Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Way I See It: Bad News

I have received over 50 comments, tweets and emails thanking me for my The Way I See It posts.  I hope you enjoy this one as much as you did the others.  If you do, please take a moment to drop by the comments section below and let me know.

Nothing can stop a writer in his tracks and keep him from reaching his goals like bad news: A one star review on your new novel; a turn down by an editor, or worse, an email telling you the publisher you had high hopes for passed on your new novel.  Your novel has been on Amazon for 6 months with weak reviews and weaker sales... Bad news can be debilitating.  Boyfriend From Hell has 90 ratings on Goodreads.  Only two of those are 1 star ratings, yet when I read each of them I felt depressed, even though I know how important bad news is to my success.

That's right, bad news is important to your success. You cannot succeed without it.  The problem with bad news is we take it emotionally, when in reality it's just information.  I cannot tell you I am going to stop having an emotional response to bad news, but I can tell you that when I get past the emotional dip, I look at the bad news for what it is.  In truth, bad news can be very good for you.  It is the only news you get that you can learn and grow from. 

Many of you know I spent much of my career writing and producing TV shows.  In the late 90s I had written and produced a pilot for UPN ( a now defunct network).  When pilots are complete, studios always put them before focus groups.  I had done several pilots over the years and hated siting behind a one-way mirror while the people in the room who couldn't see me trashed my work.  I told this to the president of UPN.  "I know you like my pilot.  Why do we have to do this?" I went on to tell him that I thought people in focus groups were on power trips. 

He was a wonderfully understanding man, who took the time to tell me a story.  When he was a producer at Warner Brothers he shot a pilot for a show.  The focus group didn't like the pilot.  They particularly didn't like the wife in the pilot.  Instead of crying in his beer (which is what I would have done) the producer asked Warner Brothers for a little more money to shoot one scene.  "Eric, we shot a scene like you guys always did on The Cosby Show," he told me.  It was a very short bedroom scene with the husband and wife having fun with each other.  They added the scene to the end of the pilot and put it before another focus group.

This time the pilot (as they say) tested through the roof.  That pilot became a show called called Growing Pains which went on to have a long and successful run on ABC.  If that producer had been me back then, that pilot would have become nothing. But the producer turned network head realized what we all need to realize--bad news is just information.  If we listen to the bad news, rather than react to it, we can improve.  I can talk to you about marketing until I am blue in the face, but if you're work needs improving, or your blurb needs improving, or your cover needs improving, or your marketing needs improving, nothing will change until you listen to the bad news.

Like I said earlier, good news is great, but bad news is the only news we can learn and grow from--just ask Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school basketball team.  Truth is, if he wasn't cut from that team, he wouldn't have done the work to become... well, Michael Jordan.  MJ turned bad news into good news.  You can do it, too. If you want to have a career as a writer, your success depends on doing what he did, on what I try to do--make bad news, good news.  At least, that's the way I see it.



  1. Bad news is good news. But I'm so sorry it takes such an emotional toll on you. I was angered today after reading a review with a one star review, just because it contained a semi-romantic scene and swearing. I was shocked. She actually stated that if these elements had not been included she would have given the book a 5 star rating. LOL,,,It seems everyone has their own opinion as to how to write your book. Great thought post E!

  2. That's the way I see it too!

    I love this post. So true.

    If all our days were sunshine and rainbows, we wouldn't find them as wonderful. A blustery winter storm gives a warm spring day its beauty.

  3. Fantastic post E! I love this. It is exactly what I have told other authors before. I know it's hard to receive a bad review but you learn from it and you move on. Not everyone's opinion is going to be the same. I even remind them at times that some of the greats such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and even George R.R. Martin, have all received bad reviews. It didn't stop them and shouldn't stop you! Thank you for this post!

    Kitty Bullard, Great Minds Think Aloud

  4. Excellent post! Bad reviews really make me sad sometimes because sometimes they seem extremely petty! However, sometimes I've learned extremely helpful things that have helped me become a better writer.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. :)
    Janiera @This is From my Heart

  5. Great post! Just a comment from a reader POV, bad reviews also makes me count all the reviews surrounding it as a bit more real as opposed to thinking they are all from friends of the author. I also gravitate to the bad reviews because if what they are talking about isn't that bad in my mind, or simply petty and ill thought out, I have an increased interest in the book. Weird but true!

