Everyone knows they’re going to get a bad review. Whether they come in the form of a query letter rejection, baffling missives from publishers, or, after publication, getting Michiko Kakutani’d in The New York Times, everyone, and I mean everyone, gets bad reviews.
Since you know these bad reviews are coming, it then seems to follow that you will be able to guess which parts of your book people might not like.
Guess what: You cannot.
You’ll never guess what people will find to criticize in your book. You’ll always be surprised. There’s a reason I used this GIF to illustrate the experience of receiving a review in my Publishing Process in GIF form post:
You can’t see them coming, they catch you wildly off guard, and they’re rather terrifying.
I actually think this illuminates an interesting part of the writing and revision process. It’s almost as if we are so worried making about certain mistakes and weaknesses, we actually head them off and don’t end up making them. You might be deeply worried that your pacing is too slow or your dialogue is weak. Then, by merely worrying about them, chances are you took the necessary measures to counteract the problems. But those problems are still in your head.
Those won’t be the things that people pick up on. Instead, the bad reviews stem from problems we couldn’t see, they might even pick up on things that aren’t even there entirely and, of course, the whole shebang is just an inevitable result of the subjectivity of reading. Some people just ain’t going to like your book.
It’s tempting to think you can outfox a bad review. You can’t. They’ll always end up taking you by surprise.
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Art: Horse Frightened by a Lion by George Stubbs