What to do with bad reviews?

I woke this morning to the oh so cheery news that two of my covers had been fairly well trashed by a website (which shall remain nameless) and some of its participants. This website has to do with book cover art in digital format and is run by the owner of the website who is himself a professional graphic artist.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00073]Just a little information here…with The Swamps of Jersey, I had commented that “my goal with this cover was to represent the feel of the dark, down-trodden town that is an integral character in this murder mystery. The author is quite pleased with the end result.

Here is what the website admin had to say in response. He was actually fairly kind in comparison to some of the other comments.

“JF: That would be great if we designed book covers to please the author. But we don’t. Covers should have one audience only: prospective readers. Keeping that in mind I don’t think you would have ended up with a cover this murky or with such tortured type.”

TOVWThe second cover discussed was for The Other Vietnam War.  Here once again is the comment I received.  This comment really doesn’t bother me, in retrospect I can see things I could have improved upon.

“JF: The photo could definitely be the basis for a great cover for this book, but the design elements here are far too weak.”

Now, to be clear I’m not writing this post to whine about what has been said, I’m writing this simply because these comments made me think.  Writers, actors, artists in general we all get “bad reviews” from time-to-time, so what do we do with them?  I suppose I could have let my pride and ego take a pounding, I did put quite a bit of myself into creating these covers, but what good would that do besides make me miserable?

I could let my very typical red-headed temper get the best of me and tell this guy what I think of his comments too but that would only make me look petty and insecure and that’s just not a good color on me.  The truth is, I realized after thinking about it; I really don’t care what he thinks. No, really…I don’t. I can hear you out there thinking “sure she doesn’t!” It’s true though. I know his opinion is subjective to what he sees and whatever his motives are in writing it and after reading many of his other comments to other graphic artists it seems his motives are to tear other people down.  This is something we often see happening in other places as well, such as book reviews.

These comments simply made me realize we all get bad reviews, or at the very least not great ones. So, what should we do with them if anything?  I try to read these things in an objective light.  This guy doesn’t know me and in truth he is another graphic artist who wants business sent his way.  He did have a few points that I do agree with as well, even if begrudgingly, but we also have a major difference.  Unlike him, I am a graphic artist who creates to not only appeal to the reader but please the author as well, I simply don’t see why I can’t do both and why he wouldn’t want to do both as well.

With “Swamps” he assumed that because of my comment about the author being pleased with the cover that I hadn’t also put myself in the shoes of potential readers. He couldn’t have been more wrong on that point. I do this each and every time I create a cover.  I honestly envision what a book cover will look like sitting next to other books in a display or on a bookshelf for sale. I also keep in mind the other covers I may have created for a specific author.  Is this book part of a series that I need to keep a similar feel to for branding?  Am I creating something that looks too much like another one of this authors books and won’t stand out on it’s own for signings?

I also design from the perspective of a reader.  I can’t speak for anyone else but when I read a book, I often go back and look at the cover.  I happen to think it’s a fun thing if as I read I start seeing elements in the cover that tie into the story within, but that’s me…that’s my own little touch.  This other graphic artist obviously has a more detached way of working. Perhaps that works for him, but I don’t work that way.

You know, as I’ve mentioned I really don’t mind if someone just completely destroys one of my covers with their critique of it.  Naturally I would prefer to get wonderful critiques but you know what? The only opinions that really matter to me are the ones I almost never hear about; the unspoken ones of the readers who pick up that book because the cover looks interesting, or they tell the author “cool cover!” at a signing and buy it.  Nothing is a higher compliment to me and I almost never hear those because they rarely make it back to me but when they do, I’m on cloud nine!

So, as I asked in the title of this article what am I going to do with this bad review? What am I going to take from this guys comments? Truthfully? Absolutely nothing. I am not going to let it affect me.  His opinion doesn’t keep me from being proud of my work or standing by what I’ve produced and if you are a writer, artist, or performer you shouldn’t let them affect you either.

Artists of any medium are going to get reviews ranging from raves to total destruction, it’s simply the nature of the beast that we work with when we let our creations loose upon the world.  A writer can write a wonderful story and get great reviews, then suddenly get one or even several that are “meh” or really bad.  Does that destroy the wonderful work the writer created?  Of course not. The odds increase that a bad review will happen with the number of people who read the story…it will happen.  An actor can win an Oscar with one wonderful performance but the next movie ends up a flop because their best performances are left on the cutting-room floor.  An artist like myself can put their heart into a painting, drawing, or…book cover, and there will be those who love it and those who hate it.

Reviews and critiques are always going to be subjective….but they don’t define me and they don’t need to define you either.  I will continue to create the way I always have; I will continue to strive to please authors with the covers I create because that’s the only way for me to remain true to the way I create. As long as the author and I are proud of what I produce that’s really the only measure of my success I require.

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About Anita Dugan-Moore

This blog gives me the opportunity to talk about the book covers I create for some wonderful authors and share my thoughts on movies and books that I love. Who knows...I may even share some of my own writing on here...or whatever else happens to pop into my mind.
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