“Do not engage reviewers who leave a bad review. Accept it and move on.”
I have had mixed luck engaging critics with thoughtful discussion. Many will appreciate the author considering their gripes and suggestions. Others — many others — will treat any engagement with their critical view as an invitation to argument. To open a discussion with a critic is to try stepping on dragon egg-shells without waking a room full of sleepy-time dragons.
This being said, I once responded to a critic and engaged him in a civilized, thoughtful manner. We came to an understanding and left the debate mutually satisfied. The problem is that I opened the door to conversation, and my amiable discussion with this particular critic is the exception to the rule.
Once I opened the door, the smell of blood drifted across the air and into the nostrils of a foul, uncouth creature:
The single star review, spoilers, ageism, insulting title, inaccurate summary, shock tactics — all the hallmarks of an uncouth creature lurking beneath a bridge of praise and constructive criticism. With nothing better to do than scratch at its warts and harvest its boogers for consumption, the troll reached its greasy hands up around the bridge and wrapped its brown-encrusted fingers around my work.
“DO NOT ENGAGE!” The voice ran through my head.
I listened. No — really — I did. I abstained from responding. I’m all the better for it.
But you are writing about it now, you say.
Fair enough, but cut me a break. I’m just writing in hindsight, and only for learning purposes! This is not a response but an informative blog post!
Digression aside, my willpower and abstinence paid off. Pretty soon the troll found itself being trolled. Strangers in shining armor leapt to my defense, battling the troll with shield and sword. At the end of the day the troll limped away with a whimper, having been held down and scrubbed clean (the very thing trolls dislike the most).
It was a ghastly fight, but I, the damsel in distress, knew that I was in good hands. How? Because I had written the story the right way. I wrote it, edited it, passed it along to another editor, received more feedback and refined it some more. The story is what it is, and the troll hated it for that. It critiqued through its own taste for filth and bile. There was nothing structural or grammatical for the troll to pick at. The story, simply put, did things to fantasy that he didn’t want to see done. Ethereal Princess modernized a medieval fantasy setting. It twisted the damsel in distress trope in ways the troll couldn’t fathom.
It didn’t take long for me to feel complimented for receiving the troll’s malice. The odious beast convinced me more than ever to take chances and dare to inspire an emotional response in the reader — whatever that feeling may be. If someone doesn’t hate your work — you are writing it wrong!
And so, when you receive the poor review we’re all destined to have, take a moment to ask yourself: Is the criticism based on execution, or on taste? If a troll reads an exaggerated slash ‘n laugh story and critiques it for having crude humor, well, that reflects more poorly on the troll than it does the author. If there are inconsistencies in the narrative then you need to bring your work to a higher standard before sharing it on the internet.
Besides, what “good” review could sell my work more than this “bad” one? Horny goblins? Penises being exploded by fireballs? Unlikable heroes? Count me in to read something with all that!
This blog post was written as part of a Fantasy Writers and Readers writing prompt. Please contact me for an invite if you are an avid fantasy writer and/or reader and would like to participate in this closed Facebook group.