Consider the Source: How Reviews Reflect Our Experience

I recently read an account of a celebrity and her young daughter which captured the concept of feedback from a unique perspective. Having completed a Google search, the daughter was troubled to find that strangers were saying all kinds of things about her famous mother, both positive and negative. The mother told her daughter that when people make those kind of comments, the feedback is based on their own individual experiences. Therefore, when people provide comments, they are typically talking about themselves, whether they realize it or not.

What an epiphany, and what a great way to see feedback (like reviews) in a completely different light. People are a product of their own experiences, strung together like pearls over the course of a lifetime. If art imitates life, then reviews of art imitate the reviewer‘s life. Reviewers respond to reading material based on their own individual experiences. When people read books, they view them through their own filters which have been carefully created over their entire lives. These filters can be likened to stained glass windows. The color of the light shining through a stained glass window is contingent upon the color of the glass.  The light is reflected through the filter of their own experience.

Reviews heart book

If you are a writer, reviews are vital to your career. Although positive, warm, glowing reviews are wonderful and make us feel good, constructive feedback is helpful. Of course, no one is thrilled to get a bad review, but most people are actually quite gracious. They are typically honest, genuine and simply expressing the opinion of their own experience. The good news is that people who write scathing reviews are few and far between. However, even bad reviews can yield good things. Having a disparate personality review your material gives you a 360 degree glance that you may never have considered. If a review says that a book skims over the best parts; that means the parts they found most interesting. Do they have a point? Are they right? Is there a way to take that feedback, take it to heart and learn for the next time? Probably.

Let’s say you have a book available on Amazon and Goodreads. You may find that you have very different reviews on those websites. The Goodreads reviewers may have higher expectations as a literary community. If you feel a bit down about a review, check out some of the feedback for many of the classics (The Sun Also Rises, Catcher In the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, to name a few). These works that have been part of the literary canon for years are still subject to scrutiny – and that’s okay. There are books out there that some will say are too controversial, and that others will say are not controversial enough. You can’t win over all of them, but you can still learn from all of them.

Pay attention to the words in the reviews: “I found this book to be a bit slow.” “I thought this book was going to be funny, but it’s not my kind of humor.” “I prefer stories that take place in present day as opposed to historical fiction.” This is why finding the appropriate audience for your work is so important. The audience will automatically be more open and enthusiastic to the material if their filter resonates with your own. 

In conclusion, when a person writes a review, they are often writing about themselves and their own life experiences. Keeping that in mind may make all the difference for your own development, as well as remind you to maintain some perspective about your next constructive review.

What are your thoughts on book reviews and reviewers?

10 Replies to “Consider the Source: How Reviews Reflect Our Experience”

  1. What a great take on the whole review process. Understanding that people view everything through their own lenses helps in many ways. As a reviewer, it makes me humble. As an author it gives me perspective. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thank you so much as well! I had never really thought about it from that standpoint either, until reading that article. It seems to apply across the board in terms of giving and receiving feedback, though.

  2. Great reminder, Kimberly! I heard once that people like or dislike you based upon how you make them feel about themselves. This is SO true! For instance, I often find that I don’t want to be around people who always seem to put me on guilt trips with their judgement or criticism. So, I can see how this is also true about book reviews. As my husband told me one day after someone had said some harsh words about me to a friend, “… some people just aren’t gonna like you!” Harsh reality for “people-pleasers” or “peace-makers,” I know! Aargh!

    1. There’s also a quote about how people may not remember what you did or said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel. That’s one I try to keep top of mind. Thank you!

  3. I always scratch my head when I read a one- or two-star review with a variation of “It wasn’t what I was expecting.” In almost every case, the book description is clear about the content. Thanks for pointing out that we do filter books through our own experiences and perspectives–that goes a long way toward explaining why those readers penalize the author with a poor review.

    1. Honing in on our ideal audience is very challenging, but it sure reduces comments like the one you mentioned. Clear expectations certainly help, but getting our work into the hands of the ideal audience is really the way to go.

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