Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gut check: Reviews

(Self portrait in a letter, André Breton)

Here are some thoughts on reader reviews:

1. You are nowhere as good as your best review, especially if said review was written by a friend. (Thank you, friends.) 

2. Likewise, you are not the sum total of your most negative review. Or, rather, the thing about your writing that person hated could very well be the thing the next person savors. 

Which leads me to...

3. Writing is subjective. 

4. Reading is subjective.

5. Writing and reading are subjective. 

6. Resist the temptation to respond to your reviewers, even if you really, really want to.  

7. This one's tough: try to absorb the constructive parts of the bad reviews, especially if they consistently reinforce your own worst suspicions about your writing.  

8. By the next morning, say "Fuck 'em." Prove it. Stop refreshing your Amazon page every hour. You're not a lab rat. Earn back some self-respect. 

9. Start over. Write. Do it because you love it. Do it because you must. Write for selfish reasons, because in my very possibly worthless opinion selfish writing gives way to honest, universal writing. Stop short of self-indulgence, though. 

10. Be grateful for the ego check. Be thankful you have readers at all. Remember when publication was once a distant dream. Count the stretch marks of your progress. Treasure them all. 

Stand tall. Climb the next hill. 

Tumble to the bottom. Repeat if desired. 

It's better with the blindfold off. 


Stephen Parrish said...

You are nowhere as good as your best review, especially if said review was written by a friend.

Maybe. The reason I resist is because, for many (most?) of us, the reason you're our friend is because you write brilliantly. Speaking for myself, if you didn't write brilliantly I wouldn't bother with you. And I mean that: write one lousy metaphor and we're through!

Resist the temptation to respond to your reviewers, even if you really, really want to.

NEVER respond. Writing is your privilege, reviewing is theirs.

try to absorb the constructive parts

No. The constructive parts come from your (honest) beta readers, not from your reviewers. Your reviewers have a different, often selfish, agenda.

You're not a lab rat.

Yes you are.

Sarah Hina said...

And I mean that: write one lousy metaphor and we're through!

That'll happen when pigs fly helicopters.

All I meant when I said "You're not a lab rat" was that you don't have to constantly be pushing the button to receive your little shock or reward.

Feeling vulnerable with all the new attention my book was receiving, I found myself repetitively checking how I should be feeling by refreshing the Amazon page and reading what others said about me. That way lies madness.

I'm still going to check that goddamn page. Just less often. (That'll show 'em!)

I agree that beta readers can be invaluable. But if there's a constant refrain echoing throughout your reader reviews, perhaps there's a kernel of truth to be mined there. I don't know.

Honestly? I'm trying to be big here. To learn some larger lesson. After a long week of feeling pretty damn small.

But thank you. I really appreciate your comment here. And, of course, your wonderful review.

Charles Gramlich said...

It takes a lot of humility to survive the ego checks you get in the writing biz. :)

the walking man said...

SARAH HINA! You said fuck 'em. Damn girlfriend now you got it down, we're making you an honorary ghetto rat from Detroit (just don't call it The D).

Seriously though i ma sure that you wrote, edited, wrote and edited and repeated until you were as satisfied as you were going to get. At some point in time you have to give it up to your audience and let them judge you.

After that point you *shrug* take a swim in the hole of whew and then get out dry off and star all over again. Reviewers *meh* whatever.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot I could say here, and some of it I've already said to you. I stand behind every word of that. But I just want to note one thing, in the context of this particular case.

People have different tastes in literature. I know you know that. I, for example, could not read a horror book, particularly one with female victims. I would not enjoy it. It's not my thing.

Similarly, some people do not like literary fiction and lyrical prose. It's just not their thing, and that is fine.

But when a book is offered as a free promo, it is likely that some people who don't read a particular kind of book and who would never buy that kind of book will download it and give it a try. In some ways, this is good, because maybe they will stumble on something they like. But it's j as likely they will find that it's not for them. And that's okay, too.

(I still wish that such reviews would remain respectful, and I really wish they would not become personal attacks.)

I admire your willingness to learn from the negative reviews, but let's put it this way: I wouldn't want a great horror writer to question her ability because I didn't connect with her work.

You write beautifully. You created a female character who had strong opinions. Apparently, you did a REALLY good job of making her convincing. This? Feels like a success.

Sarah Hina said...

Charles, definitely!

Mark, you're right. That's the weird part of this whole experience--I honestly felt like that book was behind me. As it should be by now.

Thanks for the reminder, my friend.

Jennifer, you always make me feel better. And not because you're pushing platitudes, but because you make a lot of sense.

