book reviews

Reading My Reviews Has Paralyzed Me

Although I’m always telling author friends of mine that they shouldn’t read reviews, the truth is that I do read reviews sometimes. I stay the hell away from Goodreads these days, but I didn’t always, and I do look at my Amazon reviews every once in awhile, mainly because there aren’t that many, and it’s easy to see when a new one has popped up, and let’s face it, as an author, it’s REALLY HARD NOT TO LOOK. And I still read them even though I know that 90% of what’s in them is what the reader brought to the table, not what’s actually in the book. Reviews are none of my business, but I peek anyway, and I think over the long run it has hurt me.

Why?

Because every time I sit down these days, I feel paralyzed. I have NINE titles out. Nine titles with reviews. Nine titles’ worth of reviews floating around in my head, taunting me. It’s a lot.

I write whiny characters. I write boring, slow-moving plots with robotic-like characters. My novellas are too short and not detailed enough. My female characters need to be more kick-ass. I need more sex in my stories. I need erotic sex in my stories. I need less sex in my stories. Those swear words need to go. There wasn’t enough real language. I need more world building. My characters are too timid. There is no emotional connection. On and on and on.

And yes, I know I can’t listen to reviews, but the bad thing is that I have in the past, and even though I’m a very forgetful person, those negative reviews stick like glue inside my head, especially when I see similar things said on multiple books. All the positive ones? Those seem to flit away on the breeze. Even if I read them now, their sparkle isn’t as bright anymore.

I really do listen to my editor and close beta readers and improve based on what they say, but that’s as far as it should go. I shouldn’t be changing my writing for other people. But it’s like I broke all of my fingers in the past and they’re just not healing. I’m allowing all the negativity I’ve read in the past affect what I’m doing today. It’s affecting my creativity. It’s affecting what I choose to write. It’s affecting me in ways I never thought possible, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Writing is painful these days, so painful that in the past few weeks, I’ve kind of stopped altogether. It’s not that I need constant praise and positivity to write, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m wanting to go in a different publishing direction with my writing, and I’m too afraid to do it because of that negativity hanging out in my head. If only I was ignorant to all of those reviews! I could write in that happy, blissful pre-publication state again. In other words, I’m a mess right now and I’ve got to figure out a way to write past all this. Anyone been here before?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

Negative Review … Old Book … What Was My Response?

So, it used to be that I read all my reviews. You know, back in the day when my first book was published and my cute little naive feelings were so easy to crush like a glass under a freaking boot. Shattered. I’d spend weeks stewing over what people thought and said about my words, my characters, my beloved stories.

Today. Well, a friend of mine talked me into joining Tumblr once again. Which I have, and I’m doing it differently this time around and it’s much less stressful and lot more carefree. Anyhow. Today. I was on Tumblr and happened to run across a review of an older book of mine, published a few years ago. I decided to read it, even though I avoid reviews these days, because it was for an older book and I thought, “I wonder if I’ll care …”

The review was negative and objected some things I’ve heard objected before. I stared at the screen when I was finished, waiting for that old hurt and crushed feeling to come back. The shortness of breath. The urge to fly my fingers over the keys in some sort of angry response (which I’ve never done, but I get the urge).

None of that came.

I kept staring and staring and I felt nothing. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard it all before countless times on other books of mine back when I did read more reviews? Maybe it’s because I’m more distanced from that book now?

Who knows. But it was nice.

Not that I’ll be seeking out reviews on older books from here on out. Still, an interesting experience, to say the least. If it had been a review for my most currently released novel … the response would probably have been a lot different.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

A Letter to An Author Friend on Her Debut

Dear Sara B. Larson,

I really loved your debut novel, DEFY! I’m excited  you’ve stepped into the world of the Published Author — a world I’m sure you’ve noticed by now is quite different for everyone. Like your main character, Alexa, who pretends to be a male warrior, I’ve found that I’ve also felt nobody understands me and never will, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to hide forever.

Today  I’m going to step away from my hiding and boldly dispel two things about being a published author — at least, things I’ve dealt with and seen many other authors deal with. You may or may not find yourself in my shoes at some point, or maybe you’ve already experienced some of these things. Whatever the case may be, I hope this dream you have reached continues to shine around the edges, no matter what!  

Jealousy

I think most authors get extremely envious of each other and don’t admit it. It’s not the nicest thing ever to talk about in public. But, I’ve found that if I admit my jealousy and face it, I’m a lot more likely to get over it quickly and move on with my life. I’ll admit I’m jealous of your success, Sara. You have an amazing, friendly agent who came to your launch! You are with a pretty sweet publisher, and you are tall and popular and pretty. Oh, I could go on.

