Source: guidetomenhattan.com via Rachel on Pinterest
When one thinks about artists in the spotlight, very rarely will the word “writer” come up. And sure, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and others do not grace the pages of US Weekly or People Magazine every week. TV channels may not discuss their latest book at length like they may do with the latest performance of whatever actor…but writers like any other artists put their souls out there.
You cannot entirely hide from them.
They come from within, from our wonderful critique partners, our great beta-readers. Then, from agents, possible editors and then from the readers themselves.
After reading this post by Shannon (if you haven´t read it, you definitely take a look :D, I´ll wait) and a comment by Christa on my post from last week, it hit me both as a writer and as a reader: Not everyone will like my work. Not everyone likes the books I could not put down. Of course we know it but there is a moment where it seems to become more real.
And then, I remembered that old saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”…readers bring their own baggage, past and taste to the books they read just like writers laugh or cry words on paper.
Getting published is really putting yourself out there, in the big big, sometimes scary world. There is no “Dealing with reviews for dummies”.
I checked one of my favorite books on Goodreads.com, The Ripening Seed by Colette and it has quite a bit of bad reviews. At the beginning I got a bit distracted thinking how is it possible? Can´t people see the art? The beauty of her words? The cynical look at the bourgeoisie world while still going through the motions of growing up? There are also great reviews of this story but usually the eye has a tendency to focus on the negative. But all the negative reviews of the world will not take away the feeling of awe I had while reading my mother´s copy of this book as a teenager or the flutters in my heart as I reread it years later. What should matter to me the most is how I felt about something.
As writers, we owe it to ourselves to go the extra-step, the scary step in our writing (like I mentioned in my Monday post last week) but then we´re standing out there naked. And let´s face it, being naked in front of possibly millions of people reading your words is SCARY.
So, I think we also need to protect ourselves once our words are out there. We need to have a safe place we can go to and need to know that yes we may be awkward in dealing with all this but what is important is that at the end of the day, we remember that we had the courage to go in the big scary world, that some did love our words and that, sometimes as a reader and as a writer, it is ok to just do that:
….as long as we walk with our heads high the next day and continue to be happy with our tastes as readers and proud of our words as writers.
Oh and if I ever get published and start freaking out, can someone remind me of this post? 😀
Looking forward to reading your thoughts on this!
11 thoughts on “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…”
This is a big part of why I went along with several people who are much more experienced and cooler than me and decided to only post reviews that are generally positive (three stars, which on Goodreads is designated “liked it”, or higher). Do I mention the stuff that didn’t work for me? Sure, but only if it’s in the context of a book that I want to recommend to at least some small group of people. And really, I’m pretty good at picking out the stuff I’ll like and avoiding the stuff I won’t, so there have been maybe two or three times this year when I actually made it through a book, or even a big chunk of a book, and decided not to review it. But I feel like it’s a little unfair to a writer to trash a book publicly just because it’s not my game.
(Sigh, and then there was the time I finished a book that I LOVED at like 2am and managed to get sucked into a comment conversation with someone very, very cranky on Goodreads, who posted a review stating that everyone who gave the book more than one star was a close personal friend of the author because no one could ever like the book. At a normal hour of the day, I never would have taken the bait. But really, that’s a pretty cruddy way to review a book. Don’t let those people get to you, EVER.)
😀 I think that’s also the reason why I follow this line: only review books that I really enjoyed and that I can recommend to at least some people. Like you I’ve been pretty lucky in the reading-department these days so it hasn’t be too hard 😀 I believe that the lack of respect is what saddens me when I read reviews of books that I really enjoyed (or even in general). Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but articulating it in a respectful manner is the most important. Saying that a book sucks without telling me why just doesn’t work 😀
For the record, I love reading super negative reviews of books I adore on Goodreads. These negative reviews don’t ever change my inherent feelings on the books, but they do help me to look more critically at the writing/character development/pacing etc. I find that I learn a lot from thoughtful, well written critics, even when (especially when!) I don’t agree with them.
And yes, having our work critiqued (or reviewed, I imagine) is so, so hard, but it’s the only way we learn. I think it’s incredibly important to work with CPs and betas who we respect and trust, and who feel the same about us. That usually helps the “this isn’t exactly perfect” comments go down a lot more smoothly.
