Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what I call ‘The Whirlwind of Humanity’ … all those different views and opinions and what we do with them when we receive book reviews.
We can please some people some of the time, but never everybody all of the time. One of the areas where my attention is forced to notice the differences between folks is in the area of reviews.
When thinking of purchasing a book, I take notice of its reviews to help me decide. But that is only one part of my selection process. Far more important to me is reading a sample. Whether this be dipping into a book in a book shop, or making use of Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature. This is what decides me one way or the other—the reviews add more information to help me make that judgment call.
And that is what it is: a judgment call. It is a highly individual choice, and is all about me. My preferences. What I want out of a book. For some, the editing and writing style isn’t so important, while for others it is everything. This is how come the same book can garner many and varied reviews.
It’s not about one of them being more accurate or truthful than another, it is simply one individual’s opinion. It reflects the glorious diversification of the whirlwind of humanity.
As an author, it would be a mistake to attempt to please everyone even for one moment, never mind all of the time. Not every review will adequately reflect our hard work, but at least the person has taken the time to leave a review. While each of us can learn and grow from our reviewers, there does come a point where we have to be able to let go. We have put our best efforts out there, and now it is time to move on.
We’ve all heard the saying: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, but most of us do just this. Being a writer, offering our own individuality out to a whole host of different folks demands that we become multi-faceted. We not only have to write a book that will apeal to as many minds as possible, but we also have to write an effective book blurb, and design an eye-catching book cover. Even if we employ an artist/cover designer to do this for us, we still have to decide on the final copy and have a good idea of what we want from the person doing it for us.
Sometimes, working with someone else can make things even trickier, as it can be difficult for them to grasp what we envision. A review on one of my novels likened some of the characters to ‘Pokemon’ … which couldn’t have been further from what I’d actually had in mind! LOL. This simply reflects the multitudinous ways our brains perceive and translate. I don’t think I could have asked that person to design my book cover—we really wouldn’t have been on the same page.
Is there any wonder, then, that there can be such a plethora of opinions and comments about just one little book? The essential thing to do is to take away what’s important from any reviews we receive, and leave the rest alone. Some reviews are just plain nasty, and only attack the writer. Those would be the ones to leave alone. Others, while (perhaps) still giving a low ranking, might be written more sensitively and offer useful information. These are the ones we can learn best from—as uncomfortable as that may feel.
As well as there being millions of authors with gazillions of books, there are equally as many reviewers with just as many opinions and preferences. When we publish a book, we thrust ourself into the centre of the cyclone. The only way out is to weather the storm and push on through. Sometimes the storm winds will be kind, at others cruel. They are all just the same whirlwind. One we all have to live with. Just that authors tend to have to live with it a bit more publicly than they might like.
I would be the first to confess that I like getting positive reviews, but I have learned not to depend on them. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if not for the lessons I took away from some of the more negative reviews. I am also learning, slowly—with time—that we are all such different creatures and have highly individual expectations.
For most of us Authors, we aren’t dealing with millions of readers, not even thousands, more like hundreds. Still, even fifty readers and reviewers can show us the need for an incredibly thick skin. I have spoken to authors who have felt deeply hurt from one single review. That is, the opinion of one single individual, whose barb happened to be sharpened in just the right (or wrong) way to pierce the writer’s armour.
While we do all need reviews for our books, and while they can be important in influencing a potential reader to buy our tome or not, they are not the be all and end all. They are also not about us as a person. They are about a book we have produced, yes. But that doesn’t mean any of it reflects upon us as an individual. So, good or bad, we need to keep perspective and give them their proper place.
If we get a rip-roaring rave review, that doesn’t mean we are a fantabutastic person … in the same way a devastatingly negative review doesn’t mean we are a despicable human being. We are more than other people’s opinions.
If we base our lives on what other people think, we are going to end up in an awful mess. We would be taking Schizophrenia to extremes! Can you imagine trying to contain that whirlwind within you? Scary thought.
What’s the best way to handle reviews that might hurt, then? Well, as with other opinions, we don’t need to respond. First and foremost, we do NOT want to engage in vitriol of any kind with the person who has taken the trouble to leave us a review. Some authors believe that thanking their reviewers is good practice, but I have mixed feelings on this whole question.
Sometimes a reviewer can feel ‘stalked’ or pressured in some way when an author makes contact with them. Of course, there are those who might be thrilled (especially the more ‘famous’ you become). This is one of those places where you need to proceed with extreme caution. Really, stick a ‘toxic’ sticker on your computer screen!
Reviews may cause unsightly mutation!
I never leave comments on any review I receive. Ever. I do sometimes thank a reviewer, if the situation seems to call for it … but I am always wary and choose the forum with great care. For instance, usually I would respond if it is a reviewer from a book club I am in, or if I know them, but otherwise I leave it well alone. And I never leave a comment on the actual review.
Again, that old whirlwind is in evidence here, as there are many opinions on this. What I will stress, though, is that if you do respond it always has to be humble. I cannot emphasise this enough. You won’t win any brownie points by being defensive, or angry, or hurt, or ungrateful. You’ll win a lot more by being gracious. Or by not being anything at all. Despite our differences, nobody can be offended if you don’t comment. You’re not being asked for your opinion, after all.
For those authors going Indie, it can mean going it alone. We don’t have a big publishing house and its public relations engine to hide behind. We’re it. We have to do our own marketing. We have to take care of the whole kit and caboodle right from the start. Getting the right exposure can be tough, which can make some of those opinions even harder to live with.
While this whirlwind of humanity can be challenging and hard work, it is also something to be celebrated. What if we were all the same? Every book would have to be the same. There would only be so many that could be written. How boring would life be?
The spinning vortex might look like chaos, but really it’s not. It’s a wondrous pattern and synchronicity that invites and beckons to the artistic soul. It’s an opportunity. Surviving the storm requires us to be both strong and flexible. Strong enough to stand up and be our own person. Flexible enough to be able to bend and go with the flow. When we have both of these attributes, we can dance in the Whirlwind and celebrate humanity in all its many and varied guises.