Friday, January 20, 2012

What I Think About Reviews

Okay, so I don't think I can be any clearer about this. It is my opinion that any author, at any stage in their writing career, should not be reading reviews of their book(s). (I submit that reading reviews of other books is not super-healthy either.)

I suppose a clarification is in order: It's (semi-)okay to read reviews on another author's blog. They're going to be nice and upbeat and positive--for the most part. Authors supporting authors and all that.

But Goodreads? Book bloggers? Shelfari? Amazon? The Reading Room?

Do not read those reviews. Not now. Not before the book comes out. Not after it comes out. Not ever.

Retweet them, sure. Read them, no.

I can hear some of you saying, "But Elana! It's so exciting to see my book on Goodreads! I have to check it!"

No, you don't.

Is it exciting? Heck to the yes!

Can it damage you, even before your book comes out? HECK TO THE YES.

You're better off not reading reviews. You can't change your book. (What? You're going to edit it after it's out? Do another revision pass because someone doesn't like your MC? No. Both of those are ridiculous. So...why are you reading reviews again?)

It does the author absolutely no good to read reviews of their book. Not even a little bit. Why? Quite simply it's because reviews are for READERS, not authors. Authors would be better off spending their time and energy on what matters: crafting that next novel.

This is what can happen to you:


Disclaimer: This is not me. My hair is much longer and darker than that.

Disclaimer: No computers were harmed in the making of this blog post. But I did read a review back in March of 2011 (POSSESSION wasn't even out!) that convinced me that I should never read another review again. And I haven't. 

And then how are you going to write? I mean, seriously.

What do you think? Authors, do you read your reviews? Aspiring authors, are you planning on reading your reviews? I don't think you should...

73 comments:

Majanka said...

Hey Elana!

I must say that, as both an author and book blogger (although self-published author for now, but working on that!) I enjoy reading reviews of my book. Even the unpleasant ones. I like to know that at least people went through the effort to read my book, and to write about it, even if they didn't like it.

But I understand your point about saying that it can damage you, and that there's nothing to be done about it anyway.

Laura Pauling said...

I'm not sure what I'll end up doing. I can see how negative ones that slam instead of being constructive could hurt the psyche and thus any present writing.

But I can see the good constructive ones, esp. if a lot of reviewers feel the same way, could help in the forming of the next one.

Heather Sunseri said...

Is this kind of like weighing myself? A friend of mine and I were talking the other day, and she was just shocked that I never weigh myself. What's the point? I can tell by the way my clothes fit if I need to make adjustments.

I figure my agent and editor will guide me in how I need to "adjust" my writing. So, I'm going to say I don't "plan" to read reviews, but I'm a little afraid of the overwhelming temptation.

Christina Lee said...

um....oh....eek...so darn tricky (and tempting)!! But I will take your word for it, E! THX for the learning curve!

Leigh Ann said...

"Reviews are for readers, NOT for authors."

THIS. So so much, THIS. Nothing ooks me out more than seeing authors (and - oy - AGENTS!) trolling readers' reviews and arguing with them.

If I ever ever in a million years got published, I wouldn't look at my reviews. More realistically, when my CPs get published, I'll stay away from their reviews. Even that would make me too upset.

Thanks for an awesome post about this. Your clear-headedness astounds me.

April Plummer said...

You know, I have to agree with you. Not that I have reviews out...yet. But I think it's easier said than done. It's kind of like...or kind of reminds me of...my mother. I don't speak to her. Long story, but I blocked her from my FB and deleted her from my feed (though not from my friends or family list). But...I can't help but look on her page every once in awhile to see if she's posted anything about me (which she used to do often). I don't want to. I blocked her so I wouldn't see her passive aggressive, sarcastic remarks. She doesn't just post them on her own page, either. Yet...I go looking for it, just asking to be hurt.

Or, maybe you can liken it to a car crash. You don't really want to see a dead body as you drive by, but you can't help but turn your head to look for one anyway.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

I don't even have a book out yet and I agree with this wholeheartedly. The "reviews are for readers, not authors" is what hits home the most. Goodreads terrifys me - really. There have been so many authors who have come unglued in the past year and set off a firestorm of comments that it appears reviews are. . . something best left unopened.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I do read reviews. And while they may be for readers, in a way they are for me, because I can see what I need to work on in the next book. If I hadn't read reviews of the first book, I wouldn't have realized how much people wanted to see a female character in the next book.
I know not everyone will like it, but one outstanding review is all I need to see. Then I know I at least connected with SOMEBODY.