  6. Thanks for another great post, E. :-)

  7. E, this is why I love being your publisher. You have a can-do attitude in looking at things.

    As you know, I've lately been studying/toying with/obsessing over Goodreads ads, which work much like Google ads. A thousand people might glance at an ad before clicking on it. With the analytics, if an ad is getting below a certain percentage of clicks--bad news--I play with the ad or rewrite it completely. One time I just switched two sentences around before the click rate went way up.

    It's a good approach to life--listen to the bad news. My own editor today gave me some bad news. My main plot device just wasn't working. In my last draft, I didn't buy her reasoning, and I made the writing more lyrical, which, in my mind, made it more persuasive. She called today to say it doesn't work--nice writing, but she doesn't believe the action. In talking to her--bing!--I had a new idea, one that energized both me and her. I'm about to rewrite that scene tonight.

    Listen to the bad news.

    I only have good news for you, though: your series just keeps on growing in sales. Congratulations! :)

  8. BTW, I love your covers. Perhaps in a future blog you can discuss how you decided/designed/hired someone to do them.

  9. E, man, I *needed* to hear this today. As I embark on my first journey as a published author, I'm totally overwhelmed by fear of disappointing friends, family, myself...just about everyone. Thank you for sharing your perspective and your wisdom. It will be close to my heart as I face this new path.

  10. Thank you for sharing your perspective on bad news. Yes, it hurts to get a bad review or a rejection notice, but like you said it's what you do about that news. I review books for an online website and I've not read a book so far *knock on wood* that I think deserved a 1 rating. The lowest I've ever given is a 3. Sometimes I read the reviews for a book before I buy it, but most times not. Constructive critisism is helpful, but not downright nastiness. There has to be a reason why someone didn't like it. So say so but in a way as to be nice about it. I hate seeing one sentence reviews that say I hated the book, it was awful. To me that's just sour grapes on that person. Anyhoo, I'll stop rambling now.

  11. E says:
    Nikki said: "I was angered today after reading a review with a one star review, just because it contained a semi-romantic scene and swearing."
    I agree, Nikki. There is a difference between bad reviews and bad reviewers. But if the reviewer has a critique try to listen. One reviewer may be saying what thousands are thinking.
    Elisa said: "...bad reviews also makes me count all the reviews surrounding it as a bit more real as opposed to thinking they are all from friends of the author."
    That's a good point, Elisa. I have never solicited reviews from friends, but I'm sure some authors have. I'm glad to know my reviews aren't all good *pained smile*
    The Mac Guru said: "I love your covers. Perhaps in a future blog you can discuss how you decided/designed/hired someone to do them."
    Mac, I did a terrific interview right here with my cover artist Adara Rosalie a few months ago. Here's the link:http://vanlowe.blogspot.com/2011/11/earth-angel-unveiled.html#comment-form
    Chris, you are the best publisher EVER... Annabelle, stay positive... I thank everyone else for your comments. Hearing from you means a lot. Keep the comments coming.

  12. E~as always...words of wisdom. And as someone who has to endure "bad news" more than I would like, I agree 100%. I would just add this: if bad news doesn't pinch just a little, you're probably in denial or a text-book narcissist...each artistic liabilities. As writers, we shouldn't disconnect from our feelings. Emotion is what fuels good writing! It's what makes stories resonate. It's how we touch people we never meet. Emotion is one of our "occupational hazards". That's why it still affects you, as seasoned as you are. That's why your writing is as great as it is. It's filled with heart. Sad. Ecstatic. And everything in between. Well, that's just the way I see it! xoxoSuz

  13. That is a really good outlook to have on life as well as on book publishing. Great post.

  14. So very, very true -- as usual. I also agree with what everyone else has said. Seems like there are a lot of a grounded, wise people around here. The way I see it, you have to be pretty awesome to have such awesome people surrounding you and supporting you. Keep up the great work! :-)

  15. Hi E,
    Your right about the bad news. I had 1 e-sale for last month, which just confirms that nothing comes from nothing. Where's my majic wand to make sales soar!? This was disheartening for me, but on the other hand just the kick-start I needed to put some effort into marketing.
    Cheers, Ursula

  16. This was GREAT, Ehrich. Thanks for sharing. This is why you were a great show runner and an excellent teacher!

  17. I totally agree. I make as much of an effort to positively respond to negative criticism as positive