How to Thicken Your Skin

thick skinApparently, my skin is not nearly thick enough.

In my world, skin shouldn’t have to be thick. I slather it with lotions to make it soft, sunburn-free, and smooth. I’ve never encountered a lotion claiming to:

   “THICKEN YOUR SKIN! Lavender or Rose Scent. Never again let a mean word seep in.”

No, I rub lavender body lotion day and night to keep skin from drying out in the NE weather.

Apparently, that lotion has also thinned my skin.Thymes, lavender body lotion

At least, that’s my first guess when I go on the Amazon page for my book The Right Wrong Man and read – gasp – a bad review.

My stomach turns into a turnip, my eyes moisten, and my soul shrivels into a sniveling snail.

How could this reader be so…so… mean?

Never mind that many others have written appreciative accolades on that Amazon page:

“Pamela S. Wight is an extraordinary story weaver.”

“Ms. Wight’s descriptive abilities are superb! You could feel the thick air and the tension of the tornado as it hit the boat.”

“This is a real page-turner, full of heart-racing excitement. I literally could not put the book down.”

All well and good. As a writer, I admit, words of praise after the blood, sweat and tears of flushing out those characters, the plot, the ending, feel really really great.

But then, suddenly a BAD review popped up:

“The book was predictable, boring and very poorly written.”

The Right Wrong Man, Amazon, Amazon bookWait a minute. W H A T?

And just like that, my day was ruined.

Well, to be honest, several of my days were ruined.

If this reviewer hated the book so much, why did she read it? And an even stronger question is, why did she take the time to desiccate/denounce/deride it on my book page?

Who writes negative reviews like that?

If I read a book that bores me, I give it to page 45. If I’m still bored, I put it down and pick up a better one.

If I read a book that energizes, moves, entertains and/or educates me, I write a review on the book’s Amazon page.

As I tell my creative writing students, reading (and writing) is subjective. What I may like, another reader might abhor. [Currently, my go-to book is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. But a week ago I was loving The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. Two extremely different genres.]

But back to me.

And my (not) thick skin. thick skin, criticism

After three days of moping, I met my daughter for our 6 a.m. tea before the start of the work day. She took one look at me and said with some alarm, “what’s wrong?”

“I got a bad review on my Amazon page,” I confessed.

She burst out with a laugh, then contained it enough to say. “Mom! That’s good news!”

I peered at her with a bit of malice. “Why?”

“Everyone’s not going to like your book. But you’re out there! Lots of different people are reading your work. That’s positive.”

Noticing my unconvinced expression, she continued. “You shouldn’t read your reviews. We all know to not read reviews – any one can say anything they want out there.”

“Who’s we all?” I ask. My daughter is a teacher. I didn’t know that students now write reviews of their teachers on different ‘review’ sites.

She explained: “On one of my ‘bad’ reviews, a kid wrote, ‘Ms. C. is a horrible teacher. She has favorites.’ ” My daughter winked and added, “Clearly, this student is not one of my favorites.”

Wow. My daughter must use different body lotion than I do. She has thick skin.

Next time we meet for tea, I’ll ask her for the lotion’s brand name, and the scent.

thick skin, sensitive, criticism

107 thoughts on “How to Thicken Your Skin

  1. Haha! Indeed Pam, the merest questioning that one’s creation is not awesome is like a dagger to the soul 🙂 But look at the most lauded novels, the real blockbusters. They always have their share of one and two * reviews. Best just to take all – good and bad – with a pinch of salt.

    • Thanks. We can write reviews, bad or good, without being rude, right? But I’ve been checking out the reviews of books I like, and boy, some readers are so rude. Well, you and I certainly know our manners! xo

  2. Daughters can be so good for us. I have always gone with my dad´s philosophy, “If you can´t say anything nice, don´t say anything at all” when it comes to writing book reviews. Not sure how to grow thick skin but we need to remind ourselves of the good reviews and that not everyone will like our work. (Easier said than done, I know) Keep smiling!!

