My Top 5 Ways of Dealing With Reviews

One of the hardest things for an author to face is someone who doesn’t like their work. I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I dealt with it in high school, college, and recently with my book releases. When I released Cinders, I attended a book group where half the group hated my book. They had expected a traditional Disney-type fairy tale. One reader admitted she was expecting talking animals and pumpkins. One reader said she didn’t like the story because of the ending and how unlikeable Cinderella is. It was an interesting conversation, but a good one. I learned how to deal with that kind of rejection in person, how to compose myself in a way and adjust my thoughts to a perspective which allows for the possibility that the entire freaking world is not going to love my work and bow down to my big ego and obvious genius. Because, well, I’ll admit, sometimes that’s what we writers think deep down, isn’t it? We are geniuses for what we’ve written! In a lot of ways, it’s true, but in more ways, it’s so not true. Not even close.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that yes, what I’ve written and what is published and out there is genius for me to have written at the time I wrote it and for who I am and what it took to get it out there the way that it is. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s genius for everyone. As we all know, that tiny little word, SUBJECTIVITY, is not tiny. It’s huge. It’s so huge that it shapes our world and every single thought and person in it.

So back to reviews. Guess how I deal with them?

#1 – Respect

Before I move onto #2, I want to make it clear that I respect and appreciate every single reader who takes a chance on my work, and I respect even more those who put up reviews and rate my fiction – no matter what that review or rating says. REVIEWS ARE IMPORTANT AND HIGHLY APPRECIATED!!!!!!!!!! They help a book’s visibility and perception, even if they are negative reviews. That said, I must move on to #2.

#2 – I Stay in My Own Space

Please don’t kill me, but I don’t read reviews anymore outside of a few exceptions. Unless a reader emails or messages me about their review, I do not read them, and even then, I click with caution. I especially don’t go looking for reviews. It’s my very strong opinion that reviews are not for the author. They seriously are just not any of my business. If reviews are written for the author, the reviewer will email the author with their thoughts. Or at least that’s how it should be. Besides, reviews are posted everywhere. I don’t have time to go looking for every review posted, anyway. Not even Google Alerts serves up every review to an inbox. I guess what I’m saying here is that if you want me to read your review, let me know about it by emailing me, because there’s very little chance that I’m going to run across it online.

#3 – Some People Just Don’t Like Uncomfortable Fiction

Cinders is uncomfortable in a lot of ways. So is True Colors, my collection of literary short stories. I knew it wouldn’t grab a lot of people, which is why I didn’t even consider asking my publisher to publish it. I just did it myself. I’ve already received several emails from readers informing me that they don’t care for the book. At all. (I’m adding this later, but some of those emails are from people who signed up to review the book, so that’s why they emailed me). A year ago, this would have hurt me a lot, but now? Well, I just shrug and figure it’s not their cup of tea. Sometimes I think the book needs a warning on the front that says, CAUTION: CONTAINS EXPERIMENTAL AND LITERARY FICTION, AND NONE OF THEM HAVE TRADITIONAL HAPPY ENDINGS. Okay, I’m being silly, but still, I’m always afraid that everyone expects purely entertaining and happy fiction every time they pick up a book. When they get something that is completely different, it’s uncomfortable. College taught me to adore uncomfortable fiction. It makes me think. It makes me see my world and myself differently. It broadens my scope and gives me a huge sense of satisfaction when I really let it sink in. So why doesn’t everybody like uncomfortable fiction? That’s easy! They read for entertainment and happy escape only, and I get that. I so get that because there are times when that’s why I read, too.

#4 – I Do Not Respond to Negativity/I Appreciate the Negativity

I’ve had issues with this in the past, and I’ve slipped a few times, but for the most part, I just don’t respond to negativity. If someone emails me about hating my stuff, or if I’ve run across a terrible review, there is no point to responding with an argument. In fact, there’s no point in getting upset at all. I used to. I’ve spent a lot of time ranting and getting pissed off about people’s opinions. I’ve taken things personally. I’ve thought, “Why can’t people see how mean this is to say such awful things in a way that tears me down?”

First of all, I don’t think 99% of the negative/constructive reviews out there are meant to tear an author down. They are opinions, and oftentimes the reader feels so passionate about the book that an author should be pleased that their work inspired such passion! Nothing is worse than feeling nothing at all for a piece of fiction.

Diverse reviews = diverse fiction.

I, for one, adore diverse, complicated, and/or controversial fiction. Mixed reviews usually mean I’ll like it.

