As a debut author, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, “How do you deal with negative reviews?” That’s an interesting query, on a number of levels. Because one of the things I’ve realized is how much reading, as an activity, has changed with the advent of the internet.
When I was a child, I was a very precocious reader who read “adult” books very early. In middle school (and to this day), one of my favorite series was Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy. I adored that book, loved Vanyel, wanted more than anything to have a Companion, and absolutely worshipped Mercedes Lackey.
So I did what any twelve-year-old fan worth her Whites did at the time: I joined Misty’s newsletter, became a “Herald” by penning some bad poems and drawing a picture of my Companion, and started writing to other fans.
The difference between now and then is that when I say writing, I mean writing. As in, back then I set pen to paper, then stuffed that paper in an envelope, wrote an address on that envelope, then gave it to my dad to mail. I did this for a few years, developing some very close pen pal relationships with some other fans. Indeed, when my parents finally moved from my childhood home last spring, one of the things I discovered in their basement was an enormous box full of letters between “Herald Raven Skeisho” and various other nerdy pre-teens all over the USA and Canada.
So it’s been fascinating for me not only to see how things have changed, but to see these changes from the perspective of “author,” an identity I never seriously entertained achieving. But here I am: authoring. And there are my readers: commenting, emailing, starring, and reviewing.
As for the reviews, I’ve discovered the negative ones don’t really bother me. I would love for everyone to like Jane, but I know that my voice is strong and rather pungent, like fine cheese, and that not everyone appreciates a veiny, blue Stilton. After years as an academic, I also have an exceptionally thick skin. Every day of my work week, I stand in front of a classroom full of college freshmen who stare at me with expressions that read, “Why are you talking?” I like to think such students keep me grounded, bless their little hearts.
The other reason I’m able to shrug off the bad reviews is because of the fans who write to me, telling me why they enjoyed the book. Any letter like that is a pleasure, but a few really stand out.
When I was twelve, the reason I loved Lackey’s series was that I grew up in a very liberal household with openly gay loved ones, but within a larger community that ran to the conservative end of the spectrum. I knew that the unquestioned acceptance of my gay Uncles was right, because they loved each other and they loved us. But I didn’t very often see my family’s values expressed outside of my household, in the wider world.
For these reasons, reading Lackey was a revelation for me. Sharing in Vanyel’s story made me feel safe, normal, and part of something larger, whereas I always felt a little “outside” my peer group despite being well-liked and popular.
And so when I receive an email, Facebook message, or blog comment in which a person tells me that they connected with Jane, or that Tempest Rising helped them understand something in their own life, or that Jane’s struggles gave them hope, I feel very proud. But I also feel connected, again, just like I did when I read Vanyel’s struggles: I feel like I’m part of something larger than myself and that makes me feel less alone.
So, to all of Jane’s fans who have written to tell me your own stories of love and loss, or your own struggles feeling alienated, or just your enjoyment of the book: thank you.
Now can you do something about my freshmen?