    • I grew up with that saying also, and I live by it. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But many people feel that the sting of insult is necessary in the business of living. I disagree.
      But on that note, I’ve pulled the stinger out, and I’m smiling at the support we writers/bloggers give each other. xo

  3. Who knows what people’s motivation is? I’m sure it’s a power trip for some people to write bad reviews like that. As we know, even the most revered of best sellers gets bad reviews, but that doesn’t stop it hurting if it happens to you. When you’re “out there” in any form, you’re vulnerable to people’s viscous tongues.

    • And yet, look how brave we bloggers are, putting ourselves ‘out there’ every week, revealing our strengths and our weaknesses, our joys and our pains. We are the authors of our lives, in our blogs as well as our books, and we arm ourselves against the slings and slights of the negative tongues by finding amazing friendship and support through each other. THANKS.

  4. I am like you with books – I start to read, if I don’t like it, I put it down and start something else. And bad books, I don’t say a word or post anything on my FB. I just move on. And no, not all books are my style, but they may be someone else’s. If you have ten good reviews and one bad one, I’d say you are way ahead of the game! And yes, you have something out there which is a lot more than many of the rest of us have accomplished.

    • As always, Karen, you back me up and keep me up. And yes, we all like so many different genres, from horror (no, thanks, I can’t) to romance (I have friends who detest it) to suspense and historical fiction and dozens more. We can choose to not read a genre we don’t appreciate, without calling a book in that genre ‘bad.’

  5. You raise some excellent points. I’ve been reviewing books on Amazon for about 5 years and I’ve seen the way readers trash books they don’t like. Like all public review sites, people take any opportunity to blast something they have issues with: books, movies, restaurants, doctors, teachers and some of their remarks are shameful. I have definitely gotten better at writing reviews of books I didn’t care for and have actually taken down some of the ones I wrote early on because now I try to be more sensitive to the writers’ point of view and also of my own perspective. I have my favorite genres, just like every other reader out there. As you said, if you don’t like a book, move on! Or if you just can’t put something down without finishing it, look for something positive to say along the way.

    • Thanks for the fabulous comments about book reviewing. What you said is one of the reasons I like your blog Book Club Mom so much – the reviews are fair and actually encourage me to read books that I wouldn’t know of otherwise. Your latest review of The Munich Girl is a perfect example…

  6. Hi Pam, nice to meet you. Just remember you can’t please everyone all the time and who cares anyway. So long as you please yourself. Focus on the positives and the good reviews. You’ll have thick skin in no time!

  7. I Laugh at those bad reviews and then double check to be sure there’s no truth in those hurtful ( Helpful? ) words. I got a review once that said, “You need to take writing lessons!” And since I talk back to reviewers, I said, “But I am, I am!”
    On good reviews ( mostly what I get ) I clap my hands and say, “Thank you, Thank you!”
    Your reviewer was just having a bad day. Smile and have pity. 🙂

    • I certainly do like your attitude. Thanks for the smile. Can’t believe someone said to you, ‘take writing lessons.’ I just find that rude. Reviews that are helpful (for instance, if a reader says, ‘I’m confused in chapter 2 – which character did what?’ or something like that – that’s helpful, constructive criticism. But that’s also why we authors use editors and critique groups before we publish our books.
      To our writing, our thick skins, and growing…. xo

  8. Perhaps we all have thick skin in some areas and thin skin in others. When it’s oh-so-very-important to us it tends to be thinner! I notice my daughter can be just like yours in some ways…other ways she’s more vulnerable. It can hurt so much when someone says something mean like this. On the other hand every single one of those “negative reviews” in life has the potential to teach us how to let go, soften and allow it all to exist. But, darn it, those “potentials” can make the heart and tears quiver.

