Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How I Handle Reviews of My Stuff

While I have an agent now—with whom I am quite happy—I presently remain an indie author. Among other things, this means the vast majority of readers out there have absolutely no idea who I am. This translates into brand new reviews of by debut novel, Progeny, coming out now, two years past the book’s publication date.

The latest one from Indigo Quill is a good one. Here’s a snippet:

“Progeny is one of those books you see made into a movie. It's a story that captures the reader and doesn't let them go, not even at the final page. If you enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia or the works of Paolini then you will most definitely enjoy Progeny.

I loved this book. I loved the magic, the drama, the characters, the twists and the mystery. It has all of those elements in one. Usually when I start a book I have to keep telling myself, "just get through the first few chapters, they always get better after that." Not here. I loved that you hit the ground running on the very first page.”

Authors, of course, love getting reviews like these. Yet as I read this one, it reminded me of an exchange I once had with another author. A genuinely nice guy and very talented (and successful) author, he told me that he never reads any reviews of his work. His reasoning was sound—not wanting to get too high or too low on himself—but I left the conversation wondering if he was not missing a big part of the creative process.

Let me see if I can explain.

I read every review of my work that comes in, good or bad. The good ones—here’s a big surprise—brighten my day and bring a smile to my face. Everyone like to be appreciated for something into which they have put so much effort. Want proof? Next Thanksgiving, after your mom/dad/husband/wife spends two days cooking prior to the big meal, offer them a grateful “Awesome job, mom/dad/dear!” Then, sit back and watch them beam.

People crave validation for a job well done. Anyone who says they don’t is lying.

There is a flip side, of course. Anything that might garner praise is also fair game for criticism, which is not something everyone can take.

First off, let me say this: I have no tolerance for mean-spirited critiques. We all know someone in our life who is overly critical of everything, constantly pointing out flaws in everything and everyone. In my opinion, this says more about the person themselves than the target of their ire.

However, in my experience, most people who offer criticism do so in the spirit of being helpful.
Honest critique can be incredibly useful, even if it stings. Sort of like a vaccination shot: it hurts for a little bit, but it makes you better in the end.

Question: if every Thanksgiving, your mother/father/ husband/wife consistently undercooked the au gratin potatoes, would you point that out? Granted, this is a family member, so a certain amount of tact is required. But if you hold your tongue, you are doing a disservice to them...and you will be eating crunchy potatoes with melted cheese every November. They—hopefully—take pride in the meal they prepare and want to do it right. They might even thank you for your criticism.

I believe creative sorts—authors, artists, chefs, whatever—should never dwell on any review, be it good or bad.

Personally, when a good review comes in for one of my books, I read it, pat myself on the back (just a little bit), and then I move on.   

When a bad one comes in, I see if I can learn anything from it. If so, great. I incorporate the feedback and I move on. If not, I shrug my shoulders and—guess what?—I move on.

In other words, I don’t get too high on myself, and I don’t get too low, which, if you recall, is the same reason that other author never reads any reviews.

Is my way better? Don’t know. But it’s my way and it works for me.