It is worse if you think the review is unfair. What is “unfair?” “Unfair” means “unkind, inconsiderate, or unreasonable.”
I think the following are unreasonable and unkind: “I hate this beach [but I hate all beaches].” “I wish you hadn’t served peaches because they make me sick [but I ate them].”
In matters of art, of course, your experience of a product depends on your taste, your preferences, your experience, and your sophistication with the medium, perhaps. “That play was long and boring. [Because you like short comic sit-coms on TV.]” “I would never buy an abstract painting –they are all bad. [Because you like representational art, especially puppies and kittens, on your walls.]”
There is no objective measure, except maybe regarding technique. “That photograph of a kitten would be better if the photographer would have used special lighting, framed it to be more interesting, etc.” That is, the photographer did not employ what you think are “good” techniques. Although, to be fair, the photographer may have tried to break with convention and notions of “good” technique.
Or, YOU JUST DIDN’T LIKE THIS PHOTO, although you normally like photos of kittens.
The very first review of my novel MY BOAT IS SO SMALL to be posted said: “This is the most depressing book I’ve read.” I looked up the reviewer and her favorite genre is light romance. My book is in the category of dark, psychological drama. Like Ingmar Bergman. Whom I never recall apologizing for being depressing.
Was it easy to ignore her? No. I want to please everybody. I want everyone to “get” me, and find my themes and characters to be rich and interesting. I want them to find insights about people and find that they relate emotionally to some dark scenes. I want them to be fans of Bergman movies.
One of my first impulses was to convince myself that the book is not as depressing as other best sellers. For example, THE HANDMAID’S TALE, whose concept is so depressing I will not read it. Then I found that a new book called THE INCEST DIARY is ranked #642 overall among millions of ebooks. In the preview of this book, nearly every page is a gruesome “scene” (in my opinion.) One of the reviewers thought that the author was a man who wanted to write child porn and found a way to do it. (The publisher is mainstream. The book is not classified as erotica.)
My book is not that “challenging.”
To further soothe myself, I looked up some of my fellow authors. For example, an experienced writer of romances who got some bad reviews. One reviewer gave her a one-star rating because she used the F word, the reader stating that the story was probably going to include sex, so she didn’t finish the book. (And apparently that was not true. No sex in the story. Just an F word.)
Then I found an author who has sold one book very well, but had a few challenging books. One was a memoir about her marriage and divorce, which is right up the alley of MY BOAT IS SO SMALL. There were only few reviews and they range from one to five stars. She was in my category in having a book of “contemporary fiction” coming out on August 8th, and her ebook was also offered on preorder. The preorder had NO reviews yet.
Do you know the word “schadenfreude?” It means deriving pleasure from another person's misfortune. I was NOT GLAD that she got a bad review before, and that she had no reviews on the new book. I feel BAD for her. Mostly, I feel RELIEF THAT I AM NOT ALONE in a certain combination of topics (in our novels) and experimental styles.
Has that cured my depression? No.
These days, social media invites everyone to opine, but our level of civility has taken a dive. Hostility has taken on a pleasure in itself. Hostility has become a hobby. The haters gotta hate because it is fun. They hope for “likes”—i.e., affirmation.
In fact, writers, and reviewers, like to opine too. We are all indulging in self-expression.
Another of my peers was horrified to receive a one-star review and begged her friends to “vote it down” it on amazon. That means we called up the review and where the question is posed: “Did you find this review helpful?” we chose NO. You are VOTING ON THE REVIEW, not the book. You do not need to read the book to have this opinion. There is some satisfaction in having your gang “vote down” what feels like an unfair review. The review will “sink” on the list of reviews, hopefully a few page-scrolls out of sight.
Back to the meaning of “unfair.” If I say “I hate beaches,” then I should not rate your favorite beach. It isn’t even helpful to tell the world, “beaches are not my thing.” Why do you feel the need to join the conversation about anybody’s favorite beach?
One reason, my group has speculated, is that some reviewers are in a program that REWARDS MANY REVIEWS. They will submit reviews of books they don’t really like and didn’t really finish, because they get points and they want more points.
I am just glad I didn’t produce a $25-million movie only to read an early review that gives it one star.
My other sanity exercise is: “Imagine this book is not yours, it is not you, and maybe it doesn’t exist.” Writing the book was an optional undertaking. Art is optional entertainment. Note to self: Opt OUT of taking it too seriously and wishing the world was one big LIKE.