    • You have just shown me how I can use this bad review as a teachable moment, Kathy. Of COURSE you have! I expect nothing less.
      Yes, this past week has taught me how to soften and to understand my thin skin a bit more, and to lovingly add lotion that soothes it, but doesn’t thicken. Because, heck, being sensitive is a good trait, right? 🙂

  9. Reason #413 why I’ll never write a world famous best seller. My skin is too thin.

    Your daughter is very wise, however there are those of us who NEED the positive re-enforcement.. Staying away from the review sites would be a challenge for me.
    But she’s right … there are just some who need to spread their brand of negativity all over everything and everyone.

  10. Even Harper Lee received nasty comments about To Kill a Mockingbird. A definite pox on them! Every comment should be taken as a learning op, though. The thought and detail that goes into writing a suspense novel is difficult for most people to grasp. It obviously held this person’s attention long enough to finish the book. So yay for you, Pam!

  11. When my book is finally published, now late this year, i’ve been told don’t read reviews. I haven’t had nasty blog comments, maybe WordPress spams them all out. Still have The Right Wrong Man on my list—I admire your organization in finding so much reading time as you write.

    • Best of luck as you work on your book, Paula. I admire your tenacity on concentrating on your writing and not getting sidelined by reading. (I am finding I get ‘sidelined’ often!) I think both of us realize that helpful criticism is okay, but nasty, unproductive reviews? Nah, they’re just…nasty.

  12. Someone once told me that when it comes to reviews you should throw out the ten worst and the ten best. The remainder is what’s usually real. Besides I think the people that are unhappy with something are those you hear about. Those that like or enjoy something are less likely to take the time to write a review. Your daughter’s right, people are reading…be happy..:)

    • I agree, George, at least in my head. My heart is the thing that twists too easily. But that’s the ‘sensitivity’ part of my body, and I’m not sure I’ll ever change that. ❤

  13. Rub an ointment on that Amazon sting and move on. Who knows why people take the time to put in bad reviews? Maybe it was just a bad day. Think of it this way, maybe the reviewer was simply reacting with vindictiveness against a person in her own life that she conflated with a character in your book. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    And these Amazon reviewers can amaze.

    Try this 2-star review for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Parts of the book were discussing political views nothing to do with Anna. It appeared their were many main characters not only Anna.”

    Consider this 1-star Amazon review for Orwell’s 1984: “But even after just ten pages, the only thought going through my mind was “When will this guy shut up and tell the story???” The plot comes in a distant second to the narrator’s monotone, seemingly unending monologue.”

    • Reading your comment, I ran the gamut from gratefulness to laughter to anger (at ignorant reviewers, like those who critiqued Anna Karenina and 1984) to relief and a wry smile. Thanks, Bruce, for putting everything in perspective. Your ointment worked! 🙂

  14. Oh dear. It does sting, doesn’t it? I’ve got some that really hurt my feelings, they are so mean. I read the reviews on all my books and now the bad ones simply get a frown and I move on. Thickening skin 🙂

  15. I feel your pain, Pam. As an English major on a writing track, I gloried in the praise of my profs. One, in particular, was always effusive and often read my short stories to the class. Then he suddenly became ill and the DEAN took over his classes. First story in, I received a “C.” The horror! I marched into his office for an explanation and he said it was just bad. Could I leave it at that? Nooooooo. With tears close to dripping, I told him that Professor Jones loved my work, blah, blah, blah. He interrupted me to say, “I’m not Jones and, frankly, you’re lucky I gave you a ‘C.’ I only did that based on your previous grades. I thought it was ‘D’ work at best.” I slunk out of his office, humbled and bent, but not broken (though I could hear cracking).
    FYI, I loved the book!

    • First, that professor should be shot! (Metaphorically, of course..) The arrogance of others has given writers such huge destructive writing blocks. I hope he got his comeuppance at some point, big time.
      Secondly, thank you for your last line. That made up for the nasty reviewer, ten times over. 🙂

  16. As difficult as bad reviews are to get, they give our work credibility. Even Pulitzer Prize winning books get 1- and 2-star reviews–hundreds, if not thousands, of them. A book with only 4- and 5-star reviews might be suspect. Knowing this takes the sting off a bit, but it still doesn’t feel great to find. Luckily, the longer we’re at this, the more fleeting our hurt is.

