Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Listening to the reviews on your book can either be the best or worst thing you decide to do. The most important thing I've discovered over the past few years of having a relatively popular online book is that you have to find a happy medium--especially when it comes to the negative reviews.
My Wattpad career started with a little fantasy novel called Spiral, but it took off when I started writing Dear Sydney in April 2016 (over three years ago...which is crazy in and of itself.) Within a few months the book was on Wattpad's Featured List, hit #18 of all the books in the Teen Fiction category on the site, and won the 2016 Watty Award for Visual Storytelling. While writing this story, I received almost 100% positive reviews and comments--and if there were any negative comments, they got lost in the sea of praise and I didn't know they even existed. Which is good and bad. It was good because I didn't have to deal with any negativity while I was finishing up high school and trying to get into college and dealing with friendships ending and everything else the end of high school had to offer. It was bad because I naively was under the impression that everyone loved my book.
Then came the time for me to publish the book in print. I published Dear Sydney in March 2017 in paperback and honestly, the book doesn't have that many reviews. Even now, in 2019, its official reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have a total of around 20 written reviews between the two sites. Most of them are positive in some way. Some of them contain small jabs, but their overall theme is positivity.
I got my first truly angry comments shortly after Dear Sydney was published in paperback. When it was published in paperback, I made the decision to remove the last chapter of the book from Wattpad. This was honestly just…a business move, if you can even call it that. In my head, it was a happy medium: I would still have the entire book up on the site, including all nine epilogues, but without the last chapter. Why would people buy a book that they could read completely online, even if the paperback was meticulously edited and added to over the course of nine months?
I included a little note at the end of the first chapter on Wattpad that explained that the last chapter was missing. That way, people could decide whether or not they wanted to become invested in a book they would essentially have to pay to finish. And the response was terrible. Every comment I got on the empty Chapter 30 was angry and rude, with people saying that I was slimy for doing what I did and that they couldn't believe I would do something like that just for monetary gain.
It took all of my willpower not to just put the chapter back up. It was saved to my computer, all there and ready to go. I got so many angry comments that I almost gave in and just gave the people what they wanted. But I didn't. And I think it's so important that I didn't.
Dear Sydney is my book. I put my heart and soul into that book back when I was busy applying to colleges and participating in extra curriculars and having a part time job and being in honor societies and student government positions. I did all of this while writing and editing a book that millions of people have read.
Everything I had to give was put into the paperback version of that book. I spent nine months editing it, adding chapters and subplots to it, redoing the social media posts so that the pictures were actually mine and not of random people I found off of Google. That book was (and still is) mine, and I had every right to do what I wanted with it. People in comments and reviews may have different ideas of what you should do with your hard work. They may think it isn't funny enough, or serious enough, or smart enough, or mature enough, or…any kind of enough. People are going to have all of these opinions about your work, whether it’s a book, a movie, a poem, an article, an essay, a painting, a song, a music video, an anything. People are going to think that they know what's best for your work. And those people will always, always, be wrong.
Because your work is your own. And listening to what other people think about it is just asking to be upset. Sure, look at the comments every now and then. See what people are saying. But don't ever look at those negative comments and use them as fuel to change your hard work. Use them as fuel to keep going with what you want to do, and use them as fuel to prove those negative comments wrong.
And when it comes down to it, you just have to ignore the negative reviews sometimes. Because they're not worth it. Forbidden is the first book in the Wattpad Three's Company trilogy, and I published it in paperback in December 2018--less than a year ago. There is exactly one written review of the book on Goodreads. It's a one-star review, and all it says is, "Bad writing." That's it.
As conceited as it sounds, that was my very first bad review. Sure, I had gotten negative comments. But negative comments are washed out by positive ones on my online books. This is the one and only written review of Forbidden on Goodreads, and it says "Bad writing." Nothing constructive, nothing about the book other than "Bad writing."
I was actually incredibly upset about this review for a few days after reading it. I didn’t understand: how could someone think that my writing is bad? Everyone always tells me how much they love my writing. Everyone is always so nice about my published books. But this one person ruined my day for a few days after reading that. I was embarrassed; I didn't want anyone else to see that review and have it keep them from reading the book.
It took a few days, but I finally started to realize: so what? So what if this one random person thought I was a bad writer? Even if I didn't have the millions of online readers telling me that they loved my work, I didn't need to listen to the one person. Even if they were the only review I had ever received in my entire writing career, their opinion didn't need to matter to me. And guess what? Now it doesn't. Now, I go on Goodreads and see that one bad review and I laugh a little. Someone read my entire book even though they thought the writing was bad. That's a few hours of their live they'll never get back. So I almost feel a little bad for them.
Negative reviews and comments really do have the power to make or break us. And I feel like it is so important to not take them seriously. To do what you love unapologetically. Now, that's not to say you should keep writing something that's racist or sexist or offensive. But if you're making something that uplifts people--yourself included--then don't listen to the people who think it's bad. You love it. And if you love it? That's all that matters.