Writers are a fascinating blend of contradictions. Many are introverts who have to do extroverted things—speaking, booksignings, author appearances–and do them well. They are creative, expressive people who, most of the time, live in their heads. And when they are around people, they can seem withdrawn, even remote (mostly because they’re STILL in their heads). They come across as confident and authoritative, and yet many struggle with sometimes overpowering insecurities. And they love honest appraisals of their work…
Almost as much as they hate them.
I saw a post on Facebook a few weeks ago from an author who was taking a review to task for saying what he didn’t like about the writer’s book. Almost immediately people jumped into the fray, putting down the reader/reviewer, calling the person names, saying that person was stupid and should just shut up.
Listen, I’ve been there. Had books I’ve written torn apart by those who clearly felt they could have done better. Or that I should have done better. I remember one review in particular that was so hurtful it derailed me for months. Every time I sat down to write, all I could think of was that person’s hurtful words. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Discouragement. A sense of betrayal. It all simmered inside. I worked so hard, and this was the thanks I got??? The more I thought about that reviewer, the more angry and depressed I got. I wrote response after response, each one more blistering than the last. (All of which, thank God, I deleted.)
Because the hard truth is that being criticized is part of this crazy task we’ve taken on. We write. We pour our hearts into what we’re writing. And we pray for our work to be put in the hands of readers. We know, deep down, that not everyone will like or “get” it. And we tell ourselves that’s okay.
Until someone says they don’t like or get it. Or says something mean or bad about us (e.g., the old standby “How can this writer call himself a Christian?”) And when that happens? Boy howdy, look out! We’re not crafters of words for nothin’! Those bits of English suddenly become weapons, knives thrown with keen precision to cut our detractors down to size. Fools! How dare they say such things about my work! Who do they think they are???
Well…readers. That’s who. People with likes and dislikes and opinions to share. And if the Internet and Social Media have done nothing else, they’ve given everyone a platform from which to share said opinions. And you know what? They have a right to do so. Just as we have a right to disagree with them.
Friends, ours is a world overflowing with opinions. And with platforms to express them with impunity. Of course there are times we’ll be offended, or even hurt, by those comments. But I encourage you to not react. Don’t take people to task. Don’t run them down or mock or denigrate them. Instead, let it go. Seriously.
Let it go.
It’s one person’s opinion. Nothing more. Nothing less. And if you really want to rise above the crowd, focus on praying for those who “persecute,” rather than railing at them. It may make no difference at all to those folks, but it will make a huge difference for you. Because your focus will be on what matters most:
Pleasing the One who called you to the task of writing in the first place.
Amen and amen. And, just because you are an author/writer does not mean you are the only ones who get criticized for your work. It happens all the time in every line of work. If it is only one person, take it with a grain of salt (but look for any truth). If it is several people, look for the truth and then work to change it.
When I write reviews, I do not always like the book – I would not be a very discerning reader if I liked EVERY book I read. Be glad I am reading your book, at least. And, be glad there is some reaction, even if it a negative reaction at least you made a connection with the reader, which is why you publish. By the way, I do not usually post reviews for books I don’t like because I know it may just be me and someone else may love the book.
Bobbie, yes, plenty of other folks are criticized for their work. But you have to admit, writers receive more than their fair share–and it comes in very public forums. And yes, that’s part and parcel of being a writer, we all know that. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
As a writer, I’m always glad to hear someone is reading my book. That’s why I wrote it–to bless those who read it. And sure, I know not everyone will like it. But reviewers need to keep a few things in mind as well. Which I’ll address in my next blog. 🙂
“And they love honest appraisals of their work… Almost as much as they hate them.” That is soooo accurate! The wringing of your hands as you put your baby out there for the world to see. The yearning for validation that somebody, somewhere, will like it. Such is the life of a writer.
And yep, let God be the final judge. If He’s pleased, that’s enough. 🙂
Karen, I really appreciate your timely post. I received comments about the first 3 scenes of my unfinished manuscript and was told to throw it away and start over.
I felt angry, frustrated, hurt, and discouraged. At times, I still do.
Some of the reader’s responses were correct. But, not all, many were not in line with the current standards for writing fantasy.
However now, after a couple of weeks, some great new ideas, and some several major corrections, I’m moving on.
We need to consider what was said, accept honest, thoughtful comments (if any), then “let the rest go” or it will freeze us in a place that God did not intend for us to stay.
Thanks, Dee. Loved what you said here:
“We need to consider what was said, accept honest, thoughtful comments (if any), then ‘let the rest go’ or it will freeze us in a place that God did not intend for us to stay.”
Boy, I feel like I just went to an analyst or took one of those personality quizzes. That first paragraph nailed my personality to a T.