    • I honor your words on reviews. Your books are exceptional and push past edges in some ways. I imagine you get loads of great reviews, but also you can get readers who don’t understand the magnitude of what you show (not tell) in your writing. And I hope I learn, like you, to let it go, the more I publish. Interesting about Goodreads. I don’t find harsh negative reviews helpful as a writer or as a reader.

  17. I’ve also had my fair share of bad reviews, Pam. Not everyone is going to like your writing (I don’t think there has ever been one book written that everybody ‘loves’). Writer’s really do need thick skin because we put our heart and soul out there to be judged by people we don’t know who say things for reasons known only to themselves. Keep going my dear and continue to do what you love to do – writing xxxx

    • Your words are wise, Dianne. I like the way some of my blog followers have read my books despite the fact that (at their admittance), they don’t like romantic suspense. They still review on the merits of the plot/character development, etc.
      I find that if I go beyond my comfort level and read a genre I don’t think I like, I still learn reams. That’s how a reviewer should approach a book – by its own merit, not by the genre it’s in. Anyway, I’m rambling. Most authors, as you say, put our heart and soul into our books. No matter how much we thicken our skin, it’s hard to ignore the nasty. But we won’t let it stop us, for sure. xo

  18. Pam, how I wish I had a daughter like yours. ( How I wish I had a daughter, full stop!).
    Yes, thick skins probably help but then you would lose your lovely empathetic self so maybe just don’t read the reviews and just be ‘you.’ xxx

  19. There are two types of bad reviews Pamela. Those that are constructive in their criticism and say enough about why they personally didn’t like the book that you know they read it.
    The second ones are trolls who just write nasty reviews because they can. They like to bring everyone down and take great pleasure in inflicting hurt. They probably haven’t read more than the back cover either.
    I have grown a thicker skin than the days I got my first bad review from what I think was a troll. I didn’t ignore as I should have done but fought back with what I thought was reasoned argument but which probably sounded just petulant.
    Remember all the nice reviews and move on if you can. People may read your book just to see if it’s as bad as this reviewer said, and they’ll enjoy it.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • As always, your words are sensible and sensitive. I had heard of the trolls – hard to understand why they’re out there, and hard not to feel sorry for these hardened souls. Glad to know that you can ignore these trolls as you trollop along in your blogging and novel publishing. I only see happy contented comments on your blog page, for sure. You are well-loved across the continents.
      And yes, I suppose my post might lead to some curious readers. May they be curiously and happily surprised at the book’s adventure. 🙂
      xoxothinskinnedbuthappytobesohugxoxoxox

  20. We can learn so much from our children. There’s wisdom in her words, and in the quote at the conclusion of your post. Focus on the positives and realise that not everyone will love everything you do; that some do is very special, magic in fact.

  21. Sorry about the bad review, Pam, but I think your daughter is quite right. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about..” Brendan Behan, an Irish writer got it right when he said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” 😀

    • LOVE the two quotes you include in your comment here. Ahh, Oscar Wilde. Talk about someone who got bad reviews, and kept on going despite them in his wise humorous commentary on life. Not sure his skin was even thick, but he kept on going nonetheless. And thanks much for sharing Behan’s quote. Humor gives us light in the sometimes too-dark night. xo

  22. Pamela, I liked the quote and also your daughter’s philosophies of teaching and book reviews. I take many things too personally but I am still working on this! 😉
    Hope you have a lovely, delectable Easter with family! ~**~

    • Wow! Thanks for commenting here as you travel in Germany and share your adventures via FB (and I hope your blog Wanderlust when you return). Always love reading about your culinary adventures too. Here’s to sense and sensitivity.

  23. It’s easy for your daughter to have thick skin; she didn’t write your book!

    Hey, people like to grump and gripe and groan. This is why the internet was invented, I think.

    Once upon a time I found a pretty nasty review of my book on a blog. The blogger admitted that she hadn’t read the book, but she didn’t have to read it; she knew the book was lousy because she didn’t like the cover. The illustration of Sarah Hale holding up a pie demonstrated that the book supported the subjugation of women.

    I had no idea pumpkin pie could be so symbolic.

  24. Oh jeez, some people have nothing better to do but put others down. I agree with your daughter, just lather on that lotion and watch as everything just slides off! 🙂

  25. Your daughter is wise. I think bad reviews can help us though, as long as we keep them in perspective, and that they’re written with the genuine intention of pointing out the flaws/weaknesses/trouble spots in a book. We grow more from those kinds of reviews than the 5-star This-book-is-perfect review.

    However, a person writing a bad review just to be mean is not worth paying attention to at all and we need to just ignore ’em.

  26. Awwww. Pammy! I’m so sorry! 😦 People can be so mean. I would never give a book a mean review! If I don’t like a book and someone specifically asks me about it, I will give them the truth. IN PERSON! Sometimes, it is just not a genre I enjoy or it makes me sad…etc.
    I have read some bad books (NOT yours btw 😉 ) but if they are really bad, I just put them down and start something else. I am an avid listener from Audible.com. I am addicted to some degree. I think I average about 100 books a year. So I don’t always make good choices. But fortunately, on Audible.com, if you don’t like a book, they allow you to return it…even if you have listened to the whole thing. I will return at least 1 book a quarter. But I would never go online and annihilate a book! I may not give it 5 stars, but I can’t imagine why people have to be mean! :-/
    I have somewhat of a thick skin, but words like that would hurt most people. They are attacking your creativity which is a vulnerable part we put out there. I have to admit that I am terrified to put some of my writing on my blog because I am afraid someone will say something negative about it. Although most of the people who follow me are pretty awesome and say sweet and wonderful things! 😉 I still feel vulnerable…
    You Rock my dear!!! ~

    • So many good points here, Courtney. Yes, we make ourselves so vulnerable in our writing – whether in our blogs or our published stories. But it’s a risk we have to take for our passion and our belief in our creativity. If we didn’t believe in ourselves and our writing, well, then, we shouldn’t take the risk of taunting and mean remarks. In my mind, each of us have so many different tastes, whether in literature or music or even the foods we like to eat. That’s why we’re so lucky to have choices! And that’s why I’d never criticize another’s choice, just because it’s different from mine.
      On to another subject. I really need to put my books on Audible! That’s one of my tasks for this year – spreading the possibility of more risk, but hey, thin skin or not, I LOVE spreading my writing words out there. 🙂 xo

      • OOO! I would love to “listen” to your books! That would be awesome! Get a good narrator…the right one can really bring a book to life. The wrong one can annihilate the story. I have stopped listening to books because the narrator is so bad.
        We see eye to eye on giving a bad review. You can be constructive when giving feedback. There really is never a reason to attack. I have heard/seen some nasty ones and I do not understand.. 😦
        Keep up the great work! I love to read your stories!! 😀

          • Well… since you asked! I think you would need a sexy male voice to do your books! There are 3 with incredible voices I could listen to all day. #1 Holter Graham.. OMG! He is awesome! #2 Fred Berman… love him! #3 Phil Gigante. All three have done sci-fi Fantasy and done them very well! (in my opinion) AND Holter and Fred are real easy on the eyes. *snicker* voice fits the face. Phil is handsome in a different way… but OMG! Did I mention? OMG!