Luisa Perkins said...

Okay, this makes sense. Let's see if I can manage to follow it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This won't be a problem for me. Whenever I enter a MSFV SA contest, I have the hardest time making myself read the feedback. My CP calls is great self restraint. I call it being a chicken. I do eventually look, but I wait. I don't check it every five minutes.

I have no intention of reading reviews of my books. As it is, I have issues reading other people's reviews unless they belong to friends of mine. I trust those reviews.

And I don't believe anything with 'like' ratings. I know too many people who beg for 'likes' on the RWA boards from their friends (who haven't even read the book). The ratings are no longer trustworthy.

Eric said...

I agree that reviews can damage you, however I would probably still read them (If I were published). Here's the thing: we should always be learning no matter where we are in our journey. And even though there may be items said in a review that hurt or are outright wrong, there may also be good points you can glean from it for the next book. A review in my mind is no different than a critique. You have to take it with a grain of salt and realize that it's just an opinion. Now if you find yourself getting overly depressed by reading reviews (and it keeps you from writing), then yes maybe you need to back off for a while. But in most respects, I believe reviews can be a good thing. If anything else, it allows us to see our work through someone else's eyes (whether we agree with them or not). That's my two cents anyway.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm not sure what I'd do. I'd probably read them for the same reason Alex does.

Christine Fonseca said...

I love reading everyone's two cents on this. For me...Love the comment, reviews are for readers not authors. And I will admit that YES, I read reviews, for much of the same rationale that Alex has. And yes, I stay offline when I am feeling sensitive. Love your posts as always

Leah Petersen said...

Oh, what a timely post. I've been thinking of this lately as my release approaches, and as my friends' books are starting to be released. I look at some of their reviews and want to scream "you totally missed the point!" and I think how my friend must feel to see that 2 star review and then I worry how I'll feel...

It actually never occurred to me to simply NOT read them.

Cherie Reich said...

I do agree reviews are really for readers and not authors.

That said, I do read my own reviews. For one, I'm curious about the review. What am I doing well? What I could do better? I guess it's a learning experience. Of course, I haven't had one of those crushing reviews yet (sure it's coming one day), so I may change my mind then.

Tracy said...

Amen! The main reason I don't plan to read any future reviews is because I know myself too well. 100 people could absolutely love what I've written, but one negative comment has the power to burn itself into the retina of my memory. I'm already hard on myself as it is, no way I could write under the extra added pressure of trying to please everyone.

Elana Johnson said...

Interesting point. I'm not disagreeing, but I think I can tell if people are reading and talking about my book without reading the review.

Elana Johnson said...

And this is where I deviate from a lot of people, it seems. I write the books I would like to read. I have faith that they will reach readers. I am not looking for a global-scale critique partner. Therefore, I'm not combing my reviews to find out how I should structure or plot the next novel.

In fact, often the next novel is written BEFORE the first one even comes out.

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, I weigh myself every day. That can be damaging too, in its own way! Ha!

And yes, I trust my agent, my editor, and the few CPs I've spent years getting to know to help me shape my writing.

And the temptation will be there! It's like gooey chocolate cake! Uh, good luck with that? Yeah, good luck. :)

Paul Greci said...

Wow, Elana. Interesting discussion you've going on here! You know, this is theoretical ground for me. So, um, what about Voya, School Library Journal, Pub. Weekly, the ALAN Review??? For example, if you heard that your book received a starred review would you take a peek? :-)

Patti said...

In a perfect world, I would stay away from reviews for the very reasons that you list, but I my curiosity might get the better of me. Hopefully if I ever publish a book I'll be able to resist.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm not there yet so I don't know how I'll deal with it. I have a feeling I'll be too curious not to peek.
Here's a funny anecdote: An author I know was out with another author in a bookstore. The second author found his books on the shelf and started writing notations in margins of things he wanted to clarify! So I guess you can make changes after publication, but he got kicked out of the store.

Richard said...

I have mixed feelings about it, but I really see nothing wrong with reading reader's opinions of your books. If you're secure in your identity as a person and a writer, then neither good nor bad reviews should affect you very much. As the writer of the book, you will recognize sincerety and insincerety where it exists. After all, we are writing to be read by stangers, aren't we? What they think should interest us to some degree. If we're not interested in how our books are recieved, then why bother with publishing them?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Reading them is sometimes tough, but I've learned from reviews, both good and bad.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not sure what I'll end up doing, because I'm not published yet, but I will say that I think being an author and being a critic are at odds.

