Marion, Don’t Look at it: Authors and Reviews

Now that ARCs of my debut novel, Machinations, are available for request on NetGalley, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to deal with reviews. From what I’ve observed, there are three camps among authors:

  1. Those who read their own reviews, the good and bad;
  2. Those who don’t read any reviews, period; and
  3. Those who have someone they trust sort through reviews and share only the positive ones (or ones that offer useful constructive criticism).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I come from fandom, where I used to write a lot of fanfiction. The benefit there is you get instant feedback on chapters, drabbles, et. al., as soon as you post it online. Often, reviews for fanfic are positive, as long as you get the characters right. Any particular fandom essentially has its own built-in audience who are going to love whatever you write simply by virtue of the topic. But, as with any creative writing endeavor, you’ll also find critics and trolls, etc.

You thought I wasn't going to sneak in a Boromir gif? Psh. It's like you don't even know me.
You thought I wasn’t going to try and sneak in a Boromir gif? It’s like you don’t even know me.

I think spending so many years reading reviews for my own work on Fanfiction.net has prepared me for reading reviews of my published work. I don’t feel the same existential dread that many authors do while standing on the precipice of debuting their new novel.

In fact, I noticed I had my first review on Goodreads yesterday, and while I felt a pang of hesitation–should I read it? what if it’s horrible?–I still went ahead and took a look. Because at the end of the day, I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can write in a review that I haven’t already told myself while drafting or revising the dang book. I am brutal.

That and I’m curious as hell.

Let's be honest: I'd probably have been melted at this point.
Not pictured here: me, probably melted by now.

At the same time, I know reading reviews won’t contribute anything truly meaningful to my life. They won’t change the amount of work I put into the book, or alter my love of the characters. If they’re positive, they might stroke my ego, but I’ll forget it in T-minus a day. On the other hand, if they’re negative, they could make me feel crummy for a few hours.

So really the question becomes: Is it worth it to play Russian roulette with one’s emotional health? Is the high of a great review worth the temporary low of a bad one? It’s difficult to say, and your mileage may vary.

The most important thing to remember at the end of the day, however, is this:

Reviews are for readers, not authors.

I know, as authors, we all feel a sense of ownership over the book, a protectiveness over its characters, but once it’s out there, it becomes the reader’s story, too. They put pieces of themselves into it, which affects their interpretation. And they have the right to voice their opinion on something they’ve spent money and/or time to read.

Right or wrong, flattering or cruel, their reviews are not meant for us. They’re meant to identify paths for other readers. They can be the strobing of a lighthouse in the fog: stay away, if [BLANK] is not your thing. Or they can be runway lights: you want to land here. Here is good.

obi_wan_happy_landing1.1

With this perspective in mind, I probably won’t read every review. But I might read quite a few of them. I’m nosy, and I rebound quickly from disappointment. That’s just who I am. You might be more sensitive, and that’s okay. That’s totally fine. In hindsight, reading reviews of my fanfic helped prepare me; it was like preemptive exposure therapy. Going in cold when you’re not used to the criticism and passion normally found in reviews might provoke a very different, and painful, experience.

As with anything, it’s important to figure out what works for you. If reviews are discouraging you or distracting you from writing anything else, then stop reading them.

If, on the other hand, they make you want to settle in with some popcorn and enjoy the show like it’s ribbon-dancing or gladiatorial bloodsport, then by all means: read on, you crazy kid!

Reviews are not the Ark of the Covenant. They will not kill you to look at them. BUT. They can and might hurt. Knowledge is half the battle, knowing yourself and what you can handle. Like they say:

pizza knowledge

Or something like that.

 

6 Comments

  1. I just wrote and scheduled a post yesterday about negative reviews because of all the problems that seem to happen related to them, so this is perfect timing for me and really nice to see an author’s perspective. As a reviewer, I hate posting negative reviews because I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings, but it’s also kind of nerve-wracking because of the horror stories I’ve heard about backlash from authors and fans. So it makes me happy to know there are some authors out there who understand how subjective books are, even their own books, and who can respect the reviews they receive. This is a great post!

    (Btw if I were an author, I’d be far too curious to not read reviews lol.)

    1. Author

      Thank you! I definitely feel the same way about posting negative reviews. Being an author myself, I know how much work goes into writing a book, and it’s led me to do a lot of soul-searching over how to proceed with reviewing other people’s novels. If people look to my ratings/reviews for suggestions, I want them to get my honest reaction about a book. I try to focus on the good, while avoiding being malicious about what I didn’t like.

      Plus, generally speaking, I’m in the camp of “any review is better than no review” since it helps the visibility of a book (especially on customer sites like Amazon). I trust readers are intelligent to decide for themselves whether they want to read something or not. 🙂

      I’ve heard those same horror stories, and all of the writers I know are equally appalled by the behavior of those authors who get into it with fans over negative reviews. Hugely unprofessional.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Kristen! ^^

        1. Author

          Oh, please do! And let me know when your post goes live so I can check out your thoughts, too. 🙂

          1. Author

            Love it! Retweeted a link to it. 🙂 More authors should definitely read that post.

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