It has happened. Something I always knew would happen, something I have dreaded for months since I put SWOD out there, naked and vulnerable for the whole world to see: I have been given a bad review. In fact, this isn’t quite true: I have been given two. After months of eagerly searching the web for clues that this book was doing well I had actually sought more healthy pastimes, such as studying, and only recently found myself with the time to check the web once more.
This leads me to an oft-covered (yet never really answerable) question: How to deal with bad reviews?
I simply don’t have the answer (Sorry if you came here looking for it! Yet another denizen of the web disappointed by little old me I suppose). I really wish I did, honestly. I always consider myself to be my own worst critic – as many writers claim – but it is hugely wounding to hear that someone thinks you are, in effect, a talentless nobody who should stick to reading the back of cereal packets, and not stray as far as writing on them.
That’s a little harsh. The critics – on Amazon, in one case, and Goodreads on the other – have been completely reasonable. There hasn’t been a personal attack of any kind, and I am actually rather pleased in a way: they have critiqued it until pretty much the last page. They, at least, read the whole book. This in itself indicates that perhaps it isn’t as bad as they say it is: if it was that terrible they would have given up on it.
The Amazon review, by one Yulande Lindsay “Shahine”, goes as follows:
Where to begin? With how absolutely unoriginal this story is? The NUMEROUS anachronisms (where does a girl who grew up in a primitive society learn about “testosterone-laden males”, the narrative structure, the language, the gay stereotyping (yes, it was there). There was so much potential for character development, with the exception of the main character Simon, there was none. As for Simon, when you wait on the last 50 pages to redeem your main character you run the risk that the reader will cheer for and encourage his demise-injury-whatever. I mean Simon was the whiniest, most annoying character! I do not expect automatic heroism or heroism at all but… The language was all cliched and taken from every ‘B’ sword and sorcery movie ever made. Also the book could have done with some serious editing both in terms of grammar and ideas.
I gave this two stars because Amazon doesn’t allow for 1/2 stars. Mr. Green is advised that if he is to continue doing fantasy he MUST do some research, learn to develop his characters, create and develop his worlds to a greater degree – all of which will allow readers to invest more in what happens.
Also, the lecture/foreword at the beginning was simply annoying as it was too long and in the end heightened the disappointment in the book.
When I first read it, my heart stopped. I always knew it was coming – I will readily admit it isn’t the best book in the world, and it’s well reported that you can’t please all the people all the time – but still it hurt when it arrived. 6 months writing it, several months more editing it, agonising over one word here or there, days creating the cover and weeks simply clicking on the link in the vain hope that someone, somewhere out of the 6 billion people on this planet may have bought it, all brought down like a kick in the stomach.
The other review, by Simon Pemberton on Goodreads, also reviews it to the very end:
In his preface, Ellis Jackson describes this book as the first open source novel. I think Cory Doctorow would have a few words to say about that – he released his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under an open source license in 2004. (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-n… This allows readers to download it for free, give copies to other people, create their own works based on it and distribute those works, as long as they credit the original author, don’t charge for their works, and make their works available on the same terms. It was first released the year before, under a more restrictive license that allowed distribution of unaltered copies but not creation of derivative works.)
Mr Jackson, having said that storytelling was better when stories were passed along through oral tradition, because authors competed to tell the best version of a story, grants you, the reader of “Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny,” the right to use his characters and setting to tell your own stories or to improve this one. But then he insists that you get his permission to publish them, which runs completely counter to the idea of open source – in fact, it’s the same license as any other book. If you want to publish your own Harry Potter story, you need permission from J K Rowling. The fact that she’ll almost certainly say no, whereas Mr Jackson says he’ll usually say yes, is irrelevant. You can’t get to the “best” version of a story if one person has to approve any new versions, and can veto any that he doesn’t like.
Philosophical objections aside, how does “Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny” stack up against other fantasy novels? Well, it didn’t exactly inspire me to write my own story using the world or the characters. The scene moves from generic mediaeval city to generic village-in-a-forest to generic dwarven stronghold and back again. The generic mediaeval city is ruled by a generic evil wizard, who’s supported by generic Orcs (smelly, stupid and cowardly). Into this world is thrust Simon, a generic loser who’s just been fired from his generic telesales job by a generic evil boss. The locals mistake him for a powerful wizard because of his modern gadgets. The evil wizard sees him as a threat and tries to capture or kill him. The downtrodden masses see him as an opportunity to depose the evil wizard, and rally around him as the leader of a revolution. (Quite why they think he won’t just take the evil wizard’s place once the evil wizard is gone is never explained.)
I didn’t care much for the characters, finding most of them two-dimensional. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to feel sorry for Simon or laugh at the misfortune he lands in. I didn’t feel sorry for him, because he brings most of it on himself, despite realising that he’s useless at just about everything. I didn’t find it funny, because his incompetence often causes secondary characters to get killed. Even when nobody is catching an arrow in the eye or a sword thrust to the stomach, I found the humour contrived and leaden.
There are numerous typos, clichés and failures to observe the “show, don’t tell” rule. In the hands of another writer, this could have been the heroic epic of Simon’s journey from Everyman to Superman, or the comic tale of how he failed to become Superman, but won the day by being true to himself. I suppose we should be grateful that we (maybe) have Mr Jackson’s blessing to turn it into the story it might have been…
It is also, at least, constructive. It isn’t personally vicious (much), and it points out something I was genuinely unaware of until this moment: that SWOD is not the first open-source novel in the world (Though I would argue with the idea it doesn’t fall under the open-source concept, but I am not a self-professed expert in this. I am very interested in open-source, and use only open-source software at home, but I am not by anyone’s imagination an actual expert in it). His views are, at least, detailed and thorough. He appears to be an author himself, and I will not critique his work, because I haven’t read it. I assume, as an author, that he knows his stuff.
So, how to deal with bad reviews? My first plan, as soon as I finish writing this, is to find a pub and have some beer. Lots of beer. Probably more beer than is strictly necessary in fact (particularly when I have to work tomorrow). Then I plan to remind myself that SWOD is and always will be my first book, and as I’m sure Mr Pemberton knows, writing a book is hard. Bloody hard. This doesn’t mean we should wrap all new authors in cotton wool and bathe them in Infracare. I – like all other new authors – simple must learn what we are doing wrong, or we will continue to churn out bad books and get nowhere.
My second plan is to read around the web about how other new writers deal with it. I expect to find much gnashing of teeth and wailing, plus a fair amount of flaming as well, but it will at least remind me that I am not alone. Everyone gets criticised, and at least mine was constructive. Hell, James Patterson published 35 books before really hitting it big (He also had the good sense to use a pseudonym at times it must be said), and whether or not I hit it big in publishing it immaterial: I do this because I enjoy it. Even the bad times.
The last thing I plan to do is remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt when he said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
After which I will continue to write book number 2.