I mean I love book bloggers, for getting the word out about great books, but I don't know if I could handle reading what they think about something I poured my heart and soul into.

Elana Johnson said...

Love the analogies! And sorry about your mom. You should definitely avoid that!

Elana Johnson said...

I like this comment a lot. I have a slight issue with it, because for me personally, if my story required a woman, I'd have written her in. If it didn't, I wouldn't have. No matter WHAT the readers said or thought.

You know? I'm not looking for global feedback from just anyone as a means to improve my writing. I have trusted readers I've spent years working with and gaining their trust. I have an agent and an editor who know what I'm trying to accomplish. I rely on those people to guide me in my stories.

Elana Johnson said...

I hear you 100% on the rating are no longer trustworthy. Well said!

Elana Johnson said...

I can see I'm becoming in the minority here. And I'm okay with that! I disagree (respectfully) that authors should be using their reviews as critiques. In my eyes, there is a big difference between a private citizen reader and a critique partner. To each his own, though! Thanks for commenting!

Chantele Sedgwick said...

If I get published I doubt I'll read reviews. I have enough insecurities as it is about my writing. I don't need to have people tell me MORE things wrong with it! ;)

Elana Johnson said...

Yeah, simply don't read!

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, love your point about the pressure of trying to please everyone. It's never going to happen. Thanks!

Elana Johnson said...

I should've clarified! You smarty pants. Yes, I read all my professional reviews. What's the difference? Readers are private citizens, with subjective and wide-ranging opinions on what makes a book good.

The reviewers who work with Voya, SLJ, PW, and Booklist (among others) are professionals. They don't read emotionally, the way I think a lot of us do. They read for merit. When they find it, they say so. When they don't, they say so.

That's not to say that EVERY book blogger and reviewer on GR (or elsewhere) isn't just as removed or just as calculated or just as professional. I've read some very good and thoughtful, though not complimentary, reviews of books (mine and others) on blogs and GR.

But I think there is a difference between a professional review and a review on GR.

**Also, professional reviews can hurt too! I read once, take the quote my editor gives me, and never read it again.

Elana Johnson said...

LOL! Priceless.

Stephanie McGee said...

I probably will end up reading a review or two, if I ever get published. Then I'll get burned by it and stop all together. It's sort of how I roll. As for your comment that reading reviews of other books is damaging I have to respectfully disagree. While I don't read reviews of other published works regularly, I do on occasion. Sometimes someone will review a book on a blog that I've never heard of and it will pique my interest enough that I look into the book. Sometimes I read a book, or try to read one, and find myself not interested in continuing. This is when I go looking for reviews of the book to see if I'm in the minority opinion or not. Curiosity killed the author.

Tess said...

Amen, sistah! Goodreads can be like crack.

Elana Johnson said...

I think there's a profound difference between knowing what readers think and actually reading a review. I think you can do one without the other. For example, I know how well my book is selling. I know approximately how many people have left reviews. I get Google alerts when someone talks about me or my book. I get emails by the dozens--both good and bad. I get messages on FB and GR and twitter.

I don't need to actually read reviews to know if my work is being received. Does that make sense?

I'm glad there are writers in the world who are secure enough to read all the bad with the good. (You are awesome!) For me personally, it's hard enough to answer the biting emails. I don't need to further punish myself by purposefully seeking in an area that can cause further discouragement.

Elana Johnson said...

Fascinating! If I know the blog will talk about the book positively, I'll read it. I think, for me, I don't do it because if I know that author/blogger/whoever didn't like my book and then I find that they did like another one (that I may or may not have liked), it sets me wondering. About what, I'm not sure, but I know I can't have all that swirling around inside me when I'm trying to write the next book.

K.T. Hanna said...

This is fantastic advice. While the book is in draft stages and not in its final form - you get reviews by way of critiques and beta reads. This is the time to read them seriously, compile the common elements and make improvements you understand and feel will improve your work.

In its final form, once you've self-published, or been accepted by a publisher... (not that I am either) that's the book you were confident enough in to put out there. There's nothing you can do after the fact anyway.

This is fantastic advice. I hope a lot of people see this. Thank you, again.

Emily said...

Elana,
Thanks for this post. There's been tremors on the interwebz of late of authors who behaved badly to goodreads reviews. I'm with you...If I ever get published. I'm going to stay away.

Of course there are always going to be people who hate your book and people who love it. Sometimes I'm so surprised when I pick up some book that the entire world is raving about...and I don't like it. Much of reading is experiential and opinion based.

I think you are wise to stay away from the reviews.

Jenny S. Morris said...

It's a toss up for me. I don't think I'll want to read my reviews but I don't know if I'll be able to stop myself. (This is all in an imaginary world of if I get published.) I totally see your point and think it's a healthy opinion.

SHANNON O'DONNELL said...

I think reviews are the author's "Siren Song". The lure can be deadly, but only the strongest and wisest are able to resist! When the time comes, I hope I'm strong enough to tie myself to a mast and hang on tight, because I know I'm too sensitive NOT to. :-)

Marva Dasef said...

If you were tough enough to go through the querying process for umpteen rejections, why did you get so sensitive after your book is published? Read reviews to find out what you might need to improve upon in your next book.

The converse, a glowing review, makes up for any negative reviews. Or just look at the star rating. If it's high, then read the review. If low, then pass.

Danyelle L. said...

I agree 100%. In the push to succeed, sometimes I think we authors forget those vital points. I think it's also easy to forget that a review is just one person's opinion.

As an author, I don't read reviews of my works on purpose, because like you said--once the book's out, it's out.

As a reader, I use the reviews to see if there's any content in the story I would be uncomfortable with, but that's about it.

As both, I hate that people have gamed the system so much. (Authors manipulating reviews and review placement; readers trashing or rating books they haven't read.)

Kamille Elahi said...

I SO agree with the reviews being for readers. I see so many authors on Goodreads and I saw some who gave their own books 5 starts and I began to feel quite iffy.

If I was published, I'd not want to read any reviews, good or bad. Unless I could do like a director's cut.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Ooo! I like that! Reviews are for readers, not authors.

First time I talked to my editor, she said something that I wholeheartedly agree with, and plan to follow. She said it's not healthy to read bad OR good reviews. She said the good ones can make you feel like you can never live up to their expectations with the next book, and the bad ones can make you feel like you shouldn't even bother. Both are crippling to your writing. I just hope that not reading them is as easily said as done. ;)

Mindy McGinnis said...

I have big plans to dig a hole in the ground and crawl into it when my reviews start coming out. In other words - I'll pretty much keep going what I'm doing now.

Nice post!

Elana Johnson said...

I love this advice from your editor. And it's not easy, trust me. But after a while, you stop caring.

Elana Johnson said...

It's not a matter of sensitivity for me. And I have realized I'm in the minority on this, but I don't think reviews are the same as critiques, nor do I think they're the source to which authors should look to discover what it is they need to improve upon.

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent explanation as to how you use reviews as both an author and a reader. Thank you!

Angie said...

I think that is excellent advice. I already decided not to read any reviews if I can avoid it. I made that decision when I first heard you say you weren't reading the reviews. Smart lady!

Melanie Fowler said...

Maybe I'll get my husband to read some and pick a few out for me to read, like a few good ones every now and again to help lift me up when I'm feeling like a crappy writer. Or maybe a one bad one so that I know I'm no perfect.

I don't know what I'd do. I know that not everyone is going to like it. I guess we'll see when I get there.

Richard said...

Your reply makes perfect sense.

Sara B. Larson said...

I love what Peggy's editor told her. I hope I can follow that advice someday... presuming I ever get published. Ha ha. Ha.

HelenL said...

I sometimes can't help myself. I read my reviews, and nine times out of ten, I end up wishing I hadn't. It's so validating to get a glowing review, but it's incredibly painful to get a dismissive one. And as you said, it does no good. It's too late to change the book - not that you'd want to just to please an unhappy reviewer anyway. My advice if I had to do it again? Stay away from reviews!

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm not sure. I don't think that I'd be able to resist Googling reviews of my book at least once . . . but I know not much good would come of that. I guess, assuming I'm ever published, I'll just have to try and resist.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I do and I don't. I've had some wonderful reviews for my books and some that left me in tears for a couple of days.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm hoping to be strong enough not to look - although I know it will be tempting as anything! :)

Angela Brown said...

I'd like to say that I wouldn't read the reviews, but the temptation to read what people think of your novel can be overwhelming.

