by Liz Long
In preparation for the upcoming release of the second Donovan Circus book, I had to make sure I remembered all the bits and pieces from the first book. Naturally, I have my spreadsheets and documents to refer back to, but sometimes, it’s easier just to pick up the paperback and flip to a particular page to double check something.
Okay, great. Let me just check out page 22 here…aaaaand I’ve read 14 chapters of my own work and now I want to go back in time, punch myself in the face, and tell younger me to never publish a book. What the hell was I thinking when so-and-so said this? When THAT happened? Was I drunk when I wrote that?! And who talks like that? Long, you’re an idiot. Don’t ever write anything else, ever again, for readers’ sakes.
Uhhhh, yeah. See how we are our own worst critics? I don’t need bad reviews to tell me that. All I have to do is read my own work and cringe with disbelief that I ever put out such a book.
I’m only sort of kidding, of course. I’m proud of the work I’ve achieved and I’d never take it off anyone’s bookshelf (because as I’ve said before, get a grip Long because someone likes your damn work). All the same, I am definitely my worst enemy when it comes to my own work (and that doesn’t just include my writing, either).
If you ask me (and you didn’t, but you’re here, so keep reading), I think I’ve got to stop reading my work once it’s been published. I read a great article this week about how authors should never read their reviews (I’m sorry, because for the life of me, I cannot find it again. Rats.). The reasons were surprisingly simple.
Reviews are for readers. They exist for readers to connect and engage, to discuss what worked and what didn’t, and why other readers might enjoy a title or want to make a different choice. Reviews are not for writers. The book bloggers I know are honest and blunt – and their reviews are meant for their readers, not for me. They don’t want to be called out by writers – half the time, it looks like the author is throwing a temper tantrum or defending their work. Guess what? That’s called being a poor sport and it makes you look bad. (Side advice: Keep quiet and work on writing the next book. You’ll get more respect in the long run for sucking it up and taking the high road, no matter how much you want to shake them and ask why they don’t understand your plot.)
Good ones make you feel good, sure. They make you feel all warm and fuzzy and like you can conquer the world. They also motivate me to get my butt in a chair and work on my next book. But at the same time, those good reviews only feed the ego and that might not necessarily be a good thing, either. Not all readers are writers. It’s great that they loved your book. But they might love every book they read for different reasons. You don’t want to get pumped up with so much expectation that when you see lower stars, it makes you want to leap off a cliff, right?
Bad ones, however, make you want to go back into the story and edit the hell out of it. Once you wipe the tears from your eyes, they make you want to re-read and tear it apart, and maybe do it with a bottle of Grey Goose on your desk. And the ones who say you’re just eh, okay? Sweet Jesus, talk about a kick in the ladyballs. “Mediocre” is NOT a word I like. (Neither is “diet.”)
When we set out to write our books, especially a series (or trilogy or whatever), we have a goal in mind, an overall arc of how things will happen and who the characters will be. What happens when you start hearing the reviews (good or bad) in your head about how they LOVED this character, but couldn’t stand your protagonist’s love interest? Or that this storyline was boring and wouldn’t it have been great if THIS had happened instead? If you ask me, that’s going to affect your book. Let me repeat: YOUR book. (If they want to see a story done a certain way, then they can write, it dammit.) Readers can love or hate your story, but they shouldn’t affect the outcome.
Good reviews, bad reviews, or somewhere in the middle: all the same, I’m starting to realize reading reviews is a waste of time. My product is out there. I worked hard at it, paid for professional editing and cover design, had 17 drafts rewritten, got feedback from beta readers, and god knows what else. Now it’s up to the rest of the world to do with it as they see fit. I can’t sway their minds – and if I could, that’s not exactly an honest review now, is it?
This one is especially for the nice kids who want to be liked: You can’t make someone like you anymore than you can make me eat chicken livers (never gonna happen). As Dita von Teese says, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” You’re never going to have 100% positive reviews. You don’t love every book you read, do you? Even Harry Potter has some one-stars (I know, I’m as insulted and flabbergasted as you, but it’s true. 124 one-stars on Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s blasphemy, I tell you.)
Are poor reviews disappointing? Sure. But your goal, as a writer, is to produce the best work you can and keep chugging along. The only person who can stop you, is YOU. Not your momma, not your day job, and certainly not a handful of 2-star reviews. Five stars might lift us up, but we all know it’s the 1 stars that slam us to the ground and leave us there, dazed and hurt for weeks. Why should we do that to ourselves?
It’s going to be difficult, I know. But I’m going to try very, very hard with future releases to cool it on the constant review refreshing. After all, I’ve got to get cracking on those other stories in my head. And so do you.