Samara O'Shea

The Best Bad Review

The hardest part about writing a book—or creating anything really—is knowing that not everyone is going to like it. It is physically (psychologically / philosophically) impossible to please all of the people all of the time, or even most of the time. It’s a hard pill to swallow especially because you want to please people not necessarily for yourself (although that certainly comes into play) but also for them. You (er, me anyway) long to inspire readers the same way you’ve been inspired as a reader. You hope they’ll laugh, cry, and get a kick out of life the same way that you have.

Needless to say, you’re bound to come up short sometimes and disappoint the paying customers.

A few months ago I attended a Jennifer Weiner reading at the Philadelphia Free Library. One of the audience members asked if she read her reviews. Her response surprised me. She said no. She went on to say that she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself by reading the good ones, but she also doesn’t see fit to subject herself to the negativity of the bad ones. I thought that was incredibly mature. Now, Jennifer Weiner’s work is reviewed more often than mine will ever be, so she has to come up with a strategy to deal with a flood of opinions. Me? Well, I still get excited if someone mentions my books in a blog, so I do still read my reviews. But I promised myself I wouldn’t read the good ones unless I was willing to read the bad, too.

So I came across a bad review earlier this week. The title alone made my heart sink: Note to Self: This is Not What You’re Looking For. But I’ve been blessed with many positive blog reviews over the past few months, and I was due for a negative one. I started to read with my hands over my eyes and my fingers spread apart—as if I were watching a horror movie. I discovered that for a bad review, it’s actually not that bad. Reviewer Traci writes:

O’Shea’s writing is at once conversational, luscious, and funny, and the excerpts chosen for each chapter—both from her own diary and from those who’ve gone before her—are beautiful and expertly chosen. The reading itself was highly enjoyable. I should just be happy with that…bathe in O’Shea’s lovely words and leave it alone.

The bad part begins as she goes on to explain that she found my book lacking in the way of actual guidance on how to keep a journal. Of course it disappointed me that I disappointed her, but I quickly reminded myself that, again, I can’t please everyone AND I’ll go crazy if I try. Another one of Traci’s comments that is seemingly but not really all that bad is this:

O’Shea’s journal excerpts are so well-written and so nice to read, that I fear reading this book has done nothing but give me a whole bunch of fodder for undue comparison. Couldn’t she have found just one crappy entry to include for the rest of us?

That’s mighty flattering that she thinks all of my entries are top notch, but there are plenty that I included in the book that make me squeamish. Eeek! Did I really put that pathetic piece of writing in there? So it all depends on your perspective. As life in general depends on your perspective.

I won’t wax poetic about all of my bad reviews. I just found this one interesting and, ultimately, not so bad. Now I feel like I’m due for a really bad one. I’ll just hold my nose and dive in I suppose.