Dealing With Reviews – Don’t Panic!
Reviews can be very scary things when you first get into the big, bad world of published fiction. You hear stories about vicious reviews, witness author meltdowns, and lord knows you have probably heard your fair share of advice on what to do and what not to do and whether or not to engage a reviewer, whether the review itself is positive or negative. My biggest piece of advice on this matter is very, very simple: Don’t panic!
When you put your book out, either through self-publishing venues or through a publisher, there has to be a certain sense of letting go. You might have been trying to send out a particular message or woven a subtle theme into the fabric of your story, but once it’s out there and available to the masses, you have to leave your expectations at the door. Some people will love your book, some will hate it, some will shrug their shoulders and say they think your idea could have been executed better, and some will read into aspects of the story in ways that you had never even imagined while writing it. There are ups and downs, and it’s really just part of the beast.
The best thing you can do is know yourself. If you’re prepared to face the bad along with the good and take a few punches to your pride, then feel free to exercise your thick skin and read each review that you find for your own work. Some will have great constructive criticism and help you tweak or correct weaknesses in your writing, while others will not give reasons for why the reviewer (dis)liked the book, so you’ll have to comb through things and take away what you can from it with a level head. If, on the other hand, you know you’re not ready for that kind of criticism… If you have that uncontrollable urge to engage with reviewers over every negative point (valid or not) they bring up about your story, then just own it, and make the effort to stay away from your reviews. Every author will approach reviews differently, but the best thing, one way or another, is to never panic and just roll with the punches, whether you pay much attention to reviews or not.
In my case, I read every single review I can find. There’s nothing quite like reading a thoughtfully put together review and feeling kinship with a reader who enjoyed your work or makes you discover facets of your characters that you hadn’t intentionally explored. The positive reviews are frequently gratifying to read, and I find them to be confidence boosters. When I find negative reviews, I’ll admit that I have that knee-jerk reaction of ‘You just don’t understand!’. Heck, I think most of us have that reaction when someone gets critical about something we’ve poured our creative energy into. I always take a couple minutes to let that knee-jerk reaction play out, but then I always read back through a second time and try to dissect the little bits of constructive criticism, things that I might be able to do better the next time I’m working on a manuscript. Do I disagree with negative reviews? Oh, I definitely have my moments! I’m just usually pretty good at letting the differences go, which is why I’m usually the one to peek at reviews, while my writing partner, S.L. Armstrong, keeps a safe distance away from them until she gets the thumbs up that it’s safe to look.
When it comes to reviews, try to go to your happy place. Think zen. Don’t panic! You’re a professional!