I’ve gotten into the terrible habit of reading the reviews my books get.
This is an awful idea for many reasons. First of all, while reviews on my books tend to be positive, they aren’t all. This means that if I read a bad one, my day is sent into a spiral of ever more depressing thoughts that help me be a better writer the way needles under my finger nails help me have a better day. I am a terrible writer, my books are terrible, why am I writing, etc. Not helpful.
When I finally dredge myself out of that increasingly-gloomy spiral, I start to argue with the reviews in my head. You didn’t like this one thing? Why didn’t you like it? I liked it. You thought that aspect was a bug? It’s a feature! It’s supposed to do that! What you are feeling is how you are supposed to feel!
If being gloomy and eating macaroni and cheese by the box because someone didn’t like my book was unhelpful, this argumentative stage is worse, because it lasts for days. Weeks. In my head, I’m still arguing with a review I got in stupid July.
You’d think this would mean that reading the good reviews is helpful; it’s not. On one hand, yes, I do get all glowy and happy and I dance around a bit.
On the other hand, they don’t help my productiveness either. While their existence confirms that yes, people are actually reading the books they buy and liking them, they don’t inspire me to greater bounds, or make me better at what I do. They’re an ego-boost, pure and simple, and let me tell you, while I enjoy those, my friends will lovingly assure you I don’t need them. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t even feign humbleness. I sit there and grin at people and say I’m good at what I do, you’d better believe it, though if you don’t it doesn’t matter because it’s a thing that doesn’t need believed in to be true. It’s like believing in a table.
(There are those who don’t care for this cockiness, and think it merits being taken down a peg. There are also people who pop children’s balloons just to be jerks, though, and I tend to put both in the same category.)
So I shouldn’t read my reviews, because either I already know and agree, or I’ll just get annoyed—occasionally both at once—and really, there are better things to do with my time than bother with all that. I should glance at my numbers, note whether they have changed, and move on. Or better yet, not glance at all. Really, I should just stay the hell off my book’s listings and keep on moving with my writing, tippity-tapping along.
Not that this will stop me, of course. Should is good and well, but I should also eat the stems of my lettuce instead of pushing them to the side of my plate, and I don’t do that, either.
But the biggest reason I shouldn’t read the reviews on my books is because I can’t change them. I can’t track down the reviewers and tell them they’re right or wrong; I can’t sit there and explain that the thing they picked up on accident was one-hundred percent deliberate and will be a major plot point three books later, and well done to them. I can’t go into their review and cross out the bit where they incorrectly labeled my book as YA. Replying is Author Big-No-No numero uno. To a lot of authors out there, even writing this post is getting a Bit Too Close.
We are authors. Those are readers. We write books, they write reviews, and if you want different reviews, write a different book. A better one. If they misinterpreted something, there’s nothing you can do about it now.
And really, that’s what it is. The book you read is not the book I wrote; the story in my head is not the words I wrote down. It’s all an interpretation, and what’s in my mind will never be what’s in yours.
All I can do is the best I can to make what I see be what you feel. If I can make 90% of my readers happy—which is about what I do right now—I’m doing a darn good job and should pat myself on the back.
And when I’m finished, if some kind person could come and prevent me from ever reading my reviews again, I might just become a better writer.
I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. I’m also a blogger, Twitter-user, and the sort of person who knows better than to start commenting on news articles, if only because I’d never stop. Oh Lord.
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