Many of us start writing because we have stories in our head that demand to be told. That often grows into the desire to share those stories with others.
For many writers, the point of writing is to connect with others through our words. A story that’s not shared is like the hypothetical tree that falls in a forest when no one’s around. A story without readers can seem less real.
Because of that desire to share our stories, the feedback we receive is hard to ignore. Obviously, we need to read the notes from our beta readers, critique partners, or editors. (Otherwise, what’s the point?)
But what about after we publish? Should we read reviews of our published work?
The Case for Avoiding Reviews
As writers, many of us suffer from self-doubt. We can doubt our story ideas, our characters, our plot events, our writing craft, our cover, our blurb, etc. The list goes on and on.
So exposing ourselves to reviews can seem like torture. Why would we want to see evidence of how many people don’t like our book? Or what if they find a plot hole and we can’t do anything to fix it?
Avoiding reviews can be safer for our mental and emotional health. We already doubt ourselves enough on our own, and we don’t need others to help.
For many authors, it is best to avoid reviews, and no one else should judge them. Heck, we all have days when we’re feeling more fragile than others. Maybe we’re sick or didn’t sleep well, or maybe we just received other bad news, or maybe we’re already in a self-doubting mood.
That’s okay. We’re all allowed to set our own boundaries.
Most reviewers know they shouldn’t tag an author in a tweet or post about a negative review (because that’s the social media equivalent to getting in someone’s face and telling them how much they suck). So those who do are likely just being mean.
Unless we run into someone mean like that, we should be able to avoid our reviews if that’s what we want. We can choose to not visit our books’ pages on Amazon and Goodreads, not click on the review section of our Amazon Author Central account, and not Google the titles of our books.
The Case for Reading Reviews
Curiosity can be hard to ignore. The potential of seeing evidence of others connecting to our story can be a powerful temptation. We might want validation that others heard our words.
Curiosity, connections, validation—there are many reasons why even those authors who intend to avoid reviews might give in and take a peek.
Most authors I’ve seen discuss this question say they don’t read reviews, or they tell others that it’s best to not read review. But I’ve also seen many of those authors admit that they cheat and look anyway. *smile*
I’m of the opinion that either choice is valid. There are several ways we can approach reading reviews with a healthy attitude—if we so choose.
Some authors purposely seek out reviews of their work. They might shrug and decide that their skin is already sufficiently thick, so they’re not going to worry about encountering anything negative. Or they might figure that they were able to handle their work being torn apart by beta readers or editors, and they don’t see a difference with a review.
Others might be able to emotionally separate themselves from their stories. They might not see their books as their babies, or they might understand that reviews are for readers, so they don’t take reviews personally.
A few authors might treat their initial readers as beta readers and look at their reviews to see where changes are needed. (Not recommended!) While others might see the reviews as big-picture feedback of things they need to work on in the future, such as character likability, finding a new copyeditor, etc.
What Category Fits Us?
I’m one of those types who doesn’t try to avoid reviews. Partly, that’s because negative reviews don’t bother me. Seriously.
I would never let a review affect a friendship or how I feel about someone, because I don’t take them personally. I’ve never cried over feedback, a bad contest score, or a rejection either. So to me, reviews aren’t much different. Also, I know that reviews aren’t for me—they’re for readers.
I don’t say that to brag or sound superior. As I stated above, we’re each allowed to set our own boundaries and decide what works best for us and our mental/emotional health.
In my case, I suffer from withering self-doubt in tons of different ways. Reviews just happen to not be one of them.
(That might be because my self-talk is often worse than anything others could say, especially on my bad days. I’ve learned to ignore myself. A lot. *smile*)
Whatever my neuroses, I can definitively state that I’d much rather have those who read my books feel comfortable leaving honest reviews for other readers than for them to not leave a review at all. I’m not joking when I say that I laughed and celebrated when I received my first one-star review.
My books aren’t for everyone, and I’m okay with that. (So yes, if you’ve debated leaving a review, please do. This isn’t just me putting on a “brave” face—I really don’t have an ego about my writing. *smile*)
If We Peek… A Survival Guide
However, there are many authors who intend to avoid reviews but peek anyway. For those, I really appreciated this post by Eric Trant on Kathy Pooler’s blog on how we can survive bad reviews.
He points out that bad reviews fall into several different categories, each of which say something different about the reader. I really liked these categories he shared because they give us a structure to look at negative reviews in a constructive way:
These reviewers find entertainment in the writing of their review. That’s okay. They’re not writing their review for our sake, so if entertainment is what drives them, that’s not for us complain about. (My first one-star was a heckler, and I was entertained too. *smile*)
The point for us to remember is that while there might be some gems of useful information in their review, they’re likely not our ideal reader. So don’t worry about their dislike of our story.
- Constructive Critic:
These reviewers often give thoughtful feedback, so it’s more likely that we’ll find nuggets of insightful information here. Maybe they point out a pacing problem or that grammar errors distracted them.
These reviewers could be part of our target audience, and the fact that they took the time to give a thoughtful review says a lot. We want to care about these reviews enough that we see what we could learn for the future, but after that, we need to move forward.
These reviewers often pick on our genre, the tropes used in our story, the type of story, etc. If we’re smart, we’ll be grateful for these reviews because these elements are subjective. What they say they hate, another reader might love. A “Too much kissing!” complaint can grab the attention of a reader who thinks, “Oh cool! A kissing book.”
Regardless, we really shouldn’t worry about these reviews. These are in no way personal, and these negative reviews can help other readers find our books by pointing out what might be catnip for them.
- Subconscious Fan:
These reviewers say they dislike our book, yet they can’t stop reading it. Eric’s post compares them to eating spicy food—when we want to stop but can’t—and that’s a perfect description.
In other words, they want to dislike our story, but they really liked it despite themselves. *smile* Others reading their review will notice that disconnect as well, so these negative reviews won’t hurt us either.
I also really liked Eric’s observation about paying attention to what the negative reviews don’t say. If we don’t get any reviews complaining about grammar or copy edits? Yay!
Same with plot holes, unresolved questions, characterization issues, point of view problems, confusing sections, etc. Each element that doesn’t come up in negative reviews is a victory for us.
That said, it’s still valid to want to avoid our reviews. We have to do what’s best for us. But if we happen to cheat or see them anyway, it’s good to have guidance helping us through the experience.
As Eric points out, the biggest lesson to take away from being exposed to negative reviews is that we shouldn’t let them discourage us from continuing to write. No matter where we are in our writing journey, we can learn, grow, and improve.
What our weaknesses are today don’t have to remain our weaknesses tomorrow. Whether the feedback comes from beta readers, critique partners, editors, or reviewers, the same mantra applies: Take what works for us and ignore the rest. *smile*
P.S. Would you like to guest post on my blog? Now’s your chance!
To make my NaNo November easier, I’m taking proposals for guest posts to run during November. Interested? Submit a proposal here.
Do you know what category you fit into: read or avoid? Why is that the best option for you? If you fall into the avoid category, do you ever cheat? Are you able to handle negative reviews or feedback, and if so, how? Does seeing these categories help with knowing which reviews you don’t need to worry about?
Join Jami in her upcoming workshop:
Get ready for NaNo by learning how to do just enough story development to write faster with “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.”