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Reviews redux

I just read author Delilah Dawson’s recent Twitter thread about why she doesn’t read reviews anymore and found myself nodding in agreement to a lot of it. Like her, with my first few books, I had Goggle alerts set on my name so I wouldn’t miss a single review. I did this because (1) seeing people actually talking about my books was the coolest thing ever, and (2) I thought I could fix any mistakes in future books if I knew what I was doing “wrong.” By book four, however, I had turned that Google alert off and stopped reading most reviews.

Why? Didn’t I care what my readers thought? Had I given up trying to fix my books?

None of the above. In fact, the opposite was true. I want to be a better writer with each book, but here’s the thing. Reading reviews, whether they were positive or negative, didn’t help me become a better writer. They only helped me get increasingly varied mood swings. A great review puffed me up. A scathing one cut me down. A thoughtful-yet-critical one made me kick myself for not seeing the thoughtfully-pointed-out flaws earlier. In fact, I can barely stand to re-read my earlier novels because now, all I do is focus on the mistakes instead of enjoying anything about the story.

Furthermore, what one reader loved about a story might have caused another reader to DNF the book, and vice versa. Imagine you’re driving a bus filled with dozens, or even hundreds, of people. You know the address you’re going to, but instead of using your GPS, you choose to get directions from the passengers, and they keep calling out conflicting instructions. Would you expect to arrive at your destination any time soon, let alone in a healthy mental state? ;) Probably not. That’s kinda of what writing books according to input from past reviews is like for me. Not only does it take the joy out of writing, it also made me zigzag all over the place.

When I stopped reading most of my reviews,I stopped losing my way. Don’t get me wrong, other authors’ mileage may vary since there’s practically no one way to do anything in publishing. Plus, I still get feedback: I have critique partners, and of course, I get feedback from my editor(s) and my copy editor(s), too. But I no longer wade through reviews in search of the mythical “right way” to write my books. Perhaps most importantly, something else to remember is that reviews aren’t for authors.

Let me say it again: reviews aren’t for authors. Reviews are readers talking to other readers about a book. Whether or not that talk benefits an author, frustrates an author, cheers an author up, or even enrages an author, is moot. To be blunt, authors aren’t invited to this party. If you’re an author reading reviews, you’re essentially eavesdropping on other peoples’ conversations, and no one welcomes an eavesdroppers’ critique on their own conversation.  

But their conversation is about me, so I have the right to eavesdrop and comment! some author might say.

Actually, it’s not about you. It’s about your product, and no matter how much you love your product, you are not your product. You know the great thing about products? They don’t argue back. If I hate a lipstick, I know it won’t suddenly become sentient and start telling me that I’m not that great, either. Since products can’t argue back, product producers shouldn’t argue, either. Years ago, I wrote a blog post about how much I hated the new Halloween movie remake. Guess what? Director Rob Zombie didn’t show up to refute my opinions because (1) he’s too busy and (2) he knows I’m entitled to my opinions regardless if he agrees with them. If you’re an author arguing with a reader over a review, you’re essentially telling that reader that he/she isn’t allowed to have their own opinion. Not only is that unprofessional and rude – it’s also senseless.

But you don’t know what they said! another author might reply.

I don’t, and I can sympathize when reviews cross the line from content commentary to personal attacks, but you should still stay out of it. Back when I was reading most of my reviews, I saw some slanderous things said about me, my husband, my family, and even how bad of a job my mother must have done while raising me. Thankfully, those type of personal attacks were rare, but still, they were hard to ignore. However, I had friends who held me back from responding, and I’m grateful. If someone is putting personal inflammatory attacks in a review, they’re probably a troll, and we all know not to feed the trolls. It only makes the trolls happy while giving us a migraine.

But I love your books and I want to tell you that! some readers might say.

I have a contact box on my website, plus I’m on various social media sites.

But I hate your books and I want to tell you that! some readers might say.

I have a contact box on my website, plus I’m on various social media sites.

In summary, as an author, I’m grateful that people talk about my books. However, I know it’s not my place to stick my nose into their conversations. I probably go on about this subject, but my husband’s sick and I’m trying to make sure he stays fed and hydrated, so I’m signing off now. Happy Saturday, everyone. Hope you have a lovely remainder of the weekend.