Thursday, February 9, 2012

On Reading Your Reviews as an Author


Oh, my, is that a scary, loaded word. I have to admit that from the moment I found out my book was going to get published, I might even say from the moment I dreamed about that even happening, there was a small, nagging voice worried about reading less than favorable things about my work--which is, of course, deeply personal to me.

This is purely an emotional feeling, not a logical one. And it's something I had to get over once I went to film school and had to show my work to my classmates and get feedback. Something I had to swallow down once I was sending queries and partials and fulls. It's something I know I'll survive over the next few months too.

But is there still anxiety and fear? Definitely. The thing is I have never before had something of mine out in such a public way. In some ways, it's beyond terrifying.

On Twitter yesterday, I asked a few authors whether they read their own reviews. I was actually met with quite a few affirmatives.

Jill Hathaway (Slide) told me that she reads her reviews but doesn't respond. She also said, "When I see bad reviews, I try to just be thankful that they thought enough of the book to read and review it. The great reviews make it all worth it! Just hearing a person enjoyed my book is enough to brighten my week."

Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked) agreed, tweeting, "I read them. I'm just so grateful that people are reading the book -- I want to know what they think!" She also said, "There are some commonalities of what people love/struggle with. I've learned a bit from that, & try to ignore the outliers."

And my release date twin Elizabeth Norris (Unraveling) added, "I'm in that place where I have to read them. It's so exciting anyone is reading the book that I have to know what they think."

Editor Mary Kate Castellani elaborated further. She wrote: "I know that reviews can be quite terrifying for authors (they are for editors too sometimes) and it’s certainly no fun to receive a less than complimentary one, but I always try to see them as an opportunity to hear someone else’s take on the story. If more than one person points out a specific element, it’s often like a light clicking on in my head, followed closely by a 'duh, why didn’t I see that?' Often we read the manuscript so many times that we lose track of the story, and so having that outsider’s take can be a helpful learning experience."

She offered this as an example, "One time in particular, reviews pointed out that the antagonist in the story was too one-dimensional. It was so clear to the author and me why that character behaved the way she did, but we must not have gotten enough of that reasoning onto the page. For that author’s next book we took special care to make sure the antagonist’s motivations were clear and I think that story was more well-rounded in the end. So while it’s tough to read those critical and sometimes painful reviews, once the dust settles it’s good to go back and see if you can glean anything from them for your future work."

I do agree with everything these pros say (and, for the record, I also think they are very brave). If you look at it logically, if you are able to divorce your emotions enough, there are absolutely valuable lessons to be learned when it comes to the craft. It will make you a better and stronger writer to listen to the constructive criticism.

That being said, I went to a reading by a well-known YA author last year who got asked the same question. And she emphatically said that she does not read her reviews. "It hurts my feelings," she said. "So why should I?"

And I know quite a few authors who have blocked Goodreads altogether.

The thing is, I understand that too. Writing is definitely a craft, but it is also the opposite of a sterile skill. It is emotional. Writers are emotional. And taking yourself out of something that, by necessity, has pieces of you in it...well, that is very, very difficult.

Where do you stand? Do you (or do you think you would) read your own reviews?


  1. Great Post! I think I'll be reading and trying to learn from them until or if I get to a point where it's counter productive for me to do it. But for now, it's all too new and exciting. <3

  2. At this point (almost five months from publication) I know I will read them and hope that they are positive, or at least negative in a non-personal, critical way. People are welcome to say they don't like my book-not every book is for every person. I just hope to avoid the snark and vitriol that some sites can be known for *cough Goodreads cough*.

  3. Yes, I think I'll read the reviews of my book when (notice I didn't say IF)it's finally finished and sold to a publisher. I know different people will like/dislike different parts of the novel, but I hope I'll be able to divorce myself from other people's opinions enough to learn from them. If enough people point out the same thing, either that they liked it or they disliked it, I'll know something in my voice is either working or missing and will be able to modify it. I won't try to do everything that everybody suggests, but if enough people point something out consistently, that's a pretty good indication I hit/missed the mark somewhere.

    That being said, you'll find me a quivering mass of Jell-o the first time I get a negative review, I guarantee it. ;-)

  4. I read them. I can't help myself! But I don't comment directly on the blog post because it feels kind of stalkerish to me. Sometimes I send the reviewer an email to say I appreciated the time they took to read and consider my book.