Monday, April 4, 2011

why I don't (like to) read my reviews

To date, my three books have collected over 200 reviews combined, and that's just on I haven't checked GoodReads lately, or the many independent blogs who have been kind enough to post reviews. I'm appreciative of all those who read my books and take the time to write a review, be it positive or negative, but I've stopped reading them for the most part. Occasionally, one will catch my eye and I'll look at it, or I'll be alerted to a review on a blog and, if it's favorable, I'll post it on Twitter or the Faking It Fans page. But, more often than not, I find myself feeling worse, not better, after reading reviews. Even the good ones. And it is for that reason, among others, that I discourage myself for reading reviews. Let me try to explain.

Reviews are for readers, not authors. When a reader posts a book review, s/he is telling other potential readers of that book whether or not the investment--be it in time or energy or money--is worthwhile. As an author, I've already written my book. And read it. In fact, I wrote it because it was the very kind of book I wanted to read. I'm already sold that it was worth my time and energy (and even money).

Reviews develop a false sense of security (or insecurity). As a writer, I'm somewhere on the continuum of not as good as some (ok, many), and better than others. Most writers are. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased that my books have gotten so many favorable reviews -- heck, what author wouldn't be happy about that? -- but reading them is a different story. If I were to read nothing but the favorable reviews, I'd start to think I was infallible, and that would affect my writing (not to mention turn me into somewhat of a jerk). On the other hand, if I read nothing but the bad reviews, I'd start to question my talent and worthiness to write at all. That, too, would affect my writing.

Of course I know that I can't and won't please everyone. I don't even try. Of course I want as many people as possible to like what I write. That's only natural. But above all, the first person I need and want to please is me. If I don't like what I write, I can't ask anyone else to. "To thine own self be true."

Negative reviews hurt. There's no way of getting around it. I tell myself it's just a bruised ego, I tell myself it's one person's opinion, I may even criticize the review. Regardless, I walk away from a negative review feeling like total crap. Why put myself through that willingly?

Some say the greater act of ego is to not read any negative review for the sake of sparing myself. Perhaps. But that's why I decided to refrain from reading all reviews.

Some authors read their reviews, especially negative ones, in order to learn what they can do better. This can be a helpful tool, I suppose, and I've read some reviews with criticisms that I did indeed take to heart. But I'd rather receive constructive criticism from those beta readers and others I entrust with my manuscript. As I stated earlier, reviews are for readers. Beta reasders and critique groups are for writers. This is not to put down reviewers, or to dismiss them.

Thing is, when it comes to reader reviews, that pesky ego gets in the way and I find it wanting to defend my characters and my work. Not good. I've seen authors self-destruct on blogs that posted a negative review, or ranted on Twitter about a bad review, trashing the reviewer as well as the review. So not good. In my early days as an indie author, I responded to an Amazon review in which I told the reviewer that she misinterpreted the ending of Ordinary World. At the time, my intention was to politely offer my insights and explanation as the writer -- I didn't mean to be accusatory or even bitter about the fact that she didn't like the ending. I've considered deleting that comment time and again, afraid I'd be lumped in with those aforementioned self-destructive authors. And while it hasn't seemed to hurt my reputation (phew!), it taught me a crucial lesson: Don't respond to any reviews other than to say thank you. And even that much is offered only if a reviewer has directly informed me of his/her review.

Let me re-state that I appreciate all readers who take the time to read my books and post a review. Like books, emails, lab reports, political speeches, business proposals, etc., writing an effective review of any kind takes skill and practice. The average reader doesn't make a living from writing reviews, and that's ok. My intention is not to discourage anyone from writing a review. I only want to keep my head where I think it belongs: writing the best stories I can, so I can get more of those favorable things that I won't read. I'll leave that up to you.


Fenny said...

If you're worried that you're not right in what you've just said, think and the reasons it got written in the first place!

I think you're pretty much spot on. Most actors don't read reviews and a lot don't even watch the films/shows they are in.

Elisa said...

((breathes sigh of relief))
Thanks, Fenny. I can always count on you. :)

Anonymous said...

I do like Fen's analogy. I take something both you and Mr S have said to heart. I have been collaborating on some new music. She has some poetry that she has written over the last several years and wanted to put it to music. Plus she has written some new work with the intention of writing lyrics. She keeps asking me "How do you think people will like this?" I finally told her that the only people we should concern ourselves with is us. If we like what we created, then hopefully others who like the same kind of music we like, may like it too.

Suze said...

I like the parenthetical 'like to' in the title. Clever.

I also love the title of your blog.

Genesis said...

I fully agree that reviews are for readers, not writers. I know I won't be able to resist reading a few when my book comes out, but I do intend to keep it to a minimum because I doubt I'll handle the negative criticism that well!