Reviews: Read ‘Em & Weep (Or Laugh)

nostarsforyouNot long after TINY PRETTY THINGS went into copyedits, Dhonielle and I chatted about reviews. We know the drill: Do not engage. And that was the plan from the start. But in our heads, we couldn’t help but compose our own worst review. It would say things like: “These girls are unlikable.” “This book is too long.” Or maybe: “I figured out who did it.” Whatever.

Then we got by (relatively) unscathed by the trades. Thank god. Of course there was some GoodReads criticism — both positive and negative. And the negative was as we expected. “Too much backstabbing.” “Where’s the lovely, effervescent female friendship?” And maybe a mention of “insta-love” (pretty inevitable if you’re writing YA).

Last month, as TINY PRETTY THINGS finally hit shelves nationwide (and looked so lovely doing so!), the first reviews on Amazon began coming through. Initially, it was nothing too exciting. I mean, I’d been pseudo-stalking GoodReads for months (wait, did I just say that?), so I thought we’d see more of the same. And that’s what we got. Mostly.

Then it happened. It was a two-star. And it CRACKED. ME. UP. So much so that I had to call Dhonielle that second so that we could have a good guffaw about it.

Now, I get it. Some people are really going to connect with your work — and be kind enough to say so on the record. And some people are really not going to get it or be interested or they’ll actively hate it — and be annoyed enough to also make note of that. Like Karma said: it’s pretty cool that they’re that invested in your work that they feel the need to comment, either way. And in the end, it sort of balances out. More or less.

But this LOL-worthy review was classic. Because while we’d expected the unlikable characters, etc., this was something unexpected. This was backlash. And it was so off-the-mark, it was funny. Essentially, the reviewer claimed we, as authors, were racist against white people because our white protagonist was “vicious” and named “Bette.” Also, we spent way too much time in the novel dwelling on how race affected the other two girls, essentially guilt-tripping white readers.

Believe it or not, I managed to not engage (although I so wanted to, after laughing until my stomach hurt). Luckily, I didn’t have to. Two other reviewers commented on the review, trying to explain to the initial poster what our intent had been in actively diversifying and racializing all of our characters. And why, perhaps, diversity in books might be perceived as a positive. I’ve kind of avoided going back to check on it since then.

Honestly, it was a learning moment for me. Essentially, what it boils down to is this: no matter what you do or say or don’t do or don’t say, haters gonna hate. But you can’t let them affect your flow.

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An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

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