Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!
A starting note: on the off-chance that you missed the cultural moment of the honey badger, I suggest watching this video before reading onwards.
There are many ways in which I hope you won’t emulate our friend the honey badger, most notably hunting cobras and diving face first into beehives. However, your ability to adopt the honey badger’s Don’t Mind lifestyle will give you a certain edge in the writing business. Sure, the magical ability to shut down negative press might seem like a good thing now, but really all it would mean was that we couldn’t trust book reviews anymore because all of them would be 5*s, and what’s the point of that? And in practice? There IS no magical ability to suppress bad press. You can try, but all you get is high blood pressure, ulcers, and more bad press, so it’s really just not worth it.
I’m relatively sure that since someone first began telling stories, there was always someone around the campfire (and later in the temple, grove, agora, you name it) who was rolling their eyes because the language was too boring, or the character didn’t speak to their innermost soul, or there weren’t enough dragons, or whatever. This person was right, in that there are never enough dragons, and in that their opinion on the story was completely valid.
However, the storyteller had put themselves in a uniquely vulnerable position socially: by telling their story, they were showing off daydreams and desires, things not lightly shared amongst humans. They were opening themselves up to ridicule on a very personal level, and in that moment of vulnerability, they could not likely discern the difference between, “I really think they ‘wherefore’ should have been a ‘herein'” and “Bob, you are a despicable human being.”
When we get bad reviews, we must channel the honey badger. First, we remember the books we have not liked in spite of a glowing recommendation from a friend, and we therefore remember that not all books are for all people. Next, we take a few deep breaths. Then we must do something to distract ourselves, like going out for a walk or
sobbing brokenly into having a cup of tea. Then we start writing again.
I think that review was really unfair, your brain will say, and you must serenely tell it, honey badger don’t mind, because among other things it is really difficult to have a serious conversation with someone who says that. Your brain will probably persist. But other people liked my book, which means that negative review was wrong. Keep writing. After all, what have they written? They don’t know how difficult it is to write a book. Keep writing. …But what if the review was right? What if my writing is just unutterable crap? What if I’m a huge failure. You may at this point remind your brain of the good reviews you’ve gotten, and repeat that honey badgers don’t mind this sort of thing, and at least you had a better dinner than raw cobra.
It’s not just reviews, either. There may be message boards, facebook groups, comics, or even people talking about your book. You may consider responding to it. Do not do this. Do not. Close the browser tab. Shut off your laptop. Walk away. Remember that you are emulating the cobra-killing awesomeness of the honey badger. If you are in desperate need of a distraction, look at this picture (not really NSFW, but a language warning) and then emulate its excellent attitude.
It hurts, it really does – which is why writers wince when we see one of our own lashing out about reviews. Yes, in case you wondered what would happen if you did speak up, that is (alas) not even close to a mystery. It happens all the time, and some of the meltdowns are…glorious? Epic? Whatever the case, we wince because even though we shake our heads, we also understand. Sometimes seeing a negative review does absolutely nothing (this will become more common as time goes on), but more often it either tears a gaping hole in your chest, or slides you into a slow but seemingly unstoppable funk. Ye gods, it hurts. These are your characters! Your words! You spent hundreds of hours on this book, and this random person is saying awful (to your ears) things. The next time social media flutters over one of these meltdowns, hopefully you will be wincing and shaking your head, because it will not be you.
Be nice to reviewers (the rule is mainly: don’t interact with them, and don’t sic anyone on them). Sweep your arm out majestically and say “behold the field…” Channel the honey badger.
And then keep on writing.