Inspiration from a negative review

I wrote and published Where Memories Meet with the goals to educate and commiserate. I wanted to give readers who had little to no experience with Alzheimer’s a clear understanding of what was involved, as least to the extend that my family experienced it, and I wanted to reach out to those who were currently, or had been, dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s and let them know they were not alone. I understood.

A few weeks ago I received my first negative critique of Where Memories Meet. (The good reviews I rush to post, the negative ones, not so much.) As a writer it can be demoralizing and utterly discouraging when you receive negative feedback. It took me about a week to lick my wounds and resurface from the cave I had crawled into.

I requested feedback from a Writer’s Digest contest I had entered the book in, and the critique came as an email with the subject line, “You asked for it.” Which I’m sure was their standard response, but which particularly drove the point, and it was a sharp one,  home.

The reader clearly didn’t like the book, and after reading the comments, I suspected he or she hadn’t read very far into it. The critique quoted a particularly benign sentence from page 13 and I seriously question whether the reviewer read any further than that.

The reviewer informed me that when one was writing about life and death matters, it was important to bring the character to life. I agree. In fact that was one of my most important goals and guiding principles as I wrote Where Memories Meet. I aimed to transform my father for the reader. And I took the risk of moving my story line backwards in steps through the seasons to do so, even though some readers found that difficult. I wanted the reader to see that the silent, largely non-responsive human life was a bright, multi-faceted, productive, and devoted father and husband before the disease took him away piece-by-piece. Or maybe I should say, “inch-by-inch.” Had the reviewer finished the book, I believe he or she would have seen that.

He or she also chose to compare my nonfiction memoir and oral narrative to the fictional Still Alice. I read Still Alice. I liked Still Alice. I was not writing Still Alice. I was not writing fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction, and today authors are doing an increasingly better job at making nonfiction compelling reading. I acknowledge that I might have been better at doing this.

What hurt the most was the reviewer’s comment that I told the story “inch-by-inch.” In my cave, licking my wounds, I chewed on that one for a good long while.

When I resurfaced, I responded to the Writer’s Digest contest. I was particularly disappointed because I had always viewed WD as a help and encouragement to writers, in particular to self-published writers. I didn’t find anything about the feedback I received to be helpful—only mean-spirited, discouraging, and demoralizing. I told them the review made me feel like I should apologize for asking the reviewer to read my book. I said that I made a mistake in entering it in the contest, and that was a mistake I would not be making again.

The positive outcome from this painful episode is that the reviewer unwittingly nailed it on the head, gave me a new insight into my family’s experience, and inspired me to write  the post at my author website, Inch by Inch, about helping someone with Alzheimer’s.



11 thoughts on “Inspiration from a negative review”

    1. Well, it was a competition, not exactly a review, but you’re right. It was nastier than it needed to be. They get a lot of people submitting books to the contest, and even though they insisted they had all qualified judges, teachers, editors, etc., I’m sure the experience and qualifications of the judges varied. I ran into that with art contests my sons and daughter entered. Sometimes it all rested on one person’s opinion.

    1. It wasn’t exactly a review, and it wasn’t posted anywhere–just sent to me. I also don’t have any proof that he or she didn’t read the whole book, but I feel pretty sure that was the case. Editors make decisions all the time on the first few pages of manuscripts. We have short attention spans today. It’s the thing that annoys me the most about the current state of affairs of book publishing.

  1. being a reviewer for unpublished and just published books, i hope if i have to give a negative review that it is at least constructive as well. No one ever experiences the same thing in the same way. Having lost my much loved mother-in-law to Alzheimer Disease we now wait for her to pass on that she can be free from her broken mind and body.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your MIL. It’s a long journey of grief, but hopefully you all will eventually be “free from her broken mind and body” and able to move past these last years filled with painful memories to memories of her at a better time. Thanks for sharing your story. Did you click the link and read “Inch by Inch”?

      Do you review books on your blog?

      1. Not yet read Inch by Inch and yes I review books on my blog, but I always give an honest review and only once have I not been able to finish a book, because it was too bad.


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