Don’t Let Reviewers Hold You Hostage

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Unpublished authors imagine that once they are published, life will be glorious. That’s because they haven’t thought much about bad reviews. Every author gets them, and sometimes they’re agonizing.

As a published, working author, you learn to live with the reality of bad reviews in different ways. You can stop reading them. You can have someone you trust vet them for you and warn you so that nasty splinters of prose don’t lodge in your brain. You can leave town or stay off the grid when your book comes out.

Hell, you can be perverse and break open a bottle of champagne to celebrate a dreadful review. Why not? Or if you’re a mystery author, you can have fun with a bad review and kill the reviewer. Of course, you don’t have to go all the way to murder. Fictional defamation, degradation, and despoliation can be satisfying, too.  But getting captured by a review is not healthy.

I remember a Salon piece of close to 3,000 words (seriously!) by a novelist who complained that Janet Maslin killed his novel in the New York Times. Killed? No critic has that power. But Maslin did trash his book. It happens. She also made a gross mistake about his book in her review. That happens, too.

One reviewer claimed that my second novel focused on a theme that it didn’t remotely touch, which meant she was probably confusing it with another book of mine.  Reviewers get sloppy all the time.  Sleepy too, I bet…

The Salon piece was disturbing and at times painful—but not just because of Maslin’s error. It opened with the author describing how he moaned on his couch, face down, while his wife read and paraphrased the bad review, and her having to admit that Maslin dissed the book as “soggy.”

The author teaches creative writing and had published three previous books, so you’d think he would try to set a better example for his students. Instead, while he admitted he was lucky to have been in the Times at all, he focused on his misery and even shared that he’d previously thought of Maslin as a ghost friend because she gave his first book a great review. That was super creepy.

I’ve published twenty-five books and I read as few of my reviews as possible. Why? Because I’ve learned more about my work from other authors through their books, conversations, or lectures than I have from reviews. I don’t look to reviews for education, validation or approbation. I hope they’ll help with publicity, but I’ve seen people get raves in the New York Times without any impact on sales.

More importantly, we authors shouldn’t let our self-esteem be held hostage by the Janet Maslins of journalism, and we should try not to over-estimate their importance or expect them to stroke our egos. Bad reviews? Ignore them along with the good ones, and keep writing.

 

 

Guest post contributed by Lev Raphael. Lev is the author of Writer’s Block is Bunk and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Check out more of Lev’s work on his blog, Writing Across Genres.

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19 thoughts on “Don’t Let Reviewers Hold You Hostage”

  1. I don’t agree that you should ignore reviews. Yes, you may have gotten feedback from other authors and professional critics, but what about your audience? They are the ones buying and reading your book. No, not all book reviews are going to be positive and not all book reviews will even be helpful. I think you can usually spot the fakes…the ones who are just posting to be mean or who haven’t really read the book at all. But for those who take time to buy your book, read and then post a review, you need to acknowledge that. Ignore them and they just may ignore you when your next book comes out.

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  2. I don’t pay attention to reviews especially after reading about the terrible reviews my favorite writers have gotten over the years. I have gotten feedback from readers directly that I pay attention to.

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  3. Maybe you don’t read the reviews because you have to focus on your own work? If you are already getting feedback from people you respect, I’m sure you don’t need a random reviewer to tell you how to do your job. I write reviews for readers, not authors. I only wish I could publish a book, I can only speak from the consider side of things.

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  4. Very well said & written! I’ve been a published author for over 10 years. Thus far, I have nine published novels and have received both positive and negative reviews. And while some of the negative ones can sometimes be painful, I have learned that if you’re going to be in this business, you have to learn to take criticism whether or not its always constructive. So I, too, have started to limit reading them, good or bad. Thanks for such an encouraging post! 🙂

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  5. I do read reviews on my books whenever some generous soul decides to post one. Sometimes they’re nitpicky but I’ve found that you can’t dwell on what reviewers say. They obviously have different opinions than you. And sometimes they have interesting points to make that may actually end up helping me! But reviews are a touchy business. Good post!

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  6. This is a big struggle of mine. I crave feedback, no matter what it is. And as I start thinking about writing my first eBook (I’m thinking small!) it’s hard to not think about how it will be received. When you’re a writer, you are going to write no matter what. But it’s hard to not want everyone to like what you create!

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  7. Well said. I agree. A writer will never please all of the people all of the time. Reviews are opinions. I’m grateful for them all and try to treat the good and the not so good with equal respect – but my writing has, in the end, to be down to my professional judgement.

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  8. I am always shocked at how negative some book reviews are. I don’t think most serious readers pay too much attention to these because they represent the fringe element. As a reader and aspiring author I have become much more aware of this in the last few years. I think there’s a way to explain why you didn’t care for a book without making it a personal attack!

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  9. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I’m glad I read this. Now I won’t put a lot of stock in reviews. I did give a copy of my mss to a friend who happens to be a professor at our local college. She gave me some input, but the nicest thing she said was that she liked it and it was a good story. That was the best thing I could have heard. I’ll have a bit of work to make the changes, but that doesn’t seem as bad with the good comments swimming in my brain.

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