I am a member of several online groups for writers. In the last few months I’ve noticed many published writers obsessing over what they perceived as bad reviews of their books. Invariably, most of these reviews are posted on Goodreads.com, a site where anybody with a keyboard can voice their opinions.
Being both a published writer and a reviewer, I have mixed feelings. Like most writers, I hate some reviewer saying anything negative about my books, simply because my work is a reflection of my inner self, and I’ve never been one who enjoys criticism. But I also understand that when I do put my work out there, it becomes something larger than ‘my work’. The story, the words, the message all do a dance with the reader, and depending upon the reader’s life experiences, that dance will be different from anything I ever imagined. That is the beauty of literature. Unlike movies (where you are spoon fed everything) a book is unique for each reader because each reader will interpret the words differently, depending on their own life experiences. And that is wonderful. The reader makes the story his/her own.
That said, there are many people in the world who focus on what they perceive as negative and overlook the positive, they read something that touches a raw nerve and they attack. There are also readers, perhaps most, who have no clue about what constitutes well-structured literature. They don’t know a three-act structure from a character arc. And that is fine; they don’t need to know. The point I’m inching toward is, there are tons of uninformed readers who are happy to spout their uneducated opinions, not only on Goodreads.com but online review sites, and they are free to do that. But why get upset when they do?
In my four years of being published, I’ve come across only a handful of writers and reviewers whose opinions I respect, because they have demonstrated a depth of knowledge in the field of literature. When they criticize my work, which they have, I pay attention. I learn from them, and I am grateful for their feedback. All these other reviewers don’t affect me. I know that my work will not please everyone, and I’m cool with that.
I’ve come to think that what’s important is not trying to impress readers or reviewers, even the reviewers I respect. When a writer does that, the work ends up being insincere. I believe it is far more important, at least for me, to please myself. If I can be true to me and accurately express my inner vision, then at least one person will be happy with my work.
As for the idea that a few negative reviews will chase buyers away from my books, evidence supports the opposite. Even bad reviews will spur a reader to purchase a book. According to articles I’ve read, it is not so much what the reviews had to say, but more a factor of how many times the reader sees a mention of the book. The magic number seems to be seven. A book pops up on a reader’s radar seven times, no matter what was said, and that reader is likely to buy that book. Go figure. I suppose that’s why TV advertisers flood the airwaves with the same damn commercials hour after hour, day after day.
So my advice to writers is be happy readers feel strongly enough to write anything about your work. Then go back to your desk and focus on the business of writing your next story in the best way you know how. Make it so damned good that you, at least, will know it’s the finest work you can do.
Friday, September 23, 2011
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Excellent and insightful post, Alan. I've also notice the increased buzz and angst about Goodreads, etc. You're very right, every reader brings their tastes, experiences and expectations to a book, and every reader's experience is individual and unique. If every single reader loves every single book I write, I'd be a little weirded out, I think! LOL! The main thing I focus on as a writer is doing my best and being happy with my work.
Writing for yourself is definitely key, but we all want external validation. Good reminder to refocus inward. I'll try to remember your advice here when the naysayers start saying nay.
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