Monday, February 22, 2010

How Do Authors/Writers Handle Reviews



It's frightening, isn't it?



What am I talking about? Spending another winter on Long Island? No. The way Congress goes about its business? No. The amount of money interest groups polluting the election campaign every two to four years? No.



While the above are very important topics to some, the one issue that has piqued my interest most over the past year is how do authors and writers deal with good and bad reviews. Since I began the writing process of my first novel Necessary Heartbreak more than two years ago, I've grown to admire authors in many different ways, including their ability to develop a thick skin when it comes to having their work publicly critqued.



It's how you look at the process too. During the self-publishing timeframe of Necessary Heartbreak, I welcomed any review, sought it out, and wanted to receive feedback. I was very fortunate to be reviewed by mostly informed readers who understood what I was trying to say in my story. They also cut me some slack too, realizing it was my first attempt. For the most part, reviewers want to love your story and praise your work.



What I didn't realize is that every book has an audience. And if you seek out a review that isn't quite right for a particular age group or selection of readers interested in your subject, the reaction can be downright mean. It's not that the reviewer is a jerk or lacks the ability to comprehend your story, the book is just not right for that particular person.



I was able to land many great writeups on Amazon.com and across the internet for more than 95 percent of the reviews. But the most valuable part of the process for me was hearing what the readers and reviewers had to say. I read them all, sometimes five or six times. I digested the information, put it in my memory bank, and made sure I honestly addressed all suggestions.



It's certainly easier to deal with a good review. But there were a few bad ones too. I found out my book wasn't right for a particular age group. The adult issues that Necessary Heartbreak addresses aren't of interest to a teenager or a preteen. In my novel, I focus on the loss of a spouse, cancer, the topic of dying with dignity, and homelessness.



Lesson learned.

Authors are incredible people. They work hard everyday, suffer with their characters, want their material be looked upon favorably, and then hold their collective breaths hoping someone will buy their book. The process of producing a good manuscript is challenging enough. Always remember this -- a bad review doesn't necessarily mean your book isn't worthy of reading.



I always make my point highlighting William Paul Young's journey. He authored The Shack, a book that has sold over five million copies. Mr. Young has received thousands of great reviews and many hundreds of some not-so-nice writeups. I wondered how he dealt with such a situation. Did he read them? Did it hurt him? Did he lose confidence in his story? Was he angry? Did he respond at all?



His answer was simple: "I don't allow myself to entangle my identity (and therefore my worth or significance) with anything I do (write)," Mr. Young wrote me. "Whenever you put your identity in something that can be taken away from you ... it is false."

22 comments:

Middle Ditch said...

Any review needs its good and bad points. Nobody is perfect and reading a review about your work can help improve your next effort. Having said that, writing an objective review is an art that very few have mastered.

Nice new blog. I'l be back to have another read and I hope to see you on mine. Keep sending me blog messages and I'll be here.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks for your thoughts and thanks for stopping by to take a look.

Megan said...

Sometimes I think writing a review is as hard as receiving one, being on both ends. I don't like having to say negative things about a book, but I feel it's important to give my honest opinion to those who may be interested in reading it. Of course, mine is only one opinion. If people are going to look at reviews, they should of course read a few to get a full range of opinions. Nice blog Mike. :)

M.J. Sullivan said...

Okay, let me try this again. :)

I've learned so much from reviewers, positive and negative. I wanted an honest review so I could more forward with the revised version of the book. The revised story is so much better in part due to the kind reviewers I met online.

Sliding on the Edge said...

Oh, yes, the bad review day--worse than a bad hair one and, fortunately for me, not as frequent.

Nothing can be done about them, except to let them abrade a small portion of your ego, and then move on. No matter how brilliant the prose or scintillating the story and characters, not everyone is going to like your book. Not everyone is going to like you either and you just have to accept that.

Here's a paraphrase of something I just shared with a mutual friend. Success isn't forever and neither is failure. That's my philosophy on bad reviews and I'm sticking to it.

M.J. Sullivan said...

So true. I have to remember that the next time a bad review comes. :)

M.J. Sullivan said...

BTW, I love the way your blog page looks. Very nice!

Rebecca Royce said...

I had lunch the other day with a friend who is a working professional actress on Broadway. She said to me and now I'm paraphrasing, not quoting, that if you want to believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones and therefore she reads none. I will admit to reading my reviews--good and bad. I think, like you, I'm just going to try to figure out how to learn from them and not obsess about that...
Great blog!

Barbara J. Robinson said...

Mike, I'm so glad to read your topic. It makes sense, and it should help other writers who are beginning their writing journey. I signed to follow your blog, and I look forward to reading and learning from it.
Barb

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Rebecca! If Paul Young can handle the extreme views he got about his story, I think almost anyone can. Thanks for stopping by!

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Barbara for joining. :) I'll try to get into topics where I can interview people in the business too. Maybe this can help other writers.

Loren said...

I remember having to write a negative review....I hated doing it and felt awful! I would much rather right a nice one but I take reviewing books seriously and must be honest when I share my opinions with others. But in the end ~ that is all it is....one humble opinion!

Love you new blog

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Loren. I utilized some of the "negative" comments for better results in my revised edition. It's how you look at the reviews that could ultimately determine the future success of projects.

DUden said...

Have had different review experiences. The bulk of my career with the federal government entailed developing products, position papers, etc., that would be analyzed, evaluated, and sometimes dissected. Initially, it was hard to disentangle my ego from each 'paper.'. But once I found ways to be more objective, the possibilities of a cooperative process opened to me. A better product normally resulted.

Reviewers have a job to do, a role to play. Almost every professional undertakes that task seriously and responsibly. But even seemingly hurtful reactions, powered by a hidden agenda, could have usable information.

Tony C., one of my first mentors, once asked me to describe the clothes rack in his office.

He said, 'Your answer is the hard part, calling on multiple factors that you formulate into an answer. Whoever is next in line picks up from your point of reference, an entirely different task. Just keep your eyes and ears open and a smile in your heart.'

Mike, your life journey has provided enormous growth because of the ways you're responded. However you decide to handle this will work well for you.

Tracy Walshaw said...

:) Wow, Mike. I love this blog. I feel the heart already in it. How unsurprising...;)

You made an excellent point about the audience of our books. That, and creating our following, because if our novel has any bit of success, we will have those who look for something new, yet the same, from us (Gae brought this up recently in some conversations, and something I had not fully considered), so yes, it is very important to know who your audience is when writing and when being reviewed as well.

The quote from the author of The Shack really struck within my own heart. Thank you so much for sharing, and we can't wait until the book is out! :)

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks DUDen and Tracy for your thoughts. Feel free to make suggestions on any subjects you would like to be discussed. I'm now fortunate enough to be able to tap into some decent publishing contacts for help and suggestions.

Great Lakes Romances said...

As a writer of genre fiction I know some reviewers are not the right audience. The problem is that when I send out the review copies I don't know which ones are not the right ones. I learned early that when a bad review comes out, take the lemonade-out-of-lemons approach and remember that controversy sells books.

Nice blog! Best wishes with your May 1 book party. Wish I could be there!

Donna Winters

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Donna! I didn't realize it was such an issue too for you as well. I guess it goes with the territory. Thanks for stopping by with your thoughts.

Sandy said...

I look at my reviews, Mike, but I really think we shouldn't care about what reviewers say. It's the readers who count.

Many classics were slammed but look at them now.

M.J. Sullivan said...

True Sandy. It's probably smart to just focus on the other aspects of the book process.

Nishant said...

Thanks for your thoughts and thanks for stopping by to take a look.
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