Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ask C.J. - Reviews

Anonymous asked: "What do you do about reviews that are mean, or harsh, or that get things all wrong? I know you don't want to start drama, but if someone is saying things that aren't true or are mean, how do you set the record straight?"

Here's the absolute honest truth: As far as I'm concerned, the record is always straight. Always. It needs no help from me. Let's look at each piece of your question, and I'll explain what I mean.

1. Things That Aren't True: Well, that sucks, doesn't it? If you're going to be judged and found wanting, it would be awesome if the person doing the judging had his or her facts straight. I don't read my reviews, but a few of my friends and family members do, and so I've been told that there is a review that gets my timeline wrong, and another that gets a main character's name wrong, and another that misquotes or takes things out of context ... and even one that claimed I humped the reviewer's car.

I think I would remember that. Probably.

But here's the thing. Whether someone screws up facts or takes things out of context to prove a point doesn't matter. It doesn't. The truth is that a book is a work of art, and art is essentially about the emotional reaction the consumer has when interacting with that art. If someone responds strongly to my book, good or bad, does it really matter if they screw up a few facts? Nope. Because their emotional response is still valid. I know that's a hard pill to swallow. I really do. Something inside of you wants to stand up and say "But, if you're going to say X sucks, then at least let X be in my book!"

Don't stand up and say that. Don't say anything at all. What do you hope to accomplish? You aren't going to change the reviewer's gut emotional response to your book. You'll just succeed in looking like a douche because you're standing over them with your red marker ready to correct perceived mistakes. The review will still stand because the emotional response still stands. Only now you've guaranteed that this reviewer and all of his or her friends won't be willing to take a chance on another book of yours again.

2. Things That Are Mean: Here's another difficult piece of honesty--snark is entertaining. Most reviewers run blogs or have followings on Goodreads who expect to be entertained in some way. For some, that entertainment comes in the form of pop culture references or an unusual method of giving stars or something that thematically goes with their blog. For others, it means writing a witty, scathing piece designed to both express their true opinion and get a laugh out of their readers. It's all about the audience. It's never about you.

Did you get that?

It's all about their audience. It's never about you.

Reviewers don't hope and pray that you'll wander by their blog and read their snarkalicious review of your book. Nope. They hope and pray that their readers will consistently choose to return to their blog for more of what entertains them.

Once you put a book out into the world, it doesn't belong to you anymore. It belongs to the readers. Some of them are going to fall all over themselves to gush about your book and your characters and that perfect little sentence you wrote on page 294. Some of them are going to shrug their shoulders and say "meh, whatever" and walk away unmoved. Some of them are going to hate your book with the burning passion of 1000 suns. All of them have the right to express their emotional response to your book in a way that entertains their readers or that accurately sums up that response.

3. Kill Your Curiosity: Which brings me to my final point. Don't read your reviews. Seriously. I know you think the curiosity will kill you if you don't, but I'm telling you that's a jagged little blade that will cut your creativity down to something you barely recognize. Shut out the outside voices, sit yourself down, and write the next book. Make it better than your last. And then sit down and do it again. Don't worry about what others are saying. Focus on spending enough quiet time with yourself to hone your vision. Focus on pushing yourself to take an artistic risk. Let the vision and the risk be its own payoff. If you run around seeking affirmation from the rest of the world, you'll end up hungrier than you were when you first began to crave their approval.

Because this question ended up taking longer to answer than I originally thought, I'll save the rest for the next post. If you have questions you'd like to ask me about writing, publishing, Defiance (non-spoilery), or life in general, please feel free to leave it in the comments. :)


  1. Great post!! My book won't be out until next year but right now I am a full time social media specialist for small businesses and I have to relay this kind of information to owners all the time: people only get that upset if they CARE. So unless it's just a nastygram, usually its because there's something about it they value and things didn't go quite like they'd hoped.

  2. Great post! Agree that snark is entertaining - I don't write snarky reviews myself but I enjoy reading them, and they quite often make me want to read the book even if they're criticising it.

  3. Thanks so much for this post, CJ. Thoughtful, well-delivered perspective checks always welcome:)

  4. Brilliant post! As a reviewer and part of the audience, I can say safely that you have hit the bull's eye!!

  5. I LOVE this. Right now I'm approaching from the reviewer perspective, and I agree with absolutely everything you said (and yes, sometimes snark is the best way to explain how a book makes me feel. It doesn't happen often, but when a book makes me feel snarky, it gets a snarky review. C'est la vie). I suspect if I was coming from the author perspective, I'd still agree.

  6. This is ridiculously awesome. Well, WELL said.

  7. YES. I think #3 solves most problems for writers but it is SO helpful to remember 1-2. *bookmarks post*

  8. This amazing piece of advice stands for more than just reviews for your book, but also about many opinions in life!

  9. Spot on. Absolutely. Love point number three especially, with that last sentence serving as the cherry on top of a freakin' delicious chocolate sundae.

    (Boy, do ya think this blog post sparked an emotional response? Uh huh, it did.)

  10. Fantastic post! Every single writer out there should read and follow this advice. Reviews can make you crazy and while at the end of the day, they may matter to someone, they won't matter to you unless you let them. A scathing review will do far more damage than a positive review will do good. If you avoid reviews altogether, the good will still make its way to you. Best of both worlds :)

  11. Great post and one that I hope everyone in that tricky position of having their "baby" out and being judged in the world has a chance to read. There will always be someone who has something nasty to say, some fact misconstrued or something falsified. You're right, that can not be controlled . . . but our response to it can. Awesome post!

  12. This post makes me want to check out your books. Because, yes to all of this.

  13. What you said. True to a T.

  14. Wow. This is spot-on-brilliant!


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