#5 – Art is What it Is

Perhaps this should be #1, because I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about being an author is that what I create is an expression of myself. It’s art. Much of it may not be high-brow and important art, but it’s art nonetheless, and art is not something anyone should put up for negotiation. This is why it’s so difficult to attach a price to a book, which in turn attaches a value to the work that the artist might not feel does it justice. And in actuality, a price tag never does art any sort of justice, even if it’s crap. This is also why reviews can feel so harsh and unfair, and I’ll be the first to admit that even glowing reviews are forgotten in my head. For some reason, all I ever remember are the negative ones I’ve happened to read. The brain has a funny way of doing that. At least my brain does.

My point here is that I have to constantly remind myself that my writing is not up for negotiation from me. I’ve put it out into the world because I want to share it – and at that point, I have no control over that piece of art anymore.

It is what it is.

And because it is what it is, there is nothing I can or want to do differently for that piece of art. It’s out there to be enjoyed, hated, ignored, whatever. And that means it’s time for me to write another book! Writers like to do that!

My question today is do you expect authors to read your reviews? If you’re published, how do you deal with reviews?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

31 comments

Jordan McCollum

When I'm published, I really hope NOT to read reviews as much as possible. I know I'd have a very hard time with negative reviews (and they ARE the only ones that really stick in my memory), and I've also heard people say that positive reviews can backfire, too, by giving them a big head, or, alternately, placing so much pressure on them to perform that it becomes hard to write.

N.M. Martinez

This is a tough thing to think about. Thank you for putting it out there.I've come to many of the same conclusions. For a while, I think I looked to reviews because I wanted some evidence that my book was being enjoyed and that I'd done the right thing. With writing, you spend so much time in your head, and you can only hand it out before hand to so many people for editing and reviewing. There is no way you'll be able to hand it out to a large enough sampling to prepare you for the varying opinions.I find that the best thing for me to do right now is to ignore the reviews. Reviews should be a readers opinion for other readers, not a letter to me. Did they like it? Why or why not? Would they recommend it?I think what gets me about some reviews (none of the few I have on my own book, but some of the ones I've seen on other books) is that the reader isn't really expressing their opinion on the book so much as they're trying to critique the book. For me, as a reader looking for recommendations, that always bothers me.

Michael Offutt, Supra-Genius

I'm apprehensive about my first few reviews. I hope I have a thick skin like you do.

Amie McCracken

Reviews are for other readers, not the authors. I write to recommend to fellow readers.Thank you for sharing how you deal with this. It's comforting to hear your mechanisms for coping.

Linda Cassidy Lewis

No, I don't expect authors to read my reviews. Then again, I don't write professional-quality reviews, just brief comments.I do read reviews of my work though. I planned not to, but I'm too curious. So far, I've had only one 1-star review, and it didn't freak me out like I thought it would. I didn't respond or even blog about it. She has a right to her opinion.I'm not sure what to think about people emailing you to say they didn't care for True Colors "at all". I don't see the point of that. Unless you asked for their opinion.Asking for feedback from someone I know has read my book, is not something I do. I figure, if they don't freely tell me what they thought (privately or publicly), it can't be good, so I don't want to know. 😉

lauraraeamos

Oh wow, I don't know how I'd pull together the strength to hear that kind of feedback in person from a book group! Reminds me of those terrible college writing workshops. I think I'll make it a point to never attend a book group discussing my work just for that reason, lol!I think allowing yourself to not read reviews is perfectly fine. I think in the beginning, it might be a novelty to read them all, but (I hope) eventually, like you said, there won't be time to read them all. I might arrange for a friend to read the critical ones to see if there's anything I might learn from them, but not have to read them directly.And LOL, I've also considered putting warnings on my books! I do put these kinds of silly warnings on my web fiction – on a novel, it would still be silly, but would actually be useful at the same time. I know that my style and sense of humor is definitely not everyone's cup of tea.Also, when I'm shopping for a book to read, I always read the 2-star reviews. Never the 1-star, since they're usually more abrasive than they are helpful, but the 2-star reviews are usually critical in a way that helps me decide if I'll enjoy a book or not. Reviews are definitely for readers.Sorry about the SUPERlong comment! This has given me lots to think about and prepare for.

Douglas Brown

Of course, you and I have talked about this before but I'll just add that you are right with this blog. Seeking out reviews does nothing but hurt a writer's spirit. I don't get real upset about them when I do stumble across them like I did at the beginning. Like I said to you when you were talking me off of the ledge after my first 1 star, seeing the negativity was something I felt I needed to do. I still think it was right for me to see them as they helped me to grow, but now I'm a little more like what you say in this blog. What I like to read or write isn't necessarily what someone else likes so it would be virtually impossible to get all good reviews. nice blog.