The truth of it all is, however, that jealousy often means I want what someone else has, even though it might not be the best thing for me. The truth of it is that jealousy is an opportunity to turn myself around and face the reasons why I’m jealous and what I am overlooking in my own life. Opportunity is never a bad thing. So even though I’m jealous of you, that jealousy has helped me see myself better, and also strengthen my excitement and happiness for your success.

Other People’s Opinions, Namely Reviews

Published authors tell you not to read reviews, but 99% of the authors out there have read them at one point or another. Some of them continue to do so. I used to preach the “don’t read reviews” rule, but lately I’ve begun to see that at least when a new book of mine goes out there into the world, it’s actually quite helpful to know the feedback it’s getting — good and bad, even if it hurts. In the end, I have to admit that it has made me a better writer. If I lived in a sugar-coated world of five-star reviews (or completely unaware of responses on my work), I’m pretty sure I’d lose something important.

So I hope you don’t beat yourself up if you’ve read a few reviews, even if they sting. 

There are many great authors out there who can give better advice than me, but I hope you don’t think of any of this as advice — just me bravely stepping forward to share some of the things I’ve been afraid to admit publicly before. And I owe this to Alexa’s bravery in DEFY. Thank you, Sara, for being brave enough to chase your dreams. 

Standing With You In Publishing Land,

Michelle D. Argyle

sarablarson_michelle_d_argyle_blog_defy

Sara B. Larson can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books. Although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband and their three children. She writes during naptime and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” On occasion you will find her hiding in a bubble bath with a book and some Swedish Fish. Find more about Sara and her debut DEFY on her blog.

“DEFY by Sara Larson is an amazing, fantastic book. It has everything you’d want: intrigue, awesomely real characters, suspense, and a captivating plot. All in a world that comes to life in your mind. Highly recommended.” ­– James Dashner, bestselling author of THE MAZE RUNNER

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

How Do You Feel About Authors Reviewing Books?

A few years ago, I noticed an interesting thing happening amongst author acquaintances of mine — the book review exchange. Author #1 agrees to review Author #2’s book if Author #2 agrees to review his book in return. But when Author #2 gets online and sees Author #1’s review of his book, things aren’t looking so happy. Three stars? It “wasn’t up to par?” But Author #2 gave Author #1 FIVE stars, and a glowing review. Isn’t that what authors are supposed to do for each other? Where’s the support? But Author #1 doesn’t feel bad. Author #1 says, “Hey, you said leave an honest review. Why are you so upset? I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve helped you out.” But did he? If he honestly didn’t care for the book, is he supposed to lie in his review? Find a clever and more professional way to say only nice things about it and give it a higher rating? Pull out of his obligation to write the review in the first place? Should authors agree to only give a review if they loved the book? Do we all just need to grow a backbone? These questions are valid not only for review exchanges, but authors reviewing any books in general. What is professional? Is there a line?

I’ll admit I did the review exchange a few times. Sometimes it worked out great, sometimes it didn’t. I also reviewed books on my own without any exchanges, but I eventually decided that as a published author I was no longer comfortable reviewing books, whether I knew the author or not. I took all books off my Goodreads profile, deleted every review I’ve ever written online, and decided never to say yes to exchanging reviews or review requests (even from friends, and yes, this was a difficult decision). I’m happy to blurb/endorse a book for another author, help out with marketing where I can by spreading the word, and recommend books in certain situations, but to this day, I am not comfortable writing reviews in public under my author name.

I’ve heard authors say, “Well, I read and review books, and I always will. I’m a reader as well as an author. I have every right to review books and share my opinions about them.” I think that may be so, and perhaps some authors can pull it off more gracefully than I can, but I’m far too worried I’ll unintentionally hurt feelings and burn bridges with an honest review, or cause distrust and skepticism with a ridiculously glowing one. Not to mention the hurt feelings I’ve observed when authors take time to review some books, but not others, when there’s clearly not enough time for authors to review everything out there, even from all their author friends.

How do you feel about authors reviewing books? If you’re a published author, do you review books online under your author name? I’m curious as to other viewpoints on this topic, so share how you feel. I’m curious!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Reading and Reviews, Working With Other Writers

Why It’s Okay to Dislike a Book Everyone Else Seems to Love

I just finished reading a paranormal Young Adult novel (the first in a bestselling trilogy)* recommended to me by a friend. Sadly, I hated it. Maybe hate is too strong a word. I disliked it very much. I disliked everything about it so much that I had to go on Goodreads and Amazon and read the 1 and 2-star reviews to see if I’m the only one who feels the same way about this popular bestselling novel. I’m not, but there seems to be very few of us. Why do people love this book so much? I found that while some of the writing sounds pretty and literary, for me it turned up ultimately vacant. I was bored by the irritatingly shallow, flat characters, confused by huge plot holes (at least for readers like me who apparently question too much), and frustrated by a distressing lack of detail. I would have put the book aside after chapter twelve or so, but it was loaned to me by my friend and I felt I needed to finish it in order to form an honest opinion about it.