  27. Could be the soap you used when your daughter was little… she left home already thick-skinned! 😉
    Mind you… I have very thin skin as well… my problem, I’m a man and don’t do all that greasy mucky stuff… yuck!!! o_O

  28. You will have to take a leaf out of your daughter’s book, Pam. That first negative review seems to turn the book you spent so much time working on into a pile of rubbish – and you doubt yourself and whether you should ever publish another one. I know what it feels like. I have one reviewer who said I write like a ten year old (actually, come to think of it I might have another said something similar). I should have taken that as a compliment – my ten year old granddaughter wrote some amazing stories. Instead I tried to change my style and add in lots of very long words and be really, really descriptive, only to scrap the whole chapter on reading it back. It just wasn’t me. On a more positive note, I have lots of very good reviews that far outweigh any negative ones, so I keep that in mind and very rarely read any reviews now. If I do sneak a peek, I only look at 3 stars and up, purely for self preservation and to keep my skin from getting too thick. 😉

    • Thanks for the tip, Jean. Yes, hateful reviews like the ’10-year-old’ one you received are just nasty – not meant to be helpful. These poor people may just be green with envy because they can’t write. AND because they don’t have brilliant granddaughters like you and I have! (Mine is 7 and already writing some fabulous prose.) 🙂

  29. Haha, yay for bad reviews then! I had my first one star book review a year or so ago, but there was no scathing comment. So, someone hated it and basically had nothing to say.

    I was upset for a while. Eventually I got over it, because I’m sure the person who said that has never written a book in their life and put themselves out there. It’s easy for some to tear others down, and like you, I’m working on that thick skin thing. I’m into coconut oil. 😉

    • Hmmm, coconut oil. I’ll have to try that! I visited a friend I haven’t seen in years this weekend, and she uses coconut oil instead of olive oil when she sautés. If nothing else, I’ll smell good, and, you know what? it will help me ignore the negativity and just go for the positive. xo

  30. “The [reviewer’s comment] was predictable, boring and very poorly written.”

    There!

    Now we don’t have to put our happiness in that reviewer’s pocket because her opinion isn’t worth the cyber space it’s printed on.

    And we can go back to enjoying life here and now.

  31. I empathize with you, Pam. We do need a thick skin but it’s difficult because our writing is so much connected to who we are. I received an e-mail from a writer friend who said that she wasn’t going to read my book because she doesn’t like chick-lit. I was hurt, insulted and upset for days and weeks.

    I kept thinking of different scenes in my book and couldn’t she find just one good thing to say about the book. That would have made all the difference.
    I still haven’t responded to her (it’s been over a month). I just don’t know what to say without either being hurt or pretending that I don’t care.

    Words matter so we need to be careful how we use them. The silver lining in all this is that reading your post has made me want to read your book! ❤

    • I have several really close friends who have not read my books. One of them is a huge reader; I figure she’s afraid she won’t like it? (And the funny thing is, I know she would…) Every other month or so she says, “What kind of friend am I? I haven’t read your book yet.” I want to answer – ‘yeah, what kind of friend?’ but I don’t. On the other hand, so many of my high school and college friends immediately bought my book and loved it and support me and my writing to the 9th degree. So, who can figure it out? I think in that way, it’s good to thicken our skin. But we’re writers – we need to feel everything to write it well. 🙂

  32. Pingback: Snooty Snotty Sneering Snobs! | Spirit Lights The Way

  33. Congratulations, Pam. You have entered into the inner sanctum of “real writers” when you get that coveted 1 Star review. I just got mine a few months ago and I, really, laughed out loud; it was so outrageous. One of my reviewers/readers was outraged and initiated a protest on Amazon, which also made me smile. I had to remind her that these things REALLY say more about the reviewer than it ever does about you. Your daughter sounds very wise. Congratulations on that, too.

    • Thank you, Janet. I wish you had been whispering to me over my shoulder when I first saw that shockingly dismissive and dingy review. I could have used a laugh! Thanks for your wise remarks now. Coupled with my daughters (and the comments on this post), I’m almost feeling downright grateful for the snarky review. 🙂

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