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How to Deal with Negative Reviews


Negative reviews. It happens to all of us. If you write fanfiction for a significant amount of time, at one point or another you will receive a review that isn’t asking you to ‘update soon’ or telling you how awesome your are. Eventually there will be a review that, perhaps, is what some people might call a ‘rude’ or ‘unnecessary’ review. So, how does one deal with such a review? Well before that I feel the need to explain what types of Negative Reviews there are, to better help understand how as an author your outlook towards bad reviews should be.

This isn’t a fact or supported statement, but from my two years of experience as a fanfic author, I feel that there are 3 types of negative reviews:

1. Negative Criticism

2. Constructive Criticism

3. Flames

1. Negative Criticism

To me, negative criticism is when a review points out the aspects of your fanfic that they didn’t like or that didn’t appeal to them. It could be anything, someone may not like the use of a certain trope, or someone may not be a fan or a certain plot theme (For example – say baby fics, or Klaroline + kids fics), or someone may not have liked the way one of the characters behaved, or what they said or did. It might be considered as a simple stating of the reviewers opinion on events that transpired in the fanfic in question.

Now, in my opinion, it’s the readers right to state what they didn’t like or what irked them in every fanfic they read, it’s simply their opinion at the end of the day. And just like we, as authors, want our opinions to be respected, we must also respect the opinions of the reviewer who left us such a review. We don’t have to like it, we don’t even have to agree with it, but we have to respect the person’s right to have an opinion. I have received a few reviews like this as well, and yes, I’ll admit that in the very start, when I had just started writing fanfic, such a review would leave me disheartened. I’d literally get sad about it, so I understand when others feel the same. These days though such Negative Criticism reviews don’t sadden me or even adversely affect me. Why? There’s a simple answer to that –

You can’t make everyone happy. Simple as that.

That is what you must remember when you receive such a review.

Think of this situation as such; You are a fruit vendor and you’ve just acquired the most deliciously sweet peaches in the world. And you being the awesome person you are, offer it to your customer at a rate so cheap it’s almost free. But the customer refuses and says he doesn’t like peaches and moves over to a competing vendor who is selling the juiciest apples. Now, just because one customer didn’t want to buy them awesome peaches does not mean the peaches are bad, or not good enough. It just means one person did not like them and happens to prefer apples over peaches.

That’s it, that’s what happened with your fanfic. This reviewer prefers apples to your peaches. That does not mean your fanfic is bad. It just means one person did not like it, or some aspect of it.

I do not get offended by such reviews anymore, but I do wish they were a bit more complete. Since in such a review only the question ‘What didn’t you like?’ is addressed, and not ‘How can it be improved?’. I would personally prefer it if reviewers, along with mentioning what put them off would also explain exactly why and what they believe would be the best way of improving that particular aspect of even in the fanfiction.

So, you must remember that Negative Criticism is just Criticism, not constructive criticism.

If you have ever received such a review, then I suggest you look at it with an open mind. Take into account what the reviewer is saying, go re-read the part they are talking about, see for yourself if it feels wrong to you. Be honest to yourself. Take the initiative and reply to the review, ask the person more questions and ask for suggestions or methods to improve.

Know that this entire exercise will only be beneficial to you.

2. Constructive Criticism.

This, in my opinion is the best sort of criticism. Like I mentioned earlier, constructive criticism helps answer the question ‘How do I make this better?’ or ‘How can this be improved?’ that invariably will follow after the question ‘What is wrong?’.

Constructive Criticism is different from Negative Criticism in the way that, not only does it highlight areas that the reviewer did not like or was irked by, but it goes beyond simply pointing out the problem but also giving tips or recommendations on how to improve it. What makes this type of review good is the simple fact that it isn’t written with any mal intent. Of course these tips or suggestions are also the opinion of the reviewer, and as the author it is your discretion whether to use them or not.

So why is constructive criticism good? The simple fact is nothing and no one is perfect. Your writing isn’t perfect either, and that is how it should be. Improvement is the name of the game. I dare you to go and read the latest fanfiction and the oldest fanfiction of your favorite author and note the changes. Not to say that the author was horrible before, but most definitely not as good as now, which is perfectly fine because practise makes perfect. The more you write, the better you will get. Which is why I always keep encouraging people to write, write and keep writing if they love it. But another fact is that we never want to see our own mistakes, it’s human nature. We say ‘I’m my own worst critic’, but it isn’t so easy. And even if you really are your worst critic, it is possible that you miss something that a 3rd person can notice, after all you always will have your author goggles on.

