October 23, 2008: Look Away

Today, one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica Faust of Bookends LLC literary agency, blogged about reviews. One of the “perks” of being a blogger is having her posts reviewed, and that’s given her some appreciation for the pitfalls of the experience. Her advice to her authors is not to read reviews, especially if they’ll make you second-guess yourself.

I completely agree with her. My thought on reading her advice was, “It’s one person’s opinion.” Mind you, I’ve heard that before — haven’t we all? The thing is, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the chemistry between a book and a reader. I’ve come to the conclusion that all readers — including reviewers — approach a book looking for collections of elements. Some of these elements are likely to be fixed, while others are variable. The variable elements are what lead to “not in the mood” syndrome, as in, “I’m not in the mood for epic fantasy.” How the reader responds to the book depends on how many of the sought-after elements the book has. What those elements are, and which elements are the most or least important, are as individual as the reader, so no two readers are going to respond to the book in the same way.

Given that, I’m very skeptical of reviewers who say they hope writers learn from the criticisms offered in their reviews. What is there to learn, other than your book didn’t give that particular reviewer what he or she was looking for? Is that a flaw in the book? Or is it simply a matter of book and reader incompatibility? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, myself. The more I think about this, the more I read reviews that make me go, “Huh? Did you read the same book I did?”, the more strongly I believe it.

So where does that leave me, when it comes to reading reviews of my own work? Well, first I have to sell something. Assuming that happens, I’m not reading reviews of my work. I’m not going there. There’s too much stuff out there to make me crazy without going to look for more, especially when a bad review is at least partly due to my work not being what the reviewer wanted.

So what do you think? And what do you do/will you do?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Teresa
    Oct 24, 2008 @ 00:52:01

    As both a writer and a reviewer, I’m torn. If I get published, I may be tempted NOT to read reviews, for just the reason you state.

    As a reviewer, I NEVER write them hoping the author will learn from my critique. My reviews are for readers, but I also, even when my review isn’t entirely positive, try to make sure I don’t say anything insulting and make it clear it’s my opinion only.

    Reply

  2. katycooper
    Oct 25, 2008 @ 17:07:56

    I’ve always found your reviews to be thoughtful and balanced, and I have no doubt they helped me reach this point of getting that the reading experience is a dance between book and reader.

    Reply

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