Since I'm still in the "work this MS into something other people can understand" mode, I have to say I'm on the sidelines for now.

I've gotten some harsh critiques in the past, 99% of them correctly pointing out something I missed. That was something I had to adjust to. If I plan on putting out a story for the whole world to see, I have to realistically know aforehand that not everyone will like it. Easy for me to say right now since I'm not in that position, but with some dedication, persistence and hard work, I hope to be.

Alice said...

I don't have a book out yet. I'm not sure if I'd read reviews or not. I might read some and then stop if the bad parts discouraged me, but maybe there would be something to learn? I don't know for sure.

Myrna Foster said...

Laini Taylor compared it to picking scabs.

A.E.Johnson said...

I totally agree with Elana. I don't see the point of reading reviews. Sure, it sounds like a good idea. And yes, they coule theoretically inform your writng. But in my experience, many of the reviews you read are not just about the book. They aren't just about the business, or art, or skill of writing. They turn personal in a hurry.

An honest critique of your work you can handle. A personal attack telling you what an idiot you are? Not so much. I think many aspiring writers would be surprised how personal the critiques become. And not just because you "take" them personally. I have read many reviews that aren't critiques but attacks. I just can't see how reading that stuff is productive.

Misha Gericke said...

I probably won't read a review unless someone told me to read a specific particularly awesome one.

After all my effort with getting through the process, I wouldn't want to know if someone hates it.

:-)

LV Cabbie said...

I think reading reviews is a matter of ego.
We write - or tell stories as I like to put it - to amuse and entertain others. If they do that, I like to read it so I know my efforts are not in vain.
And, "bad" reviews are just as useful as "good" ones. Perhaps I'm "pushing someone's button" just as I meant it to do!

Elana Johnson said...

Brilliant comparison.

Carol Riggs said...

I've been thinking about this lately--and I think you are SO right. Great advice. I'll try to stay away from those reviews when my book comes out. It's bound to affect future writing. Lately I've had a fascination for reading bad reviews on Goodreads (of others' books). It's amazing how brutal they can be. Some of them make valid points, and others are way overkill, too harsh. It's more fun to rant and write a bad review, I think. Sometimes I feel rather bad that my own reviews are pretty hard-nosed. But I want to be honest (not in a mean or harsh way, though). I'm not going to say I loved something when I was bored the whole way through.

Leslie Rose said...

I learned this lesson when I was fourteen in a touring co. of Sound of Music. Review called us everything from "adorable moppets" to "plastic versions of real children." Do-Re-Mi.

Susan Roebuck said...

I agree totally. With my first novel I actively sought out reviews (not only from GoodReads but from independent reviewers). For my second novel I'm not going to. I've found that entering awards gives me a better idea of how my book is. I don't mean the kind of competitions where all your friends go and vote for you, but the ones (such as EPIC e-book awards) where the book goes through several stages of judging.

Nichole Giles said...

No, I actually do not read reviews on my stuff. And I will also add that while I occasionally review them on my blog, that is only when I really, really love a book. I have not been on Goodreads in months, and am thinking of deleting my account because I've decided I should form my own opinions before reading what others had to say about the books that interest me.

I find that more often than not, my opinion is vastly different.

What I'm saying is, YES. This absolutely true. Well put!

L.T. Elliot said...

I definitely think reviews ought to be off limits to authors. Even if they're awesome ones. It just seems that your personal scale can be too easily tipped into arrogance or despair and you're better off just doing your job. Not because I think authors are too weak to handle it. I suppose I just know that *I* can't. ;)

Miranda Hardy said...

Oh goodness. I know many authors read their reviews. I don't want to. I really don't. I think I will have my writing partner read them instead. I'll stay away. Such good advice.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I don't plan to read reviews of my books. My confidence levels fluctuate already. I wouldn't need those to make it worse!

Jennifer said...

So Funny! Great post I love the drawings especially. I do not consider my blog a book blog although I do talk about books. I try to be as nice as possible especially if it is someones first work. Now if your Stephen King and you write a stinker then I am going to say something. I think sometimes.....just my opinion some bloggers tend to be extra mean out of jealousy. Maybe you got published and they didn't whatever. People are mean sometimes and you are right you should be writing not reading reviews for a book you wrote. As a reader I prefer reviews that take a more conversational tone. People that try to tear apart a book bore me with their attempt at sounding intelectual. Really great post!

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget