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Should you read reviews?

Caution: read only if you are awesome.

My friend Jenny has a memoir coming out soon. It is going to be amazing. It is going to get all kinds of love from all kinds of people.

But some people, my friends–some people aren’t going to like it.

This isn’t because Jenny is staunchly anti-Irish or pro-kitten-murder. (As far as I know.) She’s got a strong voice, is all, and it’s not going to appeal to someone out there. There’s no way around this. As lovable as Jenny and the rest of us may be, we cannot appeal to everyone.


Jenny and I had a conversation the other day about reader reviews, during which I implored her not to read them. She’s going to anyway, because she is perverse. “Oh, I’m definitely going to read them,” she told me, “and then I will call you and cry.” No amount of pleading on my part would change that. At least she’s honest?

Sigh.

No matter where you are in your career, it’s painful to read a negative review. Painful, and counterproductive. The problem is, they’re inevitable, if you’re writing the way you should be. You must be fully yourself in your writing if you want to reach the people you’re meant to reach. So: someone’s going to disike you. It’s a fact. An unpleasant, painful fact. And the wider an audience your book (or article, blog, etc.) reaches, the more people are going to read it who don’t get you at all. Or who begrudge you your popularity, or who think you might be anti-Irish because you said the color green doesn’t work with your skin tone. Sometimes people are just unhappy, or having a bad day, or nuts. You can’t control who reads your work, or how they’ll react.

The reaction of the world to your work is not your responsibility. You don’t need to be concerned with who does or does not like your writing. You also do not need to know about it. You do not need to read their reviews like it’s some form of penance. You don’t need to punish yourself because other people don’t think you are as wonderful as you are. All that reading these reviews will bring you is a bad day. Your productivity will suffer. Are you looking for excuses to not work?

I don’t read Amazon reviews, or Goodreads, or anything any reader has ever written about Let’s Panic About Babies. Okay: ANYMORE. The first week or so of the book launch, I couldn’t help but look. It only took a minute, however, of glancing around to realize that this would not help me at all. These reviews were not my business,  neither the positive nor the negative ones. (The worst are the in-between ones. There’s nothing worse than someone finding you mediocre.)

Once you’ve published something, you’re done. You can’t defend it. You can’t make someone like you. There is nothing you can do once a reader has reached his or her own conclusions. All you will feel from those reviews is awful. You may even feel bad about the five-star reviews, if you think they’re misinterpreting you. All it takes is one review that reads “I hate the Irish, too! Thumbs up, Jenny!” and you’re re-reading your entire book and wondering where you went wrong.

In conclusion: reader reviews are poison for the author. Once you’re done, you’re done. Don’t look back. Move on to your next project. DO YOU HEAR ME, JENNY?

(No. No she does not.)

Next week I’ll address what to do about negative blog comments. Like the ones I will get on this one, from those damned Irish. (I’m kidding! AND I’m half Irish! KISS ME.)

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