I ♥ Reviews

One of the most thrilling and terrifying things about being an author is knowing that strangers are going to review your books. If you're lucky, someone is going to pick your shiny ARC from a teetering pile of review copies — that's a fire hazard by the way, you should probably do something about that — and  write a review for a newspaper, blog, or trade magazine. Hopefully it will be a good one, and people who probably have never have heard of you will order your book. Then, in the ideal world that I'm imagining here because I'm a writer and I'm allowed, they'll read your book too and review it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads and tell their friends and family about how amazing you and your book are.

No doubt this scenario is entirely possible for a good many excellent books, but the harsh reality is that for every glowing review of the novel you and many others worked on for years, there will be many more middling reviews and some fairly scathing ones. Maybe a lot of scathing ones. Fortunately, authors have developed healthy coping mechanisms to deal with situations like this. Wine (and whining) are two of the most traditional methods, but the best protection for your fragile ego is abstinence: not reading reviews at all.

Oddly enough, though writing often requires inhuman levels of discipline, authors are notoriously undisciplined at things like: a) avoiding Twitter while writing, b) avoiding Facebook while writing, c) not checking Amazon rankings constantly to see how your book is selling, d) not checking Goodreads, and of course, e) writing.

"Don't read reviews" is probably very good advice, but like all writing advice, it really depends on the individual author. I was never interested in following that particular suggestion, because I actually love reviews. It's not because I'm a masochist (but isn't some measure of that necessary to be a writer, too?), but because reviews — any review, good or bad — is evidence that someone read your book, thought about it, and took the time to write about it. (Sometimes it's also evidence that someone bought your book, which is always a happy thing.)

Personally, one of the reasons I write is that I want to be read. I started out writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. For about five years I collected rejection slips, which don't necessarily indicate that your story was read all the way through, or at all. When I finally started selling fiction to small magazines and anthologies and websites, there was no way to know if anyone had ever seen my stories, let alone read them, and after a month most of those magazines had vanished from time and memory. In a few instances, a story of mine was mentioned in a review with lots of other stories, and might have gotten a short sentence or two, like, "This magazine also includes a story by E.C. Myers," or "This story had words!" In exactly one instance, I met someone who had just read one of my stories in an international magazine then came to a reading right after specifically to meet me, and yeah, that felt pretty good.

Having novels out in the world has been a completely different experience. I know people are reading Fair Coin and Quantum Coin because they're posting reviews and ratings all over the internet where they're very easy for me to find, whether I want to or not. (I do.) That's exciting, and I'm fascinated by how different people have wildly varying reactions to the same material; why are some people raving about last weekend's Hollywood blockbuster, Man of Steel, while I think it was a devastating failure in every conceivable way and a stunning example of how not to tell a story?

I enjoy the collaboration between author and reader, and I think I can learn a lot and continue to improve as a writer by reading reviews, especially from smart readers who read dozens of YA books each week for their blogs. I mean, they're basically free critiques, right? But then, I have a fairly thick skin for such things; I've been through intense writing workshops like Clarion West, and I participate in writing groups that dole out constructive, but honest and often harsh, criticism. Forgive me a brief flare of indignant frustration if you pan my book, but the moment passes quickly and believe me, your review is appreciated and I respect your viewpoint.

So I actually do check for reviews pretty frequently — too frequently. I read all of them, and I share the favorable and/or thoughtful ones on my website and on Facebook and Twitter. It's always nicer when someone likes my books, but if you didn't: I'm sorry it didn't work for you, and thank you.

There's often talk online that suggests reviews aren't meant for authors, but I'm always happen to see one pop up, particularly now when my books have been out for a while and they aren't getting as much attention anymore. So don't be shy: Please post your reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and Barnes & Noble! I want them for more than a potential sale that might result from the word of mouth. Whether they encourage me that I'm not a sham, or inspire me to improve, reviews can help make my next book better.

Oh, but there is one rule about reviews that I do follow, which I think every author should adhere to: Do not respond to negative reviews!

1 comment:

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