Why I read reviews

I know many experienced writers tell debut authors: “don’t read reviews of your books” or “don’t read the bad reviews” or “stay away from goodreads, shelfari, etc...” or even “don’t read good reviews”. And many writers seem to take this advice to heart – stop interacting on goodreads altogether once their ARCs are out in the world for readers to dissect.
Back in October 2010, when I sold THE OTHER LIFE and reviews were still far off, I thought: “Huh, why should I not read reviews? I can take criticism.”
Fast forward a few months, when ARCs were finally sent out, I suddenly wasn’t all that sure about my thick skin. I checked goodreads religiously and then I got my first not-so-stellar review (a two star rating) and I sat in front of my laptop paralyzed. I was too scared to read it and was driving myself insane with the possibilities. But then I told my husband (with the warning that he shouldn’t read it either and that I didn’t want to know what was written!).
Yeah...Husband didn’t listen and in the evening while we were making dinner, he described the review to me and I didn’t die. I could deal with it. My husband shrugged at the end of his recount and said “that wasn’t so bad”. And he was right. The next day I read the review and it was well-written and I was grateful that the reviewer had taken the time to write something about my book, though they didn’t like it.
I still cringe every time I see a low-rating, I still hesitate before I read a negative review but I do it anyway because, while it hurts a little to find out that not everyone loves your book, it helps me grow as a writer. Every time someone criticizes some part of my writing, I challenge myself to do better next time. And I love a good challenge.
Of course I know that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never make everyone happy and that’s not what I’m striving for (though maybe a little part of me does). But I want to know what readers think, want to know why people hate some books while they love others with such a fervor that they fight for them.
I often find myself browsing reviews of books I’ve read, and one day I found a negative review for a book almost everyone loved (myself included). And there were dozens, maybe hundreds of comments defending that book. I was stunned (and I felt a bit sorry for the poor reviewer who’d done nothing but write their opinion and got bashed for it). People were willing to defend a book – not because it was written by their relative, or agent sister, or friend. No, because they loved it so much. I think it’s wonderful that books are still capable of evoking such strong emotions in us – hate, love, despair, blind rage. Isn’t that what we want as writers?
Movies have pictures, soundtracks and big actors to get a strong reaction from their audience, we have only our words.
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Heather Sunseri said...

"Of course I know that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never make everyone happy and that’s not what I’m striving for (though maybe a little part of me does)."

It's so true. We so badly want EVERYBODY to like our books, but we don't write for everybody. We know it, but deep down...

Loved this post!

Susanne Winnacker said...

Thanks! I was a bit worried before posting this because it's such a difficult and scary topic!

Speech Delay Mamma said...

I haven't got review copies out yet, but when I do I know I'll read each and every review. I'm glutton for punishment like that. But, you know what? If I can learn something from those reviews and improve my craft, then that's a good thing!

I'm glad you wrote this post because I love for reviewers to know that their helpful and well written reviews are good for us to read too. They don't need to be scared we're looking over their shoulders.

Emily said...

This is a nice alternative to the 'no review' policy. I like your attitude and I love that people can get angry and excited to defend a story and fictional characters. LOVE THAT.

Thanks for this.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Eesh, this is a hard one for me. I go back and forth between wanting to read my reviews to completely ignoring them. I have a while before I really need to decide, but I'm leaning toward staying away from them completely.

I totally agree that reading the reviews can help you grow as a writer. It's important to be able to listen to someone's opinions and figure out why they came to that conclusion about your work, but I've also seen those negative reviews, particularly Goodreads reviews, do a lot of damage to some authors. They let those opinions get so deep in their psyche that it either paralyzes them, or it affects their writing in a negative way. They're so bent on trying to improve based on someone else's opinion (opinions that are so wide and varied and very possibly wrong), they lose sight of the things they really are good at. I also think it can cause you to approach your writing with an amount of fear and stress, which I believe is counterproductive to real creativity.

I don't have time to be paralyzed by so much negativity, and I don't think it's necessary to consider every opinion out there in order to improve your craft. There are plenty of ways to get honest, smart, and constructive feedback without feeding yourself to the wolves (or at least watching yourself get torn to shreds.)

And I say all this with the greatest respect to your point-of-view. Admittedly, I'm not confident enough to fully adopt it at this point. I'm only trying to offer the other side.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

I can only imagine how difficult deciding whether or not to read your reviews can be, but I think it's wonderful that people come together to defend (or parade) a book that they love. We writers may only have our words, but sometimes that's more than enough. :)

Unknown said...

Great post! I admit that sometimes I forget that the book I am reading came from someone's hard work - and they are brave enough to share it with the world, so when I am disappointed with it, I say so in my review.

And I do realize that my opinion is not the only opinion out there. For every bad review, I trust there are at least three positive reviews.

One last sidenote: I also try to read both bad and good reviews, especially after I write one of my own. I may not have had a great experience with a book, but that does not stop me from reading about someone else's love for the same book. If anything, sometimes it makes me stop and think harder about the book - and may get me to re-read it with a new perspective!

Which is why I love book blogging so much. Everyone has an opinion on a book - and they are all different, even the positive remarks can differ!

Sareh said...

Great post!

I'm not published yet, but I know this reminds me of the trouble Goodreads was having with authors and commenters. I'm happy you were able to be grateful that that writer took the time to review your book even though it wasn't a good review and not blow up about it. :D

I do however, post my writings on a site called Inkpop. And I'm always happy to get comments on my work even if they're bad. I always make sure to thank the reader even if it wasn't a good review.

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