All my reviews have been very good, but most are from people I know (and of course, I only know kind people).
I love the Laube posts!
Carol, we love having you visit and read!
What a stunning sentence: “Those bits of English suddenly become weapons, knives thrown with keen precision to cut our detractors down to size”
This post is a wonderful coach for a rationale response to our emotional roller coaster called writing. Thank you.
Thanks so much!
Patti Jo Moore
Excellent, Karen – – and I especially love how you reminded us all that we should PRAY for those who persecute. Not easy, but what the Lord wants us to do.
This is going into my “Keeper File” as I just might need it *after* I’m published. 🙂
Have a blessed, wonderful Wednesday!!
Thanks, Patti Jo!
Thanks, Karen. You’ve encouraged and helped us refocus on truth and what is most important – how we live out our faith. As writers. As followers of Christ.
Sandy Faye Mauck
Karen, I know this is going to be hard on me when I get published because one of my critiques was so painful, I just set everything aside and waited a whole month before God said, “Let’s go through this together and I will show what to receive and what not to receive.”
I am one to take it in and be crushed but never spew back but that doesn’t make me any better—because we know the Lord said that if it is in our heart…we have done it.
Thanks for the reminder.
You’re welcome, Sandy. I think we all take it in more than we want to. Just a part of being creative. And God’s right there to help us get past the pain and continue in obedience.
I’ve served as influencer for several books, and normally enjoy them. But one time I read one that I hated. I posted mediocre reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but not with Goodreads, and I didn’t pin it on my pinterest board. This was a highly touted book and, while I didn’t attack it, I felt other readers deserved to know that others had reservations about it (I was not the only unimpressed reader). I often read reviews before purchasing books. I would have been very disappointed if I had paid for that book. I donated it to the library.
I hear you, and I’m all for being honest about your reaction to a book. But I confess your comment about being disappointed if you’d paid for the book troubles me. We all take chances on whether or not we’ll like a book, even from authors we love. I’ve paid top dollar for books and realized they weren’t at all what I expected. Frustrating, but the chance we readers all take. And paying for books shouldn’t become the exception! Remember the Scripture about a workman being worth his hire? Authors, like anyone who puts time and effort and passion in to what they’re doing for a profession, deserve to be paid for their work. I don’t know of any other profession where people expect to get the service for free.
Okay…off the soapbox. 🙂
I can see how my comment didn’t sound good. I love books and would love a huge library of my own. But I try to practice good stewardship of my discretionary funds. When I place orders with Christian Book or Amazon, I have a long list that I must winnow down. Should I get this one, or that one? I do choose poorly at times, and regret not getting that one instead of this one. Even after reading excerpts and reviews. Yes, that other book will still be there down the line when I next shop, but so will a batch of new books to drool over. A lot of good books don’t get read because of time and money constraints, so getting a book that doesn’t grab me is disappointing.
Gay N. Lewis
I understand where you are coming from. I buy a lot of books each month and also visit the library. Expense is a consideration. As a writer of Christian fantasy, I’m grateful when a person purchases one of my books and I always pray they will find value in them. I hope my book makes them happy with the investment–both spiritually and financially. My publisher prices many of my books at low prices, and as a “workman worthy of her hire,” I don’t see much profit. On the other hand, I don’t write to become a millionaire, although if God wants that, I won’t shun it. LOL. I write to please him as Karen said in her last sentence.
“Pleasing the One who called you to the task of writing in the first place.”
Last summer I read a book that was coming out as a movie. The author was fairly well read in the high school library where I used to work, and someone thought enough to make a movie out of it, so it must be something special, right? Yeah, good thing I wasn’t his reviewer! I forced myself through it, because I rarely quit on a book. I always think that if I don’t finish it, I might miss a redeeming quality buried there. Nope. Not this time! However, I learned something, and it should have been obvious before. Just because someone touts something as “spectacular” doesn’t mean I should think it’s “spectacular”. The same with my writing/art. If God gave it to me and I carried it out to the best of my ability, someone somewhere will be touched by it.
Exactly. When God gives us a task, He uses it as He sees fit. It’s not up to us to say who it’s for. It’s our job to put in the time and effort to do the task with excellence. The result is up to Him.
Great post, Karen!
Nancy B. Kennedy
I truly try to accept reviews as constructive editorial criticism. As much as it hurts to ponder the possibility, could the reviewer be right? If so, how can I incorporate the criticism into my writing to make it better? Some reviews are so far out there you can pretty much laugh at them, but most contain worthwhile feedback for a writer.
Great attitude, Nancy. Thanks!
When i was an academic, I gave a lot of presentations at conferences…and there was always at least one person there who wanted to draw attention to himself by either finding a hole in my work, or by asking me a question I could not answer from the podium.
