Wait wait wait—you want harsh reviews? Harsh reviews?
Yes, you do. Even if you can't handle reading them. You want harsh reviews, be they earned, partially earned, or entirely unearned.
Ask me why. *waits*
Glad you asked. The reasons are fivefold:
- Harsh reviews balance the effervescent ones. You know that gushing 5-star review from your MMO guildmate that you just know people are assuming came from your sister?** (Especially if you don't have a sister.) A harsh review provides a dissenting opinion, letting folks consider the feedback and decide what matters to them.
- Harsh reviews help you nail your target audience. Oh, I'm sure you think you know who your target audience is, but there's nothing like a harsh review to make you realize that a particular type of person is not part of it. Or maybe that there's a disconnect between what you're writing and the audience you intended to reach.
- Harsh reviews can help you grow as a writer. A harsh review can be like a highly critical critique partner, except the space constraints generally force the reviewer to focus more on big-picture issues than getting hung up on the details. Like any critique partner, the critic won't always be right; sometimes they'll attribute a problem to the wrong source, or they'll be entirely off-base about a problem. But sometimes they'll be spot-on.
- Harsh reviews can strengthen you. I don't just mean as a writer; I've already addressed that. I mean as a person. Nobody likes accepting blame, but forcing yourself to evaluate negative feedback for the germs of truth that might be buried within it can help you handle mistakes you make in life, too.
- Harsh reviews provide you with resource material. If you have the nerve to study them, even a troll can provide handy content for you to pull from the next time you need to make a complete donkey of a character. I honestly used to beg for flames when I was a teenager; they were so inspiring.
Now, I'm aware that some people are so depressed by a single harsh review that they'll mope and fret over it and possibly ruin their writing trying to make that single reviewer happy. Don't do that.
There's a secret to being able to handle harsh reviews: You can't make everyone happy.
Got that? You cannot and will not make everyone happy, even in your target audience.
A good friend and I have similar tastes in reading: we both like particular story types, genres, and plot elements. You would think that we share favorite authors.
We don't. In fact, we generally hate each other's favorite books. She loves Vicki Peterson; I prefer Patricia Briggs.
It's taken many attempts to read each others' favorite authors and more discussions on the matter for us to realize: We like different writing styles. On a technical level, something between Vicki Peterson and Patricia Briggs makes each of us love one and dislike the other. Both are fantasy authors who write snarky characters, subtle development, and great humor.
My friend isn't a writer. Okay, so she dabbles with writing, but she's actually an artist. Her paintings are gorgeous.
Imagine if we both were giving feedback to some poor writer. As soon as one of us was elated about a story, the other would go "Meh" or "Ulgh." That writer would have to pick and choose which pieces of our advice to listen to.
Remember: You will not please everyone. Don't try to.
Have you ever entered the "Please everyone" trap?
**If you're reading this, Shallon, I do love getting your reviews. I just know that some folks don't take 'em seriously.