So, writing is all about doing what you love, and you want feedback to gauge how people are perceiving your writing, so yes, of course appreciation is what you want – let’s not doubt that for a second. No author looks at an email about a new review and thinks ‘Oh I hope it’s someone telling me my Klaus is like a unicorn galloping through a meadow after snorting mushrooms.’ Everyone wants to see their reviewers say ‘OMG that was so good.’ With of course the essential, ‘Update please.’ But writing is also all about improving and growing as an author, and if no one points out the flaws or drawbacks in your writing but only keeps on telling you how awesome you are then you might never notice those on your own. Which is why constructive criticism is important.

Don’t think of it as criticism, think of it as a much needed assistance to improve.

So, if you ever receive a review like this, try and take it the right way. It isn’t meant to dishearten you or make you feel bad, no one would take the time and effort to write a proper constructive criticism for a fanfic that they don’t like or believe in. Think about it, if you come across a fanfic you don’t like; do you think about it once you’ve closed the tab? Do you wonder what would make it better, do you feel the need to tell the author what is working and what isn’t working? No you don’t, you just forget about it and move on because this particular fanfic simply didn’t appeal to you. So remember that only people who truly do love your fanfiction and your writing style will take the effort to leave a Constructive Review.

Take it in the right spirit, which isn’t to hurt you but to help you improve. So read through the review carefully, go through your fanfic again, read the parts that were pointed out in the review and form an opinion on whether you agree with it or not, and be honest to yourself – it will only help you.

3. Flames.

Flames are the last kind of reviews. These are the worst kinds of reviews to receive, quite simply because their intent is to cause hurt to the author. These reviews neither comes from a person who wishes you well or a person who just wants to simply point what he/she didn’t like, these reviews come from people that basically have nothing interesting happening in their lives (They’ve exhausted every avenue to gain attention, attempted to chat to all their ‘friends’, trolled every social network site hoping for someone to notice them, and have finished watching every single episode of every single show in existence) so they resort to ‘flaming’ stories.

The difference between a flame and a negative criticism is the tone and manner of stating the words. In a Negative Criticism the reviewer simply states their opinion on what irked them, in a flame the reviewer mocks the author and her/his writing style. It is neither intended as honest and brutal opinion nor a constructive advice, it’s intended to hurt, discourage and belittle the authors.

I’ve had the fortune of receiving flames on my fanfics not just once but thrice. The first time it cut me, it cut me deep. And I am not going to sit here and tell you that if you ever receive a flame you should just roll your eyes and move on, because that would make me a hypocrite. Words hurt. And how can they not? When someone tells you that ‘even a bottle of the finest Whiskey and Aspirin can’t cure the massive headache reading this 12000 word vomit bestowed on me’, it’s bound to hurt. So I’m not going to tell you to just get over it, or give no merit to the words and forget about them. Because I know that on the day that you receive such a review, you’re going to feel really bad, you’re going to go back and read your works and think ‘Holy Hell! How could I publish such things, they’re awful.’ You’re going to doubt yourself and your abilities a LOT. You’re going to want to stop writing and delete your previous stories. So I’m not going to tell you to just laugh at this and put it in the past.

But I am going to tell you to not be impulsive. Don’t be a Klaus, be a Caroline. Let that first instinct of giving up on writing and deleting all evidence go. Get off the internet, don’t re-re-read the review, don’t even read your own fanfic. Talk to a friend who will understand this, a friend in the fandom or a friend in real life, anyone. Or talk to your dog, just express to someone how you feel about the review. I am going to tell you to not do something you might regret later.

I’m going to tell you to remember two extremely important things –

1. The review was meant to make you think you’re the worst writer to ever walk this Planet. It has 0 logic and 0 merit to it. Don’t give it more importance than it deserves.

2. Remember why you started writing. Did you write to become famous? Did you write to get 1000 reviews? Or did you write because you wanted to write? Because you love writing about this stupid, infuriating couple on a teen vampire show?

You aren’t writing to make everyone happy, that’s just a wonderful by-product of it. You’re writing because it makes you happy.

So who gives a f**k what a random stranger on the internet with nothing better to do thinks about your fanfic? How does it matter to you?

It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t.

So take a breather, don’t think about it for a while. And after a while you yourself will realize that such reviews hold no merit, and by reacting to them you’re giving it much more attention than it deserves. Don’t delete your fanfics, don’t stop writing.

So to conclude, review the fanfics you love, you don’t know how much each and every review means to an author. Review them properly, the way they deserve – if something irks you in a fanfic, have the courage to point it out, in a constructive and non-detrimental manner. Don’t be disheartened when you receive negative reviews, and most important of all, be open-minded. Know with absolution that neither you nor your writing is perfect, that no one is perfect, and that there is nothing wrong in admitting that and working towards improving a skill you love so much. Ignore the flame reviews, feel nothing but pity for these flamers.

Reviews are good, reviews are awesome. I love reviews. But reviews do not define my worth as an author nor my writing skills.

Always remember that and always remember why you started writing fanfiction. (But if you started writing to get reviews then I can’t help you….)


Written by Tanya. Find her on Tumblr and Twitter