How to deal with bad reviews by Thomas Enger – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Thomas Enger to the blog. Thomas is the author of the Henning Juul series, which include Burned and Cursed, and the standlone YA book The Evil Legacy. The  latest novel in the Henning Juul series, Killed, is published by Orenda Books on 15 February 2018 and was translated by Kari Dickson.

Today Thomas discusses dealing with bad reviews.

It’s true what they say. You can get 99 excellent reviews, but the one you remember and sit down and think about is the one star one. The one that says you’re a shitty writer, the one that tells the other readers to stay clear of this pile of crap and that the publisher must have been snowblind to actually put something like this in print. It hurts. It hurts a lot. To have a novel published is something you should feel proud about. You should be happy. Instead someone’s opinion can easily ruin that feeling for you if you’re not careful.

A newspaper in Norway once wrote that “Thomas Enger’s success can’t have anything to do with his literary skills”. Another one encouraged me to stop writing crime fiction, or even to just stop writing altogether. Needless to say, you need thick skin in order to survive in this business, as it’s quite easy to let disappointments and feedback like that get to you. You don’t want to leave the house, as you feel that people in the streets are looking at you. They’re not, but that’s how you feel. They might even be laughing at you behind your back. They’re not, but that’s how you feel. You certainly don’t want to meet other authors, especially not the ones who never get bad reviews, because they (not intentionally) make you feel inferior.

Some might say that you’re privileged, that you get to write books for a living, so deal with it. In a way that’s true. We deliver a product that people pay good money for, so naturally the buyer or reader is entitled to let you know what they think or feel about that product. It comes with the territory. I also agree with the supposition that it is a privilege to be able to make a living being a writer, but it’s a privilege that we’ve worked very hard for, and each book we write is the result of endless hours with our fingers hovering above the keyboard, or on it, and we are putting so much of ourselves into that product. Our hearts, our minds, our souls. Some writers spend three years writing a book. Some even more. While I respect the reader’s privilege to say what they think about a book, I have a hard time agreeing to why harsh words are necessary. It’s perfectly possible to imply that you don’t like a book without sending a guillotine out into the world with the author’s name on it. “Professional” reviewers who flip through a book between coffee breaks, and then writes 350 words about a product they haven’t grasped (how could they when they’ve only flipped through the pages), should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. And yes, they do exist.

I’m digressing a bit off topic here, but sometimes things just need to be said.

But how to deal with the bile?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure. You can argue that it’s just one reader, that the other 99 loved your book. You can try to smile about it, shake your head and say to yourself that the reader couldn’t have read the book. If he or she had, then things would have been clearer, your IDEA about the book would be easier to access. You can tell yourself that maybe he or she just broke up with his or her girlfriend/boyfriend, and just needed to blow off steam on someone or something.

I have found that neither of these strategies really help.

When you sit back and really think about the review, because you do, the questions that have been put forward in the review inevitably sinks in. What if he’s right? What if I really am a shitty writer? Anxiety about your own capabilities is probably the number one “sickness” a writer has to deal with on a daily basis. Not believing in yourself or in the story you’re about to tell. It happens to everyone, even the best ones.

The natural instinct when someone slams your work is to hide and hope that nobody sees it. I have done that a few times. What I’ve found to be a therapeutic way to deal with the review bile that might come my way, is to just share it. Put it out there, laugh about it, and state that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you contradict that person’s statement about your work with a quote that says the complete opposite, then you’ve managed to highlight the fact that no reader is alike, and that there are different opinions about a book. As there should be. You’re more than likely to get feedback from people in your social media feeds who like you, or your books, and can tell you that. So you both expose what’s dampening your spirits, and you get immediate help to get over it. You’ll feel better a lot faster, and you’ll get motivation and inspiration to get over it and back to the keyboard. Where you should be.

About the book

Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his young son was murdered. But that was only the beginning…

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life.

Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-awaited finale of one of the darkest, most chilling and emotive series you may ever read. Someone will be killed. But who?

About the author

Thomas Enger (b. 1973) is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2009, which became an international sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

About the translator

KARI DICKSON read Scandinavian Studies at UCL and then went on to work in various theatres. While working in the theatre, she was asked to do literal translations of two Ibsen plays, which fuelled her interest and led to an MA in Translation at the University of Surrey.  Having worked initially as a commercial translator, she now concentrates on literary translation, a good deal of which is crime fiction. Her translation of Roslund & Hellström’s Three Seconds won the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) International Dagger in 2011. She is also an occasional tutor in Norwegian language and literature, and translation  at the University of Edinburgh.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting post, Janet. I’ve always thought this must be particuarly difficult for writers compared with performers, given the solitary narture of their work


  2. Joanne says:

    What a great piece. I think we are all inclined to take criticism to heart even if we know logically we should ignore it.


  3. Terry Tyler says:

    I think it’s better just to try to suck it up, to be honest. Sharing it around, highlighting a great review against it can make you look self-obsessed and even vain or bitter. The fact is that not many people DO see it, not even when you’re an internationally acclaimed, wildly successful author. From an avid reader’s point of view, I tend to take in a broad scope of comments about a book, not think, oh look, 99 people said it was great but 1 person didn’t like it, so I won’t buy it.

    Think about your own favourite authors/writers/actors/artists. Do you love everything they have ever done? Bet you don’t! Not everyone will like everything you do. It’s just one of those things.


  4. Really interesting Janet. I love the way you’ve included the translator too


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks, I think they are such a vital part of the process it’s only fair to include them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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