Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Place of Reviews in the Writer’s Universe

Sally MacKenzie
The Naked Gentleman
Publisher: Zebra
Pub date: March 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

A review of my April release, The Naked Gentleman, just showed up in my inbox. I considered deleting it unread.

Reviews are a fact of the published author’s life. We may not like them, but we need them. My publisher sends out advance review copies (ARCs) of my books to garner reviews and I send out my own homemade ARCs. Reviews—even negative reviews—are good. They make the world aware that your book is out there. Hopefully they generate buzz and cause lots and lots of readers to run to the bookstore—bricks and mortar or virtual—to buy, buy, buy your book.

However, there is no requirement that an author read any of those reviews. Reviews are for readers. Reviews for writers are called revision letters and they come from your editor.

It took me a while to realize I didn’t have to read my reviews—I had to hear it from a more experienced author. I did read the reviews of my first couple books. I’m a professional; I have a thick skin; I can take criticism. Except by the third book I couldn’t. I don’t know what it was—the book, my age, whatever—but the critical reviews really started to get to me. I was driving poor Jessica crazy, fretting that my career was over, that I had disappointed my readers. But, Jessica would say, the book got a glowing review from Publishers Weekly. (Thankfully, she did not say, Calm down, you neurotic writer. She is very patient.) Yes, I’d reply, but Suzie Reviewer on We ‘R’ Reviews hated it. Or Betty Reads-a-Lot posted on Amazon that the heroine was majorly TSTL (too stupid to live) and the book was so terrible she was throwing it and all my other books against the wall.

Why is it I can brush off five complimentary reviews and only focus on the single critical one—or the critical sentences in an otherwise positive opinion? And the internet makes sharing one’s opinion so easy. There are many online review sites, and anyone who wants to can set up a blog for free. It is correspondingly easy to read those opinions. If you search, you will find.

I ended up on high blood pressure medicine. Worse, I kept hearing little critical whisperings as I tried to write the next book. So I swore I’d be more Zen about it all this time through. Here are my new review mantras:

1. A review is only one person’s opinion. (Unfortunately, this is true for glowing reviews as well as stinky ones.)

2. All reviews are good reviews because they get the book title out there.

3. Getting worked up—either wildly happy or madly depressed—over any review is a waste of energy. Use that energy to write the next book.

4. If I must watch the bouncing Amazon numbers, I’ll do so from my Publishers Marketplace track books page—and, bonus (!)—I can watch the bouncing B&N numbers at the same time. I will never go to the book’s actual Amazon or B&N page after the release date.

5. I will step away from the Google function. I will not Google my name or my book title.

6. I will not go to websites where I might stumble upon a review of my book, and I will NEVER argue with readers about their opinion of my books. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion—even if they are just wrong, wrong, wrong. (No, I didn’t say that.)

7. If I must whine about a review, I will only whine to Jessica and/or my very small group of close writer pals, those sworn to secrecy.
So, did I read the review that popped into my inbox? Well, yes. I do feel a need to read a couple reviews, if for no other reason than to find a good quote or two for my website’s review page. My heart pounded and my palms sweated as I clicked to open it, though. My eyes immediately dropped to the opinion at the bottom—whew, she’d liked the book. Best, she’d actually reviewed the book I’d written, not the book she might have thought I should have written. It was a fun review to read. If I were reviewing her review, I’d give her five stars!

But I’m still not going Googling.