“I would rather gouge out my eye with a rusty spork than read another word of this.”
. . . Ouch.
in March 2016, I became a published author. After many rejections from agents and publishing houses, Amber Cove Publishing found merit in my words, patted me on the head, and helped me publish my first book: To Beat The Devil, A Technomancer Novel.
And that felt AMAZING.
So, naturally, I wanted people to read the book and review it. And after a bit, the reviews start coming in. And, most of the reviews have been pretty positive! And yes, a few reviews have pointed out some rookie mistakes, some skill based issues, and a few continuity problems. I took note of them and tried to fix such things on each subsequent book I’ve written. Because, those are positive criticisms. They highlighted the good, focused on the bad in a way which said “This would be better if XY&Z were fixed”.
But, naturally, the mean reviews started coming in as well. The quote at the beginning of this post, the rusty spork one, came from a friend of a friend whom we’ll call Beth. Now, my friend didn’t care for the book, but at least he finished it. Beth got three pages in and said that line about the rusty spork to the eye. Not to me, but to my friend who relayed it to me after I pried the info out of him.
I laughed. It hurt, a lot, but I laughed. Why? Two reasons. First, because it’s funny. In fact, I plan on starting a blog column called “The Rusty Spork” to highlight negative reviews. But secondly because, well . . . Mel Brooks said it best in History of the World Part I:
“After the birth of The Artist, came the inevitable afterbirth, The Critic.” (Jump to 43 seconds in on the video)
Do you like something, or don’t you? It’s simple as that. And who doesn’t love giving their opinion about the latest movie, episode of their favorite show, or music, while gathered among a group of friends? Sometimes, it’s an exercise in creative thought to express your feelings, both positive and negative.
And let’s be honest, being hypercritical of something you don’t like is fun. I myself, while among friends, have indulged in a few creative rants, doing my best to weave curse laden strings of nonsensical bullshit into a humorous, metaphorical “Ugly Christmas Sweater” of a review. Horrible, but somehow fun. But, I try not to leave those opinions as critical fact when “officially” reviewing something.
So, my question is: at what point during a critique, does the critic stop being critical and just becomes an asshole? Saying mean things is easy. Pointing out flaws is easy. But nonstop bashing isn't criticism.
As I was taught in the military: fine fine, bitch all you want. What would you have done to fix it? If you have nothing to add, then you’re just complaining and wasting time.
It’s been two years now since getting published. I have five books out with a sixth on its way, and my skin is thick enough now to laugh and find amusement in most of the “criticisms”. But once in a while a few back-to-back (to back!) bad reviews roll in, and it does eat at me a bit. How can it not?
If you’re a creative type and you make something, paint something, compose something, or write something, then you know what it feels like to pour yourself into something. The artistic endeavor can take ten minutes, ten weeks, ten months, or even ten years.
But, all it takes is one snarky asshole with a laptop, a vendetta, and five minutes on the internet, dismissing your labor of love as one dismisses a pile of dog feces, to wreck you.
The longer you keep creating, the easier it is to bounce back. But, the overtly cruel ones can linger a bit.
I like to read reviews of various media. But I don’t read the good ones, no I go straight to the 1 and 2-star reviews first. And there in that quagmire of vitriol, is the personification of the afterbirth art critic which Mr. Brooks explained. These “people” take great delight in saying some of the meanest, vilest, and down right cruelest words I’ve ever read.
Often these little mini-rants are written by delusional, self-appointed experts who believe themselves to be tenured collegiate educators, lecturing about . . . whatever. You can always tell when one of these reviews are going to get saucy because they tend to have the same catchphrases like: “The writer clearly . . . ”, “The Director’s lack of . . . ”, so forth and so on . . .
. . . because they’re assholes.
When I get a really bad review, and I know this is weird . . . and perhaps a touch creepy, I like to see if I can look them up on social media. You know, just to get an idea of who they are. After all, they took great glee in shitting on my work.
I did learn a fun fact while doing this. Did you know a LOT of angry 1 & 2 star book reviewers, the ones actually leave their names, leave their Facebook pages, and their photos, set to public? Yup, any ole person (or snooping writer) can see who they are.
Translation: I’ve seen them. I get why they’re so angry.
So, in closing, I’m not telling anyone how to review a piece of art, media, or content. If you do/don’t like something, don’t be afraid to say it. You can even like something AND be critical of it (Just ask me my opinion on the Nolan Batman trilogy). Being critical helps to make better content. It pushes a creators mind and ability. Just remember that someone, most of the time, worked really hard to create/make it.
So, I challenge you (and myself) to not just say something “is the suckiest suck that ever sucked suck” if you don’t like it. Instead, point out what worked, what didn’t work, and then offer a solution. Before too long, you’ll actually develop as a critic, and perhaps as a human being.
. . . Well, except for that one guy who called my third book “Unsuspenseful, predictable villain-fic, with a few laughs but mostly remorse, of the buyer's variety.” Since he was nice enough to say that, I was curious enough to find his Facebook page and discover that he's an early 30’s, smug faced fuckwad who likes to take “cool” photos of himself leaning against his car. Nothing can help that asshole. :)