Thursday, December 4, 2014

Should Authors Read Their Reviews?

Caitlin here. As you may have seen, my debut novel, Heartsick, is coming out in February. (Yay!) While some days it feels like the launch date can’t get here fast enough, other days I pause and think that actually, right now is the fun part. I get all the excitement and anticipation without any pesky negative things, like bad reviews. While this is a cozy thought to me right now, eventually I, like all writers who put their work out there, will have to confront the dreaded truth: not everyone is going to like my book. 

Of course, I’ve had negative feedback before. Critique partners and writers group members and fellow writers on forums have criticized my writing. But those environments are collegial. The aim is to help each other become better writers. There’s a camaraderie to it that takes the sting out of it.
And, of course, I have also been rejected. Rejections rarely bother me. Every famous author has been rejected. It’s just part of the business. I even made a rejection goal in 2013—I wanted to get 125 rejections. I failed, but I did get over 100! To do that, I had to submit, submit, submit. And, at the end of the year, I also had several new short story credits and a literary agent! So, my motto: rejections breed success. :)

But…rejections are private. And, again, there’s a respect inherent in the process because agents and editors are professionals. Their job isn’t to tear writers apart, it’s to build them up. And, in fact, if they take the time to send a personal rejection, it likely means they saw something promising in your work.

So, if I’m not afraid of critiques or rejections, why do reviews have me quaking in my ballet flats? Simple. Reviews are for readers, not authors. They aren’t there to make me a better writer or let me down easy. They’re there to help readers figure out if my book is worth reading. And sometimes they’re there to entertain prospective readers with snark and merciless analysis. 

I am not criticizing reviewers for doing this. I whole-heartedly agree with Veronica Roth when she said, “The worst thing for an author is NOT someone hearing your book is bad, it's someone not hearing about it at all.” (If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend her post on the author-reviewer relationship.)

So, I want reviewers to snarkily tear apart my book! Honest, I do. I’m just not so sure I want to read those reviews. Sure, maybe the positive aspects of a review will build me up, maybe the constructive criticism will help me improve. Or…maybe the negativity will freeze me. Maybe I’ll never want to publish my writing again.

I don’t know if I should bravely face them or bury my head under new WIPs. 

What do you think? Should authors read their own reviews?

Karlie: Theoretically, I would say stay away from them! However, I know I won't be able to resist it. Knowing me I'll read the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think it's important to have the right mindset though - don't let the negative reviews get you down or stop you from writing! Like Caitlin said, at least people are reading it. ;)

Lisa: I have never actually thought this through. Thanks for posing the question, Caitlin. I think maybe read the reviews as they might say something that will help you. Not that it's their intention, nor their job, but multiple reviewers might say something that you were already worried about, and you know from then on that you should trust your instinct on that matter next time. Then again, I can see how a bad review could stun you into no-more-writing land. I know that I've received critiques from friends that was harsh enough (probably not harsh at all but it felt that way at the time) that it stopped me in my tracks, making me take a brief break from writing. And that's from a friend and coming from a place of helpfulness. So, maybe I'll win the lottery and hire someone to be the filter -  read the reviews and only send me excerpts that I need to see.

Dan: As far as reading the reviews, I think it depends on the author and is a matter of personal choice. Some authors might like to have the feedback or (from good reviews) the positive reinforcement. It's also a good way to check the temperature of the readership, and find out what works (or doesn't work) for many individuals. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I'll have the guts to read the reviews of my own book, especially the negative ones. The most important guideline I've heard from many published authors and professional reviewers is that an author should almost never respond to reviews or engage reviewers. The reviews are generally not aimed at authors anyway. They're aimed at readers.


  1. I think you should definitely keep an eye on them. Jo Bourne author of the Spymaster series and several other historical authors have been hit recently with a rash of one and two star reviews on GoodReads. The posters do just enough high ratings to keep them from under the radar then flood the reviews with low ones. If she hadn't been paying attention, she wouldn't have noticed the patterns, checked other authors and noticed the same names and patterns and been able to petition GoodReads to take care of it. Eventually she had to get her publisher involved before they would crack down.

    That shut them down for a few weeks and then they started again. Jo recognized the pattern, contacted GoodReads and they had them down the next day.

    One thing I would advise is not negatively interacting with bad reviewers. There's a story making the rounds now about an author who stalked a bad reviewer. Found her home address and confronted her at her house, called her at work etc. Yes, the reviewer was being a butt, but that does not make the author look good at all.

    Diana Gabaldon is a master at interacting with her reviewers fans even though she's pretty strict about fanfic. She doesn't allow it at all.

    One self-published author asked once for advice on a scene she was working on concerning horses. Since I've raised horses for years, I answered the call. Basically the heroine escapes naked from Dastardly Dan, dashes through the chilly rain runs into a stall where a raging black stallion resides, but he recognizes virtuous virgin needs a ride and lets her hop on him bareback and make their galloping escape across the cobblestone streets.

    I commented a raging black stallion no one had been able to tame probably wouldn't care about beautiful, naked, damsel in distress and would most likely fall down on the wet streets if he was galloping.

    Said author raised holy cain with me and told me she was an Olympic rider so don't tell her what horses will do. I checked, she wasn't, unless she was a vampire and competed in the ancient Olympics. She then posted crap about me on her blog for months sending people to my blog to harass me. You know, hitting that delete button on those posts is mildly annoying, but not really. I didn't even read them so all the time they spent typing was just wasted.

    She did the same kind of stuff to anyone who left negative reviews about her. It was about that time I stopped leaving reviews for anyone good or bad, though to be honest I have only left three bad reviews in my life. Usually I just don't comment.

    Read the reviews if you can handle them. The good ones will make you soar. Don't let the bad ones get your down. Zach Recht, a friend of mine published his Plague of the Dead book and got great reviews. Outstanding reviews. The one he focused on was a guy that shredded him for getting a location wrong in the book. It drove Zach nuts.

    You have to be able to shelve the negative ones.

    1. Thanks so much for this thorough reply! You bring up a lot of good points. I have heard about the Hale case and definitely disagree with her tactics. The bigger issue, of course, is that she was basically stalking the reviewer, which is horrible. But, she also wasted all that time and energy when she could have been writing more. Certainly, that's of less importance, but it still struck me when I read the original article. I thought, why don't you just take a deep breath and do something fun, like writing more!

      Anyway, thanks again for weighing in! :)