The worst book review I’ve ever written was for a zombie YA novel called Deadlands by Lily Herne.
I was really, really nasty. I ripped into the book as if Herne – a mother and daughter writing team – had set themselves up as the next Booker Prize Winner, instead of authoring a nice, inoffensive book about zombies. All I really cared about was getting a cheap laugh at their expense and it was only when one of them commented – very nicely! – on my review that I realised what a dick I’d been and with that came the crushing regret.
It may be after a couple of years or only a couple of days later but you’re bound to have a project you regret setting free in the wide world. Here are my tips for handling it.
Get some distance
It is the worst feeling to look back on a project with regret but first ask yourself, is it really that bad? A lot of creative people struggle with perfectionism and most of us are never happy with what we’ve done. If it is just a good ol’ fashioned case of perfectionism or imposter syndrome, cut your losses and more on but if it’s a case of gut-churning misery every time you think of a project then...
Work out what went wrong
Are you responsible for what went wrong or is someone else at fault? Sadly there are more than enough horror stories of editors rewriting freelancers work, actors finding out a short film they worked on was later used in a corporate promo, agents encouraging artists to relinquish copyright on their work and photographers finding that their images have been reused by people they don’t want to be associated with. Once you know what’s gone wrong, you can work out how to fix it.
Communicate with all the major stakeholders
If you’re not happy with a piece of work, get in touch with the people involved. If you’re uneasy about the quality of a finished project there may be an option to resubmit it at a later date or maybe you can ask to have your name taken off it. Remember: it can be very damaging for your reputation if other industry professionals see you voicing unhappiness about a project while your client or collaborators are happily promoting it.
If possible, ask to have it taken down
Yes, if someone has already paid you for what they believe is a finished project they might be reluctant to take it down. But if you have a good relationship with them it’s still worth stating what your concerns are and offering to create a replacement if appropriate. My – very nicely! – review is, thankfully, no longer available online.
Harness the power of social media
Whether you want to distance yourself from a piece of work or explain what’s gone wrong with it, social media is your friend. By making a public statement about the project – after checking with all the stakeholders, see above – you open up a door for discussion and collaboration.
When I tweeted about how mean-spirited my review was, other writers started tweeting back offering advice and tips for writing balanced criticism. It didn’t make me feel better about the review but at least I’d made it clear that being a bitch wasn’t my preferred style and I had the chance to...
Focus on creating new, better work
The main benefit to focusing on new work is that it acts as a reminder that you are not defined by your last project. It also means you can address the things you got wrong last time. After that Deadlands review, I spent a lot more time writing features for the same website and eventually became their features editor. What started as an attempt to distance myself from catty reviewing became a new career opportunity.
Give yourself a break
Everyone has a couple – or a couple of hundred – projects that they look back at and wince, especially early in our careers when every project and commission can feel like the last and the thought of saying “No” is terrifying. So don’t be too hard on yourself!
Do you now regret a piece of creative work you made? Share your experiences in a comment!
Image by slgckcg, on a Creative Commons license