And when critique really, really stings, I eat ice cream. 🙂
I think it all depends how reviews are written. I sometimes don’t understand reviews that are just plain disrespectful.
If a review is very well written and I disagree, I would love to start talking to the person who read it to argue over it (I guess hubby is not the only argumentative person at our house, lol).
As writers, we do need critics, we do need those people telling us one passage/chapter is simply not working or pointing out the mistakes we do because like everybody else we do them but…I’m not sure that if I ever get published I will seek out the bad reviews, I think I’ll try to have some sort of filter to get the constructive criticism without getting too rattled by it. That safe place is something which writers probably need to have handy. And you’re right, at the end of the day: we still have ice cream.
The reason there are so many books and different genres is because we all have different appreciation buttons and reading is a journey towards finding that which we really respond to and enjoy – along the way people take a wrong path, read about a book that someone else loved without recognising its not the kind of the book they relate to and then they comment on it as it should have been.
In a way it could be said that the negative review is really just a person saying ‘I chose the wrong book for me’, its not necessarily the fault of the writer, writers need to respond to their appreciative audiences or to the constructive criticism of someone who appreciates what they are trying to do and by commenting can assist them to improve.
If I don’t like a book, its usually saying something about me, about what I need from a book for it to push my buttons, but for plenty of other readers what was there was sufficient. The diversity of what readers adore is a fascinating subject, its just a pity that not all reviewers respect the artist.
I really like that term “appreciation” buttons 😀 We end up developing particular tastes and just like with a lot of different things, we sometimes venture out of our comfort zone and our taste buds still enjoy why we put them through or not.
And yes to this: “its just a pity that not all reviewers respect the artist.” The diversity of readers actually play in the writer’s favour but everybody needs to stay respectful when explaining their tastes 😀
Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Claire!
Yep, exactly. My work isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and that’s ok. I’ll admit to reading bad reviews on Goodreads, especially for books I love. I find something comforting in that, oddly enough. There are books that absolutely blow me away with their brilliance, and even those have plenty of one star review, scathing reviews. Reviews I completely disagree with. That just reinforces to me that I’m going to have negative reviews some day too, and I just need to let it go. You can’t please everyone, and you’re just going to drive yourself crazy if you try.
It is comforting in one way because it reassures us as writers to know that even as readers our taste are not shared by everybody, to remember how in awe we may have been with one book but still not everybody was as touched as we were. The pleasing everyone bit is something which is hard to let go 😀 I am working on it though! Thanks Meredith for the reminder! 😀
We do need to be careful not to base whether we think we can write on whether *everyone* loves our work. It is important, I think, for writers starting out to get some kind of validation that this is what they should be doing. You don’t want to be one of those people who audition on American Idol because their mom told them they were a wonderful singer, only to have their dreams crushed by the first truly honest critique of their non-existent ability. We need to have people we trust telling us “yes, you can write, and publication is a realistic goal for you,” or “you really aren’t ready yet,” or even, “I think you’re a great person, but just not a writer.” CPs should definitely help with this.
It’s a fact: not everyone will like what we write. But for each book that gets a negative review, there are industry professionals–agents and editors–who loved the book enough to see it through publication. Hopefully that thought will help see us through.
The feeback we receive during our never-ending writing journey is very valuable I agree 😀 I just had to picture myself singing at American Idol and I thank my dear husband and family to have already told me that my voice just isn’t that great… And you are so very right to say that even the books with some bad reviews were loved by someone else. It’s the beauty of diversity which is a plus for us writers. For me the most important thing is to stay respectful in the discussion and sometimes I wish I could discuss at length with someone who posts a very thoughtful but negative review of a book I loved as I am sure the discussion would be SO interesting 😀 Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this, Colin!
You are so right about people’s tastes differing considerably. You can’t always depend on a reviewer having the same taste as you. I rarely trust reviews for just this reason. You can’t please all of the people…etc. I know what I like and that’s really all that matters.
When it comes to reviewing books or critiquing someone else’s writing, I remember some of the advice I got from one of my Education courses in University when it came to appraising kids’ work and writing report cards: Never say something negative without first pointing out something good about the work/child. The same goes for reviews. Even if you hated the book, there had to have been something you liked about it. If there wasn’t, best not to say anything at all, in my opinion. 🙂