Stupid Web Tricks
I've been writing for a while now so you'd think I'd be inured to reviews, good or bad, but it's a fresh experience each and every time. Book 3 of my My Immortals series just came out (My Immortal Assassin) so the subject of reviews is quite fresh in my mind. There's a reason for the heading above this paragraph.
The Bad Outweighs the GoodMy personal experience, and I think I'm not alone in this, is that bad reviews impact me more than the good ones do. I get way more depressed by a bad review than I get elated by a good one. Once I realized that, and it's embarrassing how long it took me, I stopped clicking through on the Google Alerts to reviews of my books. I only look at reviews if a trusted friend tells me it's safe or if my publisher sends it to me -- since they're unlikely to send on a bad review. If a review site emails me a review, I usually delete it unread unless there's wording in the subject to suggest it's a good review.
I did, recently, get a review emailed to me that contained a reference to a top pick graphic I could use. Hmm, I thought. Do I risk looking at this review and finding out that introductory paragraph (damn you preview pane!) is boilerplate? I elected to violate my policy against performing Stupid Web Tricks and read enough of the email to determine it was probably safe. It was. But I recognized I was taking a risk.
It's all about SafteyI've decided I need to keep my fragile writer ego safe. This is true even though I realize that people have different tastes and that some people just aren't going to connect with my writing. It's true even though I have good friends who I know are smart and insightful and they will like books I disliked and vice versa. It's true even though I know that differing opinions make for great discussions about books. It's true even though I believe readers are fundamentally entitled to say whatever they like about my books. It was their reading experience, after all. Readers can and do bring a whole different set of life experience, preferences, tastes and, yes, even intellect to their reading, so of course there are different experiences of the same book.
But I know the effect of a bad review on me and how important it is that I protect my writer's soul so I no longer perform what I call "Stupid Web Tricks" and search out reviews. I don't read Amazon or other bookseller-site reviews either. I think that community should feel free to discuss their opinions and reactions without worrying that an author is going to go postal on them, or even just chill the fun by her presence.
Most readers are plenty smart enough to spot reviews or commentaries that aren't well supported, are poorly written or thinly disguised attacks on the author or the publisher, so I really don't worry about that much.
Free discourse means just that. But I don't need to be there when it's about one of my books.
Why the Bad Is Worse Than the Good
When someone has a negative reaction to my writing, the interior dialog goes like this:
Ohmygod she's totally right. I suck. Why did I ever think I could be a writer? I'm a failure, and everything about this book is horrible. Why didn't my editor see that and make me fix it? Why didn't I see that and fix it?
That way lies paralysis in the current project.
The interior monologue for good reviews often goes like this:
Ohmygod, I dodged a bullet there. She totally missed all the weaknesses. The last time tried to read my own book, I was horrified by how bad it was. Thank god she didn't pick up on all the flaws.
I can't win. Even against myself.
In Which I Completely Contradict Myself
Sci-Fi author John Scalzi once wrote a blog post where he challenged authors to own their 1-star reviews and blog about it. So I did. And it was a strangely freeing experience. It made me see that there were readers who just did not connect with my work in any sense, but that was balanced by people who did. There were also readers who couldn't possibly have read the book I wrote -- they reviewed events that just never happened and named characters who weren't in my book.
That experience, by the way, is what made me decide to stop reading reviews. Because, ultimately, a review is as much about the reader as it is the book. And I saw that I was allowing myself to be unduly affected by negative reviews -- a fault that lies entirely with me, and my choice was to step away from that experience.
I think that once a book of mine is safely in the past, three years I think, is enough, then the bad reviews don't feel quite so depressing, because I can tell myself that, well, in three years, I've become a MUCH better writer. But I haven't lived up to the Scalzi standard and owned my 1-stars since even though it would probably be good for me.
About that Chocolate
I'm having a contest over at my website where the prize is 2 lbs of Leonidas chocolate. Go enter. You have until midnight Friday (2/4/2011) Pacific time.