It wasn’t about me – it was about HIM. (never her, by the way…in case you were wondering.)
I treat reviews the same way, though I have not had a negative ‘official’ review of “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart”. The book says what I want it to say. I’ve reread it numerous time since it came out, and though I am very self-critical, I still like it.
If someone doesn’t agree with the premise (my brother in law did not), fine. I still like the book.
If someone wants to be mean, well, everyone gets their thrills somehow.
Andrew, exactly why we need to let God use us to pray for those reviewers who seem mean-spirited or “out there” in their comments. We never know what’s going on behind the scenes. But God does.
Gay N. Lewis
The last line sums it up. Please the One who called you to write. Thanks. Good article.
Glad you liked it!
Susan Mary Malone
Love this, Karen! As with just about all authors, I’ve had some bad reviews too. I had a book come out years ago, to great reviews. But just before a huge signing, the local paper panned it. Oh, did I want my claws to come through my pen in response! And as you said, it owned me for awhile. But as you said, “Pleasing the One who called you to the task of writing in the first place” is what matters.
Susan, thanks for your transparency. And isn’t it a relief when we finally let it go and let God set us free? I say that as someone who gets “owned” far too often.
Good post! Though I read a lot, I’ve only written a few reviews. I’ve tried to write them in the spirit I would want to be treated, should I succeed in my writing endeavors. I wrote the first review because the genre fiction by the author who is hugely talented was such a departure from her usual work. My opinion was it would have served her better to write that book under another name. The last review I wrote because I believed the author was too close to her subject and her writing became more exposition and brought the forward momentum of her novel to a standstill. I included the fact that I believed her editors had failed her, because a good editor should have coached her through her obvious personal connection to her subject – she should have been encouraged to write a nonfiction on the topic, or a memoir. The review I regret is the one I wrote after forcing myself to finish a book that was personally offensive to me. I fired off that review as soon as I finished the book, telling myself I wanted to write it while it was “fresh” on my mind. The passage of years have brought wisdom – I now realize I will not like every book I pay money for and if it’s offensive, I should just stop reading. Period. It’s not the author’s fault. I do have a feeling that I will be the kind of author who will limit my exposure as much as possible to hateful reviews, but I do want read the kind of reviews that are critiques of my work. That’s one way I will grow (I hope) as a writer. There are too many people out there, though, who spew hateful comments just because they can, and I believe all authors should limit their exposure to those kind of reviewers when possible.
What wisdom and reason in these words:
“I now realize I will not like every book I pay money for and if it’s offensive, I should just stop reading. Period. It’s not the author’s fault.”
I have done book reviews and reaction from the authors vary. A lot of authors really don’t want a review, they want an audience and validation. So when the critical reviews appear, they show their very thin skin. (Let’s call “thin skin” what it is: immaturity.) Professional writers don’t take them personally. They realize I may have a point and also take my comments for what they are: one person’s opinion.
Some people put out lousy books and someone has to have the courage to say it (kindly). I don’t trust any book on Amazon that’s only five stars. That means only their friends have read it.
Lora, while I understand where you’re coming from, I don’t agree that “thin skin” always means immaturity. Nor do I think all writers who are bothered by reviews had said thin skin or immaturity. Words are powerful things, and they hurt when they’re used in a harsh or negative way. Such as when one makes blanket statements about a group of people.
I know a lot of these writers, and I know their hearts. They’re not egomaniacs just looking for validation. They are people who pour heart and spirit and time into their work, seeking to honor what God has asked them to do. and they absolutely do appreciate thoughtful, reasoned reviews, whether positive or negative. So no, I won’t call their hurt “thin skin” or immaturity. I don’t begrudge writers their honest responses to honest reviews. All I’m saying is let’s not take on the world’s tools of responding in kind and striking out when we’re hurt.
Hi Karen, Appreciate your response. I didn’t mean to come off as harsh. But I think recognizing that people pour their heart and soul into their work is part of the dilemma. As a reviewer, I can’t care about that, because the book buying public doesn’t. As a friend, or mentor, or editor, I care. But as a reviewer, my audience isn’t the author, it’s the book buyer. My purpose in reviewing isn’t recognizing their effort, it’s providing an honest assessment of the writing as I see it.
To do that, I have to totally put aside any sentimentality. But I appreciate your fair criticism of my words. I have to practice what I preach!
Sandy Faye Mauck
I felt like I should say something about the reviewer side. If I can’t deal with a book, I generally just do the star thing and not a review. If a book starts out slow— gets better—that can be helpful. Or saying there is content not good for younger readers—again that is helpful or a little boring…got lost in too many characters, etc. But it is still so subjective.
My reviewer pet peeves are two things:
1. The group think happens way too much. People give good reviews because they think they must be in the “in crowd”. Boy I dated myself there. Best sellers “must” be good. Not. Several of the best sellers got good reviews from the secular readers. Might be good for sales but does that mean they truly minister? Or are well written? I can see the cartoon, now—something like the People’s Choice thing, “Oh look, Margaret, that has the most votes, lets vote for that one.”
2. So many reviews of Christian fiction are done by secular readers who just don’t get it. They rake a perfectly wonderful book over the coals the way they do Christians in general.
Sandy, that’s a good way to handle it. And the comments you mentioned are exactly what I was talking about: reasoned, thoughtful review.
“Let it go.” That’s like telling me to let go of my child. But you’re right, it needs to be done, eventually, with both the writing and the children. I find that I experience greater peace when I can successfully hand my writing over to God. I write it, then hand it over. Once it’s finished, it’s no longer mine. God will open the ears of those who need to hear.
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. I recently received two scathing letters of admonishment for an article I wrote for a women’s Bible study ministry newsletter. At first, I was hurt, offended, and shocked. But then I gave it over to prayer and gave it over to God. In the end, I had very deep and meaningful follow-up email conversations with both of my “reviewers,” and I believe all three of us grew in no small way from the experience.
I realize that public reviews are a different ballgame. But I’m thinking that my experience helped prepare me for what may lie ahead once my book is published.
Theresa, I agree! That was great training for dealing with the public reviews. Love how we can look back on painful times and see that God (a) was present and (b) used those times to refine and grow us.
He’s a pretty smart Dad, huh?
Beautiful. Thank you.
Good one, Karen. I think most of us writers are hit with fears that what we’ve written is really junk. A bad review than is planted on ground we’ve already tilled. This post helps us all get a grip on the greater Reality behind what we really do, which is write and life to please our Father God.
Virelle, that’s exactly what is at work within almost every writer I know. That deep, dark voice of criticism and invalidation. And I love this:
“A bad review than is planted on ground we’ve already tilled.”
Hey…you should be a writer!
To put a different spin on the old adage about publicity: the only thing worse than a bad review is no review.
Peter, you made me laugh. 🙂
Gay N. Lewis
I agree with Peter. Unless the person is a Troll, I appreciate all reviews. I find many readers are afraid to write.
I’m thankful that it’s common knowledge writers are often introverts. I feel less weird and socially awkward now.
In fact, you should feel right at home amongst your writer brethren and sisteren. Can I get an “AMEN!”
I knew it was time to stop reading my reviews when not only did the negative ones derail me, but the positive ones irritated me when they didn’t “get” the right parts, LOL. That’s when I realized that I was wanting praise more than I was wanting God’s work to be done, and I made rules for myself. If someone emailed me their thoughts, wanting a conversation, that was awesome. But I wouldn’t go seeking my reviews. Bad ones hurt me and good ones puffed me up, and neither was how I needed to be before the Lord…which is where I want to be when writing. Before Him.
Sandy Faye Mauck
On the way we decide to handle them:
I think it is a matter of who you are—your emotional makeup. The same person that loves The Patriot is not the same person that keeps visualizing the massacre over and over and never wants to see it again.
I am not there yet at least in the writing world but I can see myself crushed and exhilarated like Rosanna.
Susan Mary Malone
What a great discussion you started, Karen! What I love most about this is the camaraderie here. We all have to wade through it, and so nice to know this community empathizes! And is in it together 🙂
Karen, thanks so much for this. I’ve been blessed with mostly positive reviews, but you’re right–those negative ones can hurt. It takes time and experience to set it aside and move on. Thankfully, as Christian writers, we have God molding us and helping us with this aspect. Phew! 🙂
What a great article, thank you. The most important line for me was, thank God I hit delete. It can be therapeutic to rant but comments live forever on the Internet. It is so easy. But as you say everyone is entitled to their opinion. it still hurts, but that does not entitle us to hurt back.
Interesting discussion. I appreciated Lora’s point : “A lot of authors really don’t want a review, they want an audience and validation.” I suspect there is a LOT of truth to this. Especially in the Christian fiction market. I struggle with writing reviews, because I want to be honest but in reading all the other “gushy” reviews of a work that I thought was (for example) filled with bad writing and tired story lines I tend to just stay quiet. I like the idea of just giving a star rating instead of actually writing the review, that will help me in those circumstances. I haven’t had the opportunity to be published yet, but I hope that when I do I will face the bad reviews professionally. As you say, Karen, disagreeing with a reviewer really does nothing but make the author look bad, in my opinion.
Timely. True. Honest.
Thank you, Karen. Something we definitely should remember.