I hadn't really considered how giving away the book for free would affect its readership. And there's the ticklish matter of genre, which I never felt quite comfortable with (Romance? Really?). And, of course, politics, which felt like a small part of the novel to me, but evidently is a huge stumbling block to some.

I guess I can say it was an interesting experiment, at the very least. I'm still glad my publisher did it. And I'm glad I have you by my side, helping me fight my self-doubt. Always.

Bob said...

I always liked how Yanni put it, in his autobiography, when he spoke about criticism... some people will say, Oh it's blue, I hate it... and other will say, Oh, it's blue, I love it... you can never please everyone so don't even try... just work to please yourself... and every artist has his/her audience... it might be small, it might be big, but someone out there will appreciate your art.

Melissa said...

Bob hit the nail on the head with his blue comment. Don't doubt yourself. Writing is art. I have gone 34 years and read countless books. I could count on one hand the books that I can remember moving me. Plum Blossoms in Paris is one of them. I bet there are at least 10 other people that will feel the same way as me. Thousands will really love it. But 10 people (or more!) will forever remember it. How cool is that? You don't know me and I don't know you, but you have connected us through powerful writing. Not many people are able to do that. It is truly magical. Chin up, and be proud! (and please, onto some more writing! :)

Richard Levangie said...

In my mind, pissing off thoughtless, mindless Republicans* is a badge of honor, and one you should wear proudly. Their comments expressed nothing more than an extreme dislike for your political views. Nothing more, nothing less.

I know it's still hard, but I wouldn't have made my comment if I didn't believe it.

*The world is full of thoughtful, compassionate conservatives. But the folks who commented on Sarah's book were neither.

Sarah Hina said...

Bob, you said it better than I could. Thank you so much for that thoughtful response. And btw, it's wonderful to see you here again. I hope you've been well.

Melissa! You made my day. Again. I could get used to this, you know. :)

Truthfully, I'm just immensely gratified to read your comments here. It makes all of this other nonsense worth it. Ten times over. Thank you. From one kindred spirit to another!

Richard, okay, maybe I'm a teensy bit proud to piss off some of the knuckleheads. :)

Thank you for commenting. This experience has reminded me, yet again, that I'm very lucky in my friends.

strugglingwriter said...

"Resist the temptation to respond to your reviewers, even if you really, really want to." - this is very true and I imagine very difficult.

#8 is key too, and I imagine easier to do.


Sarah Hina said...

It's easier now, but you should have seen me those first few days. Pathetic. :)

Thanks, Paul.

strugglingwriter said...

Yeah, I missed the entire thing. In my defense, I've been sick most of this month.

I find some of the comments bizarre, like they didn't realize it was fiction. Really weird.

Also sad, if Bush is supposed to be a "conservative icon".

Aniket Thakkar said...

Parents are visiting us for the week. We went to the village of our grandma's birth. Sorry for not noticing all of this.

I'm just so very glad that we have Stephen Parrish on our side. Respect, for the man.

You seem to have your head in the right space though. Keep it that way. I'll drop you a big mail soon. :)

Sarah Hina said...

Paul, and here I thought the election was over.

I can understand someone being a conservative. But the contortions of logic required to defend Bush at this point are beyond the scope of my imagination.

Thanks for being baffled with me. It helps.

Aniket, I want to hear about your parents' visit! And I'd love to see a pic of everyone at your grandma's old village. (hint, hint)

Stephen Parrish is a good man to have by your side. As are all of you. I really do feel lucky in my friends. The rest of it I can take.

Karen said...

One thing I have learned from blogging is that I've become a lab rat in terms of positive comments. I feel like a blogswhore. (yes, Walking Man..I said that!) The problem with reviews is that they make us long for more of them as long as they are positive. We, ER...I need to be "big" enough to take the good with the bad and still say, F 'em when I like what I've written. As was stated earlier, we write, edit, and revise to our satisfaction. If what we write isn't appealing to someone, then that person just needs to find something different to read, and we need to be concerned about pleasing ourselves.

Besides, I loved your book and find you one of the best wordsmiths I know. So, there!

Sarah Hina said...

Karen, it's great to see you again. I miss your beautiful words.

Everything you say is true. And now that some time has passed, and the sting has lessened, it's really sinking in how important it is to be true to your vision and work to make it as complete as possible, but ultimately, to shrug at those who happen to see things differently.

Their criticisms may indeed have merit, but it doesn't change the experience itself. It can't or we'd never be brave enough to put pen to paper again.

And I do know that the world is much better for having your words in it! So there. :)