Okay, first of all, your writing IS art. That's a fact. Secondly, I agree with pretty much everything on this list. People can have their opinions, good or bad, but I can't let those opinions stuff me in a dark corner and unravel my own will. In a way, ignoring them is best. As far as respect goes, I think that's paramount. Allowing others to have those opinions is the same as allowing myself to have mine. Everyone is entitled.As for your stories, I'll just let you know–clearly–that you have a fan in me. I love your stories. I love your writing. (I hate you for being so good at it.) And I love you.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Jordan: I've found newly-published authors like me have a hard time not reading reviews, but I'm finally getting into the bracket of not having to read them. It's hard not to be so curious! And that's sadly true about positive reviews. N.M.: That's exactly why I read reviews, too, was because I wanted evidence and validation that my work was worth everything I put into it. It wasn't until i realized I was looking for validation in the wrong places that my eyes opened a bit. And yes, book critiques are definitely in a different field as reviews. I wish there was a way for people to see this more clearly and to keep the critiques in the right arenas. 🙂Michael: I really don't think I have a very thick skin, hah. I think if writers have too thick of a skin, anyway, their work will suffer. At least I think mine would!Amie: You're welcome, and thank you for stopping by!Linda: Yeah, I was much too curious for Cinders. I always read reviews for that book. Now I've noticed there's like 20 some-odd reviews on Goodreads I haven't read on that book. I've read the reviews on True Colors so far, but that's because they were reviews people signed up for and I knew about them/they were sent to me.Laura: I was forewarned from the book group that many of them didn't like the book, so I was a little prepared, but it was still hard! It was an experience I'd never trade, though. It was actually a lot of fun to be able to talk to people about my work like that. Thanks for your comment! I like long comments. 🙂Doug: Yeah, I was worried for you at first! But then I realized I was the same way when Cinders came out, and I've noticed almost every new author friend of mine who has a book come out, does the same thing. It's like an initiation or something! And some authors continue to read their reviews. They like to read them and aren't bothered at all by negative ones. I say more power to them! I just don't think it's my arena. Laura: You're so sweet! And yes, I think it's important for all authors to respect even those who don't like their work.

Theresa Milstein

I love #2. When I'm in that place, I hope I'm the same way. I try to keep the author in mind when writing a review because I don't want to hurt his/her feelings. But my reviews really are for the readers. You have a great perspective.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Theresa: I hope you don't worry too much about author's feelings, but that is awfully nice of you! The way I see it is that the author has put their work out there for people to read, and people will always have opinions, positive and negative. As long as your reviews are professional, I see no problem at all in how you feel about the book. Thanks for stopping by!

This is a great post, Michelle! You can imagine how interested I am in how to respond to reviews. I'm already priming myself to not read reviews in general. I suppose I believe that what I don't know can't hurt me. Like you say, once it's out there, it is what it is.Actually, reviews in general make me very uncomfortable, which I suppose is why I don't publicly review books. I don't want my opinion, good or bad, to affect anyone–not the author and not a potential reader. I'd rather do all that privately…

Jennifer Hillier

I seriously just had an Aha! moment."It's my very strong opinion that reviews are not for the author. They seriously are just not any of my business."You are so right. So, SO right. I used to read all my reviews, but some of them would chip away at me, and it got to the point where I had to stop. I wish I could be one of those authors who can read reviews and not feel anything, but I think that's a very long way off. I needed to read this. Thanks for this post.

Carolina Valdez Miller

One of the best approaches I've seen to reviews yet…Thank you for sharing it.

I'm not exactly sure where I fall on how I deal with reviews, yet. There haven't been enough. The feedback (reviews) I've gotten in person has been great (and honest (because it's from kids)), but reviews from adults have been rather sparse so far. At the moment, I'm interested in them, because I want to know how people respond. Not necessarly so that I can make the next one more appealing (because the story's there, and that's what it already is), but so that I know what's working and what's not.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Bridget: I can imagine how interested you are, for sure! Reviews can make me uncomfortable, too, which is why I don't review publicly, either.Jennifer: I'm glad this gave you an aha! moment! Carolina: You're welcome!Andrew: My question is if you found that readers complain about something you feel strongly should be there, would you still change it? This is where I have issues with reviews. Lots of people complained about the ending of CINDERS, which might show that the ending has a problem, but there's no way I'm changing it because that would completely change the entire point of the novel. Stuff like that.

This took a lot of courage to share. It conveys more than just your "How To" opinions. It reflects your own growth, evolution, and struggle to overcome personal challenges. Bravo for coming so far and bravo for sharing!