None of this means, of course, that the book is bad or that it’s unworthy of the love and praise it gets, or that I’m correct in any of the claims I make about it. I mean, what do I know? I’m not an International bestseller or a professional book critic. All it means is that I don’t understand why others love it, and I probably never will because I’m obviously not the type of reader for whom it was intended. Reading is subjective, just like everything else. In some reviews of the book, I found readers saying the opposite of the very things I found annoying. For instance, some praised the amount of detail, the dynamic and well-rounded characters, the beautiful and rich prose. And all I can think is, huh? There were a few bright, shining moments in the book where I thought, “Hey, this has potential!” and then they faded so quickly I almost forgot about them.

All this is to say that as I read those 1 and 2-star reviews, I came to an understanding that reviews reflect more on the reader than the actual book. Everyone has opinions, and everyone’s opinions are forged by their own experiences, outlook, morality, temperament, etc. If I dislike this book, I think my loathing says a lot about me and my personality … more than it ever will about the book itself. I do not fit into a mainstream group of readers. Or maybe I missed something crucial in this book. Maybe it means I have poor taste. Who knows? I wanted to love it. I love other wildly popular books, so my dislike is not born of jealousy, at least.

So what about you? Have you ever read something the whole world seems to love, and you disliked? Not because you’re trying to rebel against popular vote, but because you really, truly disliked it? What conclusion did you come to about why you hated it?

*little disclaimer: the book I’m talking about is not written by anyone I know, friend or acquaintance

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Reading and Reviews

My 10 Guidelines to Staying Sane as a (Published) Writer

1. Even if you take a break from writing, don’t actually stop writing. Always try to keep something creative boiling on the back burner of your mind. Feeling consistently productive is usually the greatest source of a writer’s motivation.

2. If you insist on reading reviews and you feel the need to punch the computer screen with your fist, don’t. And don’t ever respond in any form or fashion. Be careful what you say about reviews in any form or fashion, even to your friends in private. Saying bad things about other people’s opinions (because they really are just opinions) rarely comes off making you look good in the long run.

3. Don’t ever assume you are worth less than another writer, no matter how on the bottom-of-the-publishing-barrel you feel.

4. Even if the publishing world crumbles around you (or it threatens to crumble your world) remember nobody can ever take away the books you have written and how they have changed you.

5. Don’t call your friends liars by not believing what they say to you about your writing, good or bad. However, rely on your intuition for choosing what to change from criticism. If someone tells you exactly how to fix something (unless it’s grammar), it’s usually wrong for your book. Take feedback. Figure out the fixes yourself.

6. Making time for reading is as important as making time for writing. Period.

7. Don’t ever judge a method of publication, including your own.

8. If you feel like an outcast in the publishing world, it probably means you’re incredibly unique. Live it up. Nobody really wants to be a lemming.

9. If you’re trying to make a living from your books, remember that for most of us it’s slow-going. Always be writing another book (see above about back burners), and don’t forget to, you know, live. 

10. “Breaking out/making it big” on a first book, or fifth book, or tenth book, isn’t always the best way to go. A solid, quality backlist that sells is a stronger foundation and will make you even bigger in the long run. So. Keep. Writing.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

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 in All Things Publishing

When People Love You and Not Your Book, Which is More Often Than You Might Think

I’ve run across an interesting thing that happens to artists. I’m married to an actor so I know this isn’t only related to writers, of course. He does a lot of Shakespeare, which I’ll admit, I used to dislike until I met him. I didn’t understand Shakespeare and I thought he was overrated. Wow, was I wrong. Once I learned to appreciate him a whole new world of beauty opened up to me – including understanding an important part of my husband.

What I began to see, however, was that some of our family and many of our friends are in the same boat as I was before I learned to appreciate Shakespeare. They love Adam. They love me. They want to support both of us when I send out an email or call them up on the phone or tell them face-to-face that he’s in a new play and that it’s Shakespeare. Sometimes their face falls and they come up with an excuse on the spot not to attend. Trust me, I can tell every single time when someone doesn’t want to force themselves to sit through a “bone-dry boring play” they don’t think they’ll enjoy. Other times, however, these loved friends and family will nod and say that sure, they’ll try to come even though I can tell it’s not something at the top of they’re exciting-things-to-do-list.

I love them for that. I love those gestures of caring despite enduring something not entirely pleasant.

This, of course, extends into my own career. I can’t count on my fingers and toes (because it’s much more than 20) how many people have purchased and read my books just to support me. It truly means the world to me that they do so. I have many emails from friends and family who have read Cinders, my novella from last year, and told me that it was different than they thought it would be – that they actually loved it and fully admit they didn’t think they would. This doesn’t always happen, though.

Awhile ago I wrote a post about friends and family who don’t read your work. I was surprised at how many people commented and said I wasn’t the only one who felt like my writing (one of the most important things in my life) was being ignored by some of the most loved people in my life. It hurts, honestly, because there are some people in my life who don’t give a crap about my writing. They don’t read this blog. They don’t ask me about my career. If I happen to mention it they kind of shove it aside like its something they don’t understand and its therefore not important. However, they do care about me as a person, so I ask myself, well, if they care me about as a person why don’t they care about this absolutely essential part of me? Then I stop and ask myself what I might not be understanding about them. They might care deeply about something I could care less about. Goes both ways.

I’ll admit I have high respect for those friends and family who really have no interest in what I do, but support me by trying to show an interest anyway. So thank you to anyone reading this who has read my work mostly because you want to support me more than you had an interest in the actual work. That says a lot about you as a person. I’ve tried to return that kindness with loved ones in my own life. In fact, the more I get into this career, the more I’m trying to open my eyes and see what I might be missing about the people around me.

I just want to make the point today that while there are many people in our lives who love us, they won’t always understand and love what we do. It’s much easier to relate to things we have in common with each other. The other day a friend of mine mentioned in chat that she was so, so sorry she hadn’t bought and read my book Cinders yet. She said she felt lame and awful for being such a bad friend. I told her (and I meant every single word from the bottom of my heart) that she did not have to read my books to be a good friend. I loved her anyway.

And it’s true. I hope other writers in my life understand if I don’t get to their work quickly. I know how personal it can feel when you want someone to read your work and they don’t seem to care. But my advice today is to understand that if you’re an artist (writer, actor, whatever) that this might always be an issue and you never know the other side of the story. If you’re upset over someone not caring, the other person probably doesn’t even know or understand why. There might just be something about them you’re not understanding, either. All I know is that when I let myself open my eyes to that Shakespearean side of my husband my life expanded just a little bit more.

So how do you feel about this? An issue for you? A non-issue? Something you’ve grown beyond and have advice about?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

Facing Opinionated Readers…My First Book Club Experience as an Author

Last week I mentioned going to a book club where I was invited as the author of Cinders to take part in the discussion. I was forewarned that several of the members didn’t like my book. In fact, my friend who invited me warned me that one of the readers really disliked the book. Meaning, to me, she hated it. A lot.

I was nervous. I told myself not to defend my work or feel upset by anything that was said. I made the long, long drive to my destination and entered feeling extremely nervous, but confident that I had written what I wanted to write and I would not feel ashamed by anything anyone had to say.

I’m happy I made that resolve beforehand.

I’m a very sensitive person. It doesn’t take much to upset me, especially when it has to do with my writing and something like a novella I self-published because I wrote it just for me. The discussion started off really well with questions from each member. My friend Susan confessed that she didn’t understand the book at all when she first read it, but since she felt there was something deeper going on that she wanted to understand, she read all of the reviews she could find and then read the book again. She fell in love with it the second time. Amazing what that will do! Susan then asked whether or not I chose specific names for a reason and then there were other questions I don’t really remember now. Many of them were things I have answered in interviews and other discussions I’ve had with friends.

I did realize after awhile that I’ve made a huge mistake in assuming everyone knows Cinders is a continuation of the Brother’s Grimm original fairy tale of Cinderella. One of the only things I took from the Disney version is the fact that there is a fairy godmother instead of a magical tree. And because of this assumption, I forget quite quickly that I am:

(1) messing with one of the most beloved fairy tales and characters of all time, and…

(2) telling a story that takes such a deviant course from the Disney story it’s no wonder many readers don’t like the end…or my version of the character Cinderella.

I think if I do a reprinting of the book I may add a short note at the beginning about the original fairy tale. I may also add some book club questions at the end to help guide readers toward a more structured view of the work as I intended – specifically outlining the more subtle layers I added to the story. Readers could, of course, always choose to ignore the questions.

Overall, despite one of the readers not budging in her opinion that Cinderella is a terrible person who adds no empowerment to women for the story (I have my own very strong opinions on this that I will not get into here), I had a great experience. In fact, I stepped away from that meeting realizing I had accomplished exactly what I wanted to accomplish: Cinders makes readers think, feel, and discuss a character and her choices…often quite passionately!

In the end I honestly don’t mind people not liking the story or the characters. This experience was phenomenal and it was fascinating to get down to the nitty gritty of why someone didn’t like the story. I will never forget this. I learned a lot, and I want to thank each and every one of those readers for their opinions and sharing them with such courage.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing