I Read All My Reviews! Want to Know Why?

Many authors will tell you that they never read their reviews. Usually they’ll give one of two reasons. Some say they don’t want to get puffed up by their good reviews. If they read the positive things people are saying, they might start believing their own press clippings and develop an over-inflated ego.

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Others say that they don’t want to read the negative reviews because the experience is too painful and discouraging. They end up dwelling on the bad things people say about their book and then get depressed. So they just don’t read any reviews at all.

Whether to read reviews is a personal choice, so I don’t criticize those who choose not to. They have valid reasons, and I respect that.

As for me, I read all my reviews.

Every single one.

Sometimes it is a potentially painful experience. Recently, an Amazon reviewer referred to my book, Terror by Night, as “a piece of trash.”

That could certainly ruin an author’s day.

The funny thing is, it didn’t bother me at all. I chuckled and said, “Wow! Why don’t you tell me what you really think about it?”

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have reacted that way. I’d have been sullen and depressed. I’d have walked around my house with a hang-dog look on my face. And I’d have driven my wife crazy with my pouting until I finally got a good review to cancel out the bad one.

So why was I able to smile when someone described as trash a book I’d labored, sweated, and prayed over?

Because I read all my reviews.

Every single one.

And as I read, I learn.

I’ve discovered that there are essentially three kinds of reviewers.

There are the gushy ones, the ones who think your book is the best thing since “To Kill a Mockingbird” and describe you as the next great American novelist. One dear lady (and I am not making this up), compared me to Ernest Hemingway, Sidney Sheldon, Lawrence Sanders, and Stephen King—in the same review.

Scout’s honor, she is not my mother (or any other kind of relative) and I did not pay her for her kind words. And although I thought her review was just a tad over the top, I still enjoyed reading it.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the gushy reviews. You worked hard for every gush.

Just don’t start believing them.

Next, there are the “acidic” reviewers. These are the ones who, for whatever reason, absolutely hated your book and they’re not afraid to tell the world what a lousy writer you are. Sometimes these sting. There’s something about the anonymity of the Internet that causes some people’s inner nastiness to come out and they write venomous things that they would never say to you in person.

I read the acidic reviews because they keep my ego in check. They remind me that not everyone is going to like my stuff and that, contrary to what I might want to think, I’m not God’s gift to the publishing industry.

By reading the nasty reviews, I cultivate a thick skin–something every writer needs.

Don’t take the acidic reviews personally. Instead remember what you tell yourself when you receive a rejection letter from an editor: “It’s just one person’s opinion.”

Finally, there are the “thoughtful” reviewers. These are the people who offer well-reasoned critique and are often the writers of your 2, 3, and 4 star reviews. The reviewer describes the book’s strengths and weaknesses, offers insights, makes recommendations, and doesn’t gush syrup or spew acid.

Sometime the opinions expressed are positive; other times, negative. Some are mediocre or to put it in current lingo, “meh!”

All are valuable and worth reading. I learn a lot from the thoughtful reviewers and quite often find myself carefully considering their critiques. These reviews have high take-away value for me as a writer.

But if I never read my reviews for fear of the gushy or acidic ones, I would never see the thoughtful ones.

That’s why I read all my reviews.

Every. Single. One.

And with each review, I take another step toward maturity as a writer.

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About James H. Pence

James H. (Jim) Pence is a man of many talents. He’s a performance chalk artist, singer, speaker, published author, editor & collaborator, and in his spare time he teaches karate to home schooled children. Jim has been called a “Renaissance man,” but he prefers to be known simply as a follower of Jesus Christ and a storyteller. Jim has been published in both fiction and nonfiction. Jim's most recent book, "More God," the amazing true story of Nate Lytle, was released late in 2011.

12 thoughts on “I Read All My Reviews! Want to Know Why?

  1. James, I like that approach to reading reviews. I think or is hard to take criticism on any thing we have labored over in a creative process. The key is not to let it affect us.

    I will tell you one negative comment can ruin 10-20 positive ones with me. I just need to remind myself that my worth is not in acceptance of my work but that The King of Kings gave his life for me. Then criticism is easier to take.

    Thanks for a gear article!
    Brent

    • Thanks, Brent. You hit the proverbial nail on the head. Our worth has nothing to do with acceptance of our work. It took quite a few years for me to learn this lesson.

  2. I haven’t had many reviews yet. My one two star threw me for a loop for a few hours. The reader liked my writing but not the story. But I learned something about readers and my audience. The better and best ones, I look at for the strengths mentioned (mostly strong characters so far) so maybe that tells me I have to work on plot and structure harder. What I really really like is when a reviewer mentions a personal connection or an emotional reaction. They go straight to my heart and I do a happy dance.

    • Excellent! I’m glad you’re learning from your reviews. I especially enjoy it when I read that someone has been touched by my writing. Keep up the good work.

  3. This is a good post to read. I hesitated to start doing book reviews, because I wanted to be honest (so people would take me seriously as a potential writer myself), but I didn’t want to burn bridges (by being critical). I tend to be one of those 2-3-4 star reviewers.

    • Thanks, Kathleen. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a thoughtful review. I’m glad that you’re striving to be honest (as opposed to gushing). I can’t speak for all writers, of course, but I appreciate honest criticism of my work. However, it took a long time for me to get to this point. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 10, 2012 « cochisewriters

  5. You are right, reading reviews is helpful. What bothers me are the reviews that are demeaning or hateful – I like balanced reviews that give the good and the bad. Sometimes, if a book is not good I’d rather say nothing. I’ve found that each book has strengths and weaknesses.

  6. Great perspective, James! Many could learn from your positive approach. I’ll definitely think of this next time I’m faced with an unfavorable rating or review. (:

  7. Reading all reviews helps us get to that place where we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Your post certainly inspires that journey. James, I loved this post and appreciate its insights. Thank you.

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