This post makes me nervous. It exposes how fragile-egoed and neurotic I really am (as if that wasn’t apparent!). But I’ve also learned that when my heart rate goes up while I write and my fingers shake, it’s something I really need to say. Here goes and thanks in advance for reading!
I’m just back from Spokane, WA, having had a WONDERFUL time at the Spokane Pagan Village Commons Imbolc celebration. If you were there, THANK YOU for welcoming, listening to, and loving me. A very special thanks to Rick and Debbie for housing and feeding me.
Few things are more rewarding than sharing my passions: Pagan Spirituality, Tarot, and writing. Writing is hard, lonely work. Not as hard as coal-mining (I assume) or as lonely as maintaining the Antarctica base (again, just assuming), along the way you wonder if your project will ever see the printing press. But you keep going, fueled by faith, love for the project, and sheer stubbornness. If you manage to get published and you start another project, it doesn’t get much easier. But when people line up to buy your tears, sweat, and heart bound in paperback, it’s worth it.
I was elated at the end of the day. But Sunday morning, I had a harsh awakening.
I did a check of my book’s reviews, as I routinely do. I know many authors don’t, but I find them helpful. Accolades help me know what’s working for people. Criticism has its place, too. I grit my teeth and sadly nod when reading fair criticism, making mental notes for my next project. Criticism has made my work better and I’m begrudgingly thankful for it. Yet on Sunday, I received a Goodreads review so harsh and scathing that I gasped and groaned like I do over guts and gore on screens. It sounds silly, right? After selling all of my books and hearing so many wonderful things about my work, it shouldn’t matter what one person on Goodreads says, right? It helps, but it doesn’t remove all of the sting of several long paragraphs written by someone who hated your book so much that they felt “compelled” to “let everyone know.”
The feeling isn’t new. What is new is how I deal with it.
About a year ago, a fellow author gave one of my books “one-star” on Goodreads, but no review. I was furiously perplexed. They wrote about many of the topics as I did. They had attended my events. Why in the world would they trash me????
But, I was raised to ignore insults. I would “be better” than that. I would not “stoop so low” as to even acknowledge the “one-star” review. But it plagued me. What did they know that I didn’t? What were they telling people that they wouldn’t tell me? It frustrated me to the point that when other people asked me if I’d read the other author’s books, I assumed that meant I “should” be reading their books as clearly, this person knew more about my areas of expertise than I did. I got increasingly nervous when presenting for groups. There had to be people in the audience who thought the same as this author. They hated everything I said. They were giving me a one-star review in their minds.
Just get over it. Ignore it. Be the bigger person, my upbringing told me. But I wasn’t getting over it. I couldn’t ignore it. I clearly couldn’t be the bigger person. Instead, I got paranoid and bitter.
I fished around. Maybe someone would tell me what this author had against me. “Hey, can you believe they gave me a one-star review?” I asked mutual friends. “How odd!” the friends would say. “But don’t let it bother you. Ignore it.”
I couldn’t. I imagined this person was out there absolutely trashing my book. I imagined people approaching them at festivals and asking their opinion of my book. On confident days, I would imagine them shrugging and looking sad. “It has problems…but she seems like a nice person….” On less-confident days, I would imagine them chugging their mead and saying, “BAH! She needs to go back to waitressing.”
I tried to ignore it. I tried to let it go. And I kept failing at both.
I don’t know what prompted me to do it, but one day I pulled a Tarot card on the situation. “Why did this person hate my work so much?” I had to know. What was the root of all of this? Jealousy? Competition? Sheer vitriol? Or were they really just that much smarter than me?
I drew the Ace of Wands and Brigid’s voice rang in my head Do something, damnit. Stop fucking around.
I wrote an email to the 1-star reviewing author.
I thanked them for their honesty and even though they didn’t like my book, I wanted them to know that I liked and respected them. It felt a little pathetic, but it also felt like the right thing to do.
Minutes later, the author wrote back, flabbergasted. Why in the world did I think they didn’t like my book? They did like the book. In fact, they’d recommended it to many people. Where did I get that notion?
I mentioned the Goodreads review and they were stunned.
“That wasn’t meant for YOUR book!” they exclaimed. They had read another book of similar content at the same time that they’d read mine. They hadn’t liked the other one at all, but they did like mine. They’d simply given the wrong reviews to the wrong book. “I don’t agree with all of it,” they said. “But you did a good job.” They changed their review right then to 5-stars.
I felt like I’d slipped into a twist in the universe and was in a different one. For so long, I’d lived under this assumption that they hated the book and probably hated me, too, and that everyone associated with them was biased against my work because of them. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how deeply and personally I’d taken one single pixelated star…and that star wasn’t even meant for me.
Since then, I haven’t gotten much better at not taking bad reviews personally. But what I HAVE gotten better at is connecting with the people who gave them. As though to test me, later on Sunday I was tagged in a Facebook conversation with a blogger who wrote “Caution Advised” on a review of Brigid. Instead of “being the bigger person” and walking away pretending not to care while actively growing bitter, I straight-out asked the blogger what about my book needed a cautionary warning. They were very kind and their explanation had nothing to do with the quality of my writing or presentation, but was directed toward their readers for an unrelated reason. While I still don’t agree with anyone caution-advising books (slippery territory towards censorship, folks…), it helped both of us: 1.) reminding me not to take things so damn personally 2.) encourage the blogger to be more explicit as to why they’re giving out these warnings.
All right, I promise I’m wrapping this up. Moral of the story: instead of walking away from this recent negative comment, I wrote a response thanking the reviewer and offering to meet up with them for a glass of mead at a festival sometime. My response went away shortly thereafter. Maybe they deleted it? Maybe Goodreads glitched? Whatever. I feel better having reached out in friendship rather than walking away feeling defeated. I’ve finally learned that when looking under that rock usually finds a gem.
Meanwhile, here are a few pics from the ritual on Saturday night with Squirrelly Productions, hosts of the Spokane Imbolc festival. I’d like to thank them for these lovely pics, too!