AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

April 24, 2013

You’re Not a Real Writer Until You’ve Been Trashed

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 7:38 pm

A-9 Skull2When I first blogged back in 2012 about “You’re Not a Real Writer Until You’ve Been Screwed”  I thought it was a stand alone piece about the realities of the business-end of writing. Now that I’ve received my first one-star review on Amazon, I realize it’s a series. My latest hard-won truth is: “You’re Not a Real Writer Until You’ve been Trashed.”

It doesn’t matter what the reader (a verified Amazon purchaser) said about my book (HARD BITE). Everyone is entitled to an opinion and has the right to express it. Of course I disagree with the review, but that’s not what this column is about. It’s about coming to terms with reality—accepting slings and arrows right along with bouquets, and not getting too influenced by either. In my opinion, you’re not a real writer until you can handle it. At least in public. In private it’s okay to break plates and turn the air blue—along the lines of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

I write fiction that tends toward experimental. The potential for readers to “get it Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 8.29.12 PMwrong” or dislike it is higher than traditional works of genre. But I’m not a writer that likes to play it safe. That’s not where I’m happy. When I get it “right” I hear words like, “fresh, different, unique” tossed around, and I get compared to some very cool people.  Just the other day, over at the Dead End Follies blog, Benoit Lelievre wrote about one of my short stories: “I don’t think Philip K. Dick could have written this idea better, if he had been into crime fiction.” Before  my head had the chance to swell up,  a one-star review appeared on Amazon saying (among other choice nuggets),“… a pain in the butt to even read until 30% where I finally gave up and dumped the thing where it belongs. The dust.

If I were a different kind of person, I could mash up these two opinions and bring down the experimental edge to my stuff while shoring up the easy-reading part. The end result might be solid 3-star material. Agents would probably like me better if I did. But that’s not who I am. Experimental writers have always been part of the pantheon of fiction—there’s a place for me in the world. I accept my slower career trajectory—first a digital deal with Blasted Heath, then a print deal with New Pulp Press. These are smaller, more cautious deals than, say, Hilary Davidson or Frank Bill got but I’m okay with it. I’m not mainstream. My quantity is unpredictable out in the broad marketplace, and we live in a time of extreme caution among publishers. They want to “wait and see.” So my books advance by increments into the world. As long as I get to write what I want, I’m okay with that, too.

One of the milestones of getting a book distributed to a broader reading public outside the polite sanctum of the crime- writing community is getting reviews from strangers who have no vested interest in saying something nice. The first time I hit #2 on Hardboiled Mysteries, Paid in January ’13, I got 4 and 5-star reviews. The second time I hit #2 on the same list in April, and #90 on the hotly contested Thrillers, Paid list, I got my first one-star review. There it was, bonafide proof I’d reached the wider spectrum, and when that happy day came it also arrived with the truth that you can’t please everybody.

I accept my one-star review and consider it a badge of honor because the truth is you’re not a real writer until you’ve been trashed. From Edgar Allan Poe to James M. Cain to Joyce Carol Oates, bad reviews are the hallmark of any and every writer who ever made a mark. (Not that I’m anywhere near that company but I aspire to be near that company.)

Now get out there and get yourself some bad reviews.



  1. We’ve all been there, Elaine. Welcome to the club!

    Comment by Brian Drake — April 24, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

  2. Of course everyone has the right to an opinion, even the wrong one, but what’s really annoying is when the one star review itself only rates one star. Like this one:

    “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This novel is “no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…”- H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925
    I guess Mr. Mencken was a stickler for probability.

    But getting back to your book, HARD BITE. If reading hurts this person’s butt, she’s doing it wrong. Unless that’s where her head is located.

    And, finally, we can’t leave out one of the very best bad reviews ever: Fred Astaire’s Screen Test report from RKO Studios: ” Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

    So kick up your heels, Anonymous-9. You’re in great company! And that’s 100% !

    Comment by Carol — April 24, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

  3. Sigh, I know how it feels. My very first review of my first book made me cry. It was by a “friend” who gave me the same opinions on the telephone, then wrote the review under a false name. Unlike your case, a few of his written opinions were helpful and I pulled the book and made changes, which made it a better book. I’m on my fourth now and I notice he still is a wannabe.

    You’ve certainly surpassed your carping, critical reader. Huge numbers of people like your work. So there.

    I still want to go over to his place some night and slash his tires.

    Comment by Mar Preston — April 25, 2013 @ 4:33 am

  4. After professional editing and proofreading have taken place, and a third-party publisher says, “Yes, this work is ready,” bad reviews are still inevitable. When you’re “out there” it’s a fact of life.

    Comment by ashedit — April 25, 2013 @ 7:29 am

  5. If you’re writing is for everyone, then it’s not really for anyone.

    Comment by charlesgramlich — April 25, 2013 @ 8:50 am

  6. Well said Charles! I went to your blog, Razored Zen last night, and was struck by how faithfully you post and keep in touch with the blogosphere. What’s the old saying? Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.

    Comment by ashedit — April 25, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  7. If you don’t offend anyone, your work is probably for EXPLETIVE DELETED! So congratulations and poo to the EXPLETIVE DELETED who didn’t like your work!

    Comment by Anonymous — April 25, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

  8. MN you are such a scream. Thanks for the passionate defense. (I did have to bring in the censor a little bit though.) Thanks for dropping by.

    Comment by ashedit — April 25, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

  9. I used to get slammed all the time for my writing (fortunately not on Amazon) when I was first starting out. Took me a very long while to develop a skin thick enough to withstand the slamming. I still get slammed from time to time (not in a review though), but the slamming I get for it now is tougher to combat (getting slammed over a lie that a well known manager told to another dept at work, thus killing any kind of word of mouth that I was previously getting).

    Comment by G. B. Miller — April 28, 2013 @ 4:29 am

  10. LOL, welcome to the club. It’s a pity initiation is so tough! Keep smiling.

    Comment by Rebecca Forster — April 29, 2013 @ 6:54 am

  11. It is often said that if you have no 1 star reviews your work is not very controversial, and perhaps . . . boring for many readers. This takes a minute to sink in, but there is true in it. Additionally, I know of a 1 star review that sold many books for me. The reviewer said the book scared the hell of out of her, and was to vivid in details. The response from others–really, I love thrillers. So, all one star reviews are not so bad.

    Comment by — May 4, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

  12. Great Stuff. I agree.

    Comment by timoneil549 — July 3, 2013 @ 6:25 am

  13. Coming in late as I just read your piece on The Rap Sheet. Thrilled to see a link to your blog. Why haven’t I done this before?
    Regarding the bad reviews, I hope I can finally reach this next level soon. I only have 10 reviews on Amazon, the worst a 3-star, and it was helpful. I had to agree with things she said. I did have a potential reviewer send the book back with a note saying my series character was a terrible, nasty cad, and she couldn’t finish after the sex scene with the dying husband in the next room. I figure if readers can’t take a joke, I don’t want them. I think I’m prepared for that one-star coming (I gave away seven books on Goodreads) but I can’t be sure. Want me to follow up?

    Comment by Jack Getze — July 13, 2013 @ 6:04 am

  14. Hi Jack! Absolutely please follow-up. In fact if you’d like to do a first-person piece for Ashedit, I’d be delighted to publish it. Whatever you’re comfortable with. Great to have you visit Ashedit.

    Comment by Elaine Ash — July 13, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

  15. I look at it this way: somebody actually read the damn book.

    Comment by timothymayer — July 4, 2015 @ 6:10 am

  16. Hi Tim! Except for the guy who wrote, “I didn’t read it but I’m giving it one star.”

    Comment by ashedit — July 4, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  17. Here here!!! I heartily agree. Long live the one stars, and the horse their rider rode in on!

    Comment by Lisa Ciarfella — July 4, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

  18. Ha ha! –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 4, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

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