A friend lent me a book recently called The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield, whose debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for screen. A film based on his book was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford.
The War of Art is for writers, artists, and anyone who hopes to breathe life into their creative works.
I don’t read many “self-help” books, but this was a quick read and contained a few gems. One section that resonated with me referred to how “professionals” behave. I’d like to expound on this in relationship to book reviews.
If you earn a living by writing, or are trying to make a living this way, this post is for you.
A review can be a double-edged sword.
A good review can help sell a book. A bad review can alert potential readers not to buy it.
Authors count on reviews as a means to promote their work to new readers. They are a form of marketing. They don’t need to be scholarly book reports, just honest accounts of what readers like or do not like about a book. Initial reviews are crucial for establishing a pattern for a book. Does it average 4-5 stars? Or is it more like 1-2 stars? Right or wrong, the star system is a how many readers determine the quality of a book before they buy it.
It’s why many authors, myself included, solicit reviews from a healthy cross-section of readers/bloggers once a book is released. The more reviews, the better, because as time passes, the 1 and 2-star reviews appear less important when the overall average for a book is 4/5 stars.
And though more reviews do not guarantee more sales, an absence of reviews may correspond to fewer sales.
What does this have to do with unprofessional behavior?
In his book, Pressfield writes:
“Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.”
Whether you believe what he says or not, we can all agree that rejection and criticism (in the form of bad reviews) hurt.
No one likes negative feedback. If you consider your creation as an extension of yourself, then you probably feel a bad review as a rejection of who you are.
It may explain why some writers behave badly at times. I’ve seen authors attack readers both verbally and via the social networks. Sometimes, there are long threads of comments to discredit a reviewer (usually a faceless, unknