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.
Susan Dyer says
You are never going to please everyone so focus on the four and five star reviews! I’m reading Haven Lake right now and loving it! But then again I’ve loved all your books!! I’m sure it’s very hard to not read your reviews but take the negative ones with a grain of salt!! You rock and I tell everyone to read your books!! Stay strong and write on!!!
Holly Robinson says
Thanks so much, Susan–I love having you as my PR person 🙂
Michelle James says
I’ve read BEACH PLUM ISLAND and THE WISHING HILL and fell in love with both the plot and the characters in each. I’ve preordered HAVEN LAKE and can’t wait to get my hands on it, because I know it is going to be excellent. Don’t pay attention to bad reviews. If I read a book I don’t like and can’t give it constructive criticism, I never trash it or the author. If it was that bad, I don’t post a review. Those same people that give you a bad review would be crushed if their boss did the same to them, especially if he/she announced it to the rest of the employees. Just keep doing what you do best, and ignore those nasties.
Holly Robinson says
Michelle, you are so sweet. If only every reader was as thoughtful as you are! I don’t actually mind the bad reviews–it’s more the “meh” sorts of reviews that don’t offer anything constructive that I dislike. Thank you for your continued support!
Bill Kasal says
Right you are, Holly! Follow our passions and put words on the page… I think I need to email that advice to myself every day. Bless you and continued success!
Holly Robinson says
Thanks so much, Bill! I wish you luck with your own writing.