Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Reviews: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

An inevitable part of writing a book is getting reviews. And part of being a writer is learning how to not to take them personally. Sure, the reviews that compare you to your favorite author or director are wonderful, or the people who say this book changed their life and gave them all the feelings make you feel empowered as you sit down to write the next one, but inevitably there will be bad reviews too.

The reality is: everybody is not going to like your book.

It's important to keep perspective that reviews are merely opinions, and everyone is entitled to one. No two people are going to interpret your work in exactly the same way. Some may embrace the story as just what they needed at the right time while others may dismiss it because they didn't connect to the story at all. Some may wish they were best friends with your main character and wish they knew him in high school, while others may perceive him as exactly the kind of person they would have hated in high school. Because that's high school. And reviews are a lot like being back in high school again.

You put yourself out there, vulnerable and naked, and people judge it. But loudly, and on the Internet, which is forever. Everyone can see and hear their thoughts about your work, and it may influence some readers to discover the book and read it and others to reject it without ever opening the pages and finding out for themselves what is inside.

Despite that the good reviews may far outweigh the bad, it's hard not to focus on the negatives like a big fat red zit. Because let's face it, negative words hurt. You can't stop someone from posting them, but you can only hope, just as in life, that they consider the purpose of their words and if they are truly helpful. If a book is not your cup of tea, it is perfectly acceptable to say why it did not work for you, but it's the way you put it out into the world that counts.

Remember that a book is someone's creative work, and they have spent years pouring their heart and soul into it. Be kind. I personally opt for being of the school of if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, and I will simply not leave a review for the book. If people want to know my opinion because it is of value to them, I am happy to share it privately. But to take to the Internet and be openly negative for the sake of simply being a hater or tearing something down does not seem to hold real use to me, and I would hope that potential readers can see that as well.

One of the things I love about my editor, Annette Pollert-Morgan, is that when we were doing line edits, she would sprinkle little love notes about places where things were totally working for her and lines that she adored. It made all the difference when faced with a manuscript filled with things that needed to be changed or enhanced or weren't working in their current state. I find the negative reviews that are the most helpful are the ones that also call out what the writer did well, and explained WHY something didn't work for them. It's empty to just say I hated this character or the plot was unrealistic. WHAT made you dislike the character? WHY was the plot not realistic to you? And equally frustrating is when someone says something is missing from the book that is, in fact, right there. But you can't engage. If you're smart, you won't anyway, because this is simply the nature of the beast.

And the best thing you can do? STOP READING REVIEWS. Especially while you are trying to write the next book. If you want to have a sense of what people are saying, find a trusted friend or family member and have them filter them for you and share with you the positive ones.

Instead, turn your focus to the next book and let your writing mojo be buoyed by the positive reviews, the people that are anxiously awaiting reading the next thing you write. THIS is who you write for.

Happy writing!

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