Any artist knows that reading reviews of her book/play/movie/art gallery opening is bound to lead to pain and frustration. Why? Because even if the majority of the reviews are stellar, it’s the poor reviews we will end up focusing on, and doing so can paralyze us with doubt. That’s what just happened to me.
I didn’t mean to read my reviews. I really do know better. But I’m in that funny nether world, simultaneously waiting for my editor to read my manuscript-in-progress and preparing to launch my new novel, HAVEN LAKE. It’s a nether world where the air seems thin and hard to breathe, because I’m feeling so anxious about sending my new book into the world.
Then I made the mistake of going on Goodreads to look for reviews on a book I was thinking of buying, and realized there were already reviews of HAVEN LAKE written by people who’d won advance copies doled out by my publisher, NAL/Penguin.
Let me say first that I am grateful to anyone who reads books these days–especially any of my books. And, okay, yes, there are a number of great 5-star advance reviews that made me sit up with pride and smile. But of course I couldn’t help wallowing for a bit in those “other” less-than-stellar reviews and worrying that the book will sink like a stone. One disgruntled reader wrote, for instance, “I am not sure what genre this novel falls into. It’s not art, that’s for sure…if any of the elements had been explored in depth, it might have transcended its potboiler nature.”
This was followed by another reader saying, “I was looking for a tense mystery…but instead HAVEN LAKE was a book that focused on character emotions and development.”
Two different readers, two completely different takes. One reader thinks my novel is too much of a potboiler, while the other believes there is too much emphasis on character and emotions, slowing down the plot.
What’s true, and what’s not?
Neither. Every book is a unique, individual conversation between writer and reader. The truest thing about art is that it’s subjective in nature. One viewer’s favorite movie is another person’s yawn, right? And some art gallery visitors are drawn to examine the abstract contemporary paintings, while others spend their time ogling Matisse.
So what’s a writer to do?
Not read reviews (though of course we all slip up), for starters. We also have to remember that, especially in a giveaway contest, it’s hit-or-miss. Our books are being sent to many readers who love winning free books—who doesn’t?–and might not otherwise be included in our ideal target audience.
At the end of the day, writers can’t worry about what readers think, want or buy. We have one job, and one job only: to follow our passions and put words on the page, creating books that we, ourselves, feel proud to have written.