Every morning I go through the same routine: I grab a cup of joe, let my four dogs out into the backyard and then settle into my writing room to check on sales of my novel, its Amazon bestseller rank and any new reviews. It’s a little like Christmas day every morning; you never know what you’re getting but it’s always exciting.
As a full-time writer I’m used to receiving criticism of my work; it’s a welcome element of my chosen career. I already know that I am no Hemingway or Steven King, so constructive criticism is okay by me. Since releasing my first full-length novel in May, I’ve received plenty of five and four-star reviews but I knew one day the negative reviews would appear and, to be quite honest, I was looking forward to them.
You may ask yourself: Why on earth would you want a negative review? My answer is simple: you cannot learn anything from your successes. You can, however, learn much from the negatives.
Well, today was the day. My 18th review was a 1-star and I could not be happier about it.
Here’s the review in question:
“1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable, July 26, 2011
Downloaded the trial chapters and thought the plot was good so I bought the book. Although I tried to keep reading this book, after awhile I was just wasting my time. If the author was trying for the record in just describing gore and destruction, he may have succeeded. I finally gave up when I noticed a new Donovan Creed novel was out.”
So, what did I learn from this review? Of course, the most obvious thing is that it isn’t so much a “review” of my novel than a comment on the reviewer’s personal taste in books. He enjoyed my writing style and liked my initial plot enough to buy the book after reading my sample, but he was put off by the “gore and destruction” later in my story.
That’s great news for me. As the author it tells me that my writing has created images and conveyed the kinds of emotions I intended for the particular scene that disturbed my 1-star reviewer so greatly. The end of civilization, especially when it comes as unexpectedly and brutally as it does in my novel, is not pretty. In fact, it is downright terrifying and should be written accordingly.
The post-apocalyptic genre explores humanity at its basest, most hopeless level. It examines how we, the survivors, conduct our lives when everything that is most precious to us, everything that makes our lives worth living and comfortable is stripped away, leaving nothing behind but the horror of extinction and the realization of our own fragile existence.
It is never a pretty story, but it can be wonderful in its revelations.
So, I want to say a big “thank you” to my one-star reviewer. You’ve reinforced my belief that I’m doing my job correctly for all those readers who are looking for this kind of experience. Readers of post-apocalyptic fiction want a journey that will take them to places they hope they never have to go but are inexplicably drawn to travel that route anyway. They are willing to face the horror and devastation because they know that along the way they will experience humanity at its finest. They don’t want me to pull any punches in my descriptions; they don’t need my protection – this is the end of the world after all. It deserves to be spectacular.
They want to experience the raw horror and terror we all know exists mere moments away from these cozy lives of ours, suspended in place only by the slimmest of technological strings. When I tell my stories I owe it to my readers to be truthful about the experiences of the characters they will be traveling with. We are, after all, fascinated by what will happen should that fragile string fray or be cut.
So let me reassure you; I’ve got a really sharp pair of scissors and, as an author, I have no compunction about using them!