Reading Reviews

A discussion came up on one of my author e-mail groups about reading reviews of your work.  The point was made that positive reviews can lead to a swollen ego.  Negative reviews bring you down.  Neither of these are good things.

It’s a valid point.  When I saw the (ahem) starred Publishers Weekly review for Red Hood’s Revenge, it certainly pumped my ego up a notch.  “Transcends its predecessors”?  “Worth visiting again and again”?  Oh, heck yes!  On the other hand, Harriet Klausner called the plot thin and only gave me four stars at B&  (Klausner almost always gives five stars.)

I don’t consider Klausner as serious or influential a reviewer as Publishers Weekly, but the review still stung.  (Which is okay — it’s the reviewer’s job to review the book, not to coddle my feelings.  The reviewer’s obligation is to their readers, not to me.)

I’ve always read my reviews, both from major reviewers and casual bloggers.  (Thank you, Google Alerts.)  I plan to continue doing so.

Partly it’s ego and insecurity.  I want to know whether people are talking about my books.  Positive or negative, as long as people are reading and discussing, that’s still better thing than radio silence.

I also realized I could learn from reviews, though it’s a little tricky.  The problem is, everyone reacts differently.  One reviewer says a book is the best thing I’ve ever done.  Another throws it across the room after only one chapter.  Who’s right?  Both.  Neither.  Heck if I know.

But occasionally I read a review that just clicks.  Someone will point something out that makes me go, “Oh, wow.  They’re right, and how the heck did I miss that?”  I commented yesterday about the way I wrote Talia’s character in Stepsister.  It was a comment at a review that first got me thinking about that issue.

In addition, as I read more reviews, I start to see patterns.  I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but eventually it clicks that a lot of people were bored by this part, or a certain scene didn’t work for them, or everyone keeps complaining that I overuse this piece of description…  It reminds me of workshop critiques: if one person says there’s a problem, I can take it or leave it.  If many people point out the same issue, then it’s something I need to look at.

Some authors point out that in the case of reviews, it’s too late to change the book, so why bother?  They’re right of course.  But I can apply those lessons to the next books.

It’s not always kind to my ego, especially when people jump in and start agreeing with a negative review in the comments.  I also have to fight the occasional urge to argue with reviewers.[1. If you call my character “Little Lady of the Red Hood,” I won’t argue with you, but I will roll my eyes like … um … like a crazy eye-rolling thing.]  Overall though, I’ve learned a fair amount from reviews, and I very much appreciate everyone who takes the time to write them.