Chantele Sedgwick

Reviews are going to freak me out. And I'm not even published yet! 🙂 I may do what a lot of authors do and not read them. It will be hard, but I hope I'll be able to do it. I don't have to think about it yet though. 😉

I think that's a good point about not reading reviews. Everyone is different and views things differently. This automatically means something you like may be hated by someone else. A bad review could rock someone's confidence and make them doubt their writing, when it simply wasn't (as you said) that person's cup of tea.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Alicia: Thank you, my friend!Chantele: Reviews still freak me out, and I don't even read them, hah! So it never quite goes away. Sigh.CD: Yeah, it's just much too subjective for an author to fret over reading them, in my opinion. Reading my reviews would affect everything in my life, and usually not in a good way.

Jennifer R. Hubbard

My approach is very similar to yours. I thank people who bring good reviews to my attention, but I don't seek out reviews, and I don't argue with reviewers.

Amber Argyle, author

Poking my head out of my writing hole to say hi (50k words, Booyah!)!Bad reviews, hellfire. Just start making a poppet. 😉

Elizabeth Mueller

Thank you so much for bearing your soul. I've had to deal with other's opinions as well. I've learned to accept that when Darkspell isn't loved, it's because it's reached outside of hits market range and that's okay.I've had my first 'review rejection' from my mother and sister-in-law, and two CLOSE friends. Those were shockers, but I know they still love me. It helped me to know that it's okay, Darkspell doesn't have to be loved by everyone.*hugs*Elizabeth

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Jennifer: Yeah, seeking them out just doesn't do me any good at all, I finally figured out. Took me long enough! Thanks for coming by. 🙂Amber: Yay, congrats on your word count!Elizabeth: Ouch! Sounds like you've had a hard initiation into published authorhood. It's hard, but a necessary thing. Happy you have a good attitude, though! You found that quickly!

Heather McCubbin

#4 is so true. I know people that will respond to what I call "flamers" (those people intent on setting your work on fire and hope you will come to its rescue only to then post more negative comments) and they'll get into a huge argument. I am of the mindset that writing is subjective, like art. Some will like mine, some won't. You are free to voice your opinion but if you don't like it then you aren't being forced to read anymore of it. I really like this blog post and will definitely link back to it on my new, baby, just getting started blog! Thanks for being so honest!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Heather: Thanks for coming by! I think you're right that some people just thrive on negativity and love to argue. I'm so not one of them, which is why I avoid reviews to avoid traps like that in some instances. I'll have to come check out your new blog!

Ah, well, no. hehI did make a significant change to House between the 1st and 2nd edition, but it wasn't a change to the story, just in a way I was telling the story. My kid readers do NOT like that I changed it, but they still love the book. The adult readers do like the change, many of whom couldn't engage with the story before I made that change.Still, many people tell me I should speed up the beginning of House, but I disagree and haven't done it. It starts slow on purpose, and that's how it will stay. When I have people that tell me they can't read it because I don't just jump right into the middle of the action, well, that's just kind of too bad for them. I think the ending is worth it, and the people who read it seem to think the ending is worth it. And kids love all of it, so it's kind of an adult issue with the slowness at the beginning.Anyway… all of that to say that, yes, I was reviews and feedback, because I -might- modify things based on what I hear, but, no, I will not change my story based on it.

This post is remarkable because it emphasizes how much growth you have gone through on your publishing path. It almost looks like a mountain: Writing out of love > Putting your work and heart out to be judged > Basking in praise and wallowing in criticism > Looking around at the view and wondering "It this it?" > Letting go of judgments good and bad > Writing out of love.May you always be proud of doing your best work and excited to write the next piece!To answer the question: I have found I don't like writing reviews any more, so I don't unless they are specifically required/asked for. Reviews are more Beta territory, and I prefer being an Alpha reader who gets to focus on what works well over passing judgment on a piece as a whole. This it true for me to the point that I avoid shopping on eBay because I don't like having to swap ratings with buyers/sellers. I'd much rather spend that time savoring the product instead of analyzing it.

Wait, I already replied? *sigh* Guess I needed to read and process it again. Thank you for sharing on a blog so that slow people like me can re-experience it!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Andrew: Thanks for answering! I'm confused because "modify" and "change" are kind of the same thing, aren't they? You say you might modify things based on what you hear, but you won't change your story. You mean modify just a few prose things? Grammar?Alicia: I'm so happy you understand this from even a different perspective. And that's funny that you replied twice! Hah! I've done that before. Okay, many times… *goldfish memory*

Andrew Leon

Look at it like making dinner. Modifying a recipe is still having the same thing, just adjusting it a little. Like more or less salt. Or not adding cinnamon.But changing the meal would be switching to a different recipe entirely.I suppose the two words are too close in meaning to make a definitive statement, but -I- knew what I meant. But, you, as my reader, did not, so I'm modifying my comment. The comment is still the same, though.heh