
If you stop to think about it, why would any of us think we get to bypass the bad stuff and get straight to nirvana? When we get a rejection or bad review at the starting line, we just get it out of the way, like eating our vegetables. Dessert is coming. Bad news is inevitable, but so is good news. It’s important not to take the bad news any more seriously than the good news or the good news any more seriously than the bad news, as my thriller writer friend, Wendy Tyson once said on a panel I moderated at ThrillerFest.
So, once you finish howling from the sting of the review or rejection and empty the box of Kleenex, try not to get defensive and angry. Take a breath, step back, and remind yourself that painful isn’t personal. Refrain from taking a critique hook, line, and sinker as novelist Louis L’Amour cautioned: “If one is not careful, one is soon writing to please reviewers and not their audience or themselves.”
So, try to examine the critique from the critic’s perspective through a dispassionate eye and turn it inside out. Discern what insights you can glean from the feedback, extract the value, and leave the rest on the page or screen.
Bryan E. Robinson is a licensed psychotherapist and author who applies his experiences to crafting insightful psychological thrillers such as the multi-award winning southern noir murder mystery, Limestone Gumption, as well as the nonfiction book, Daily Writing Resilience: 365 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers and his most recent book, #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life. His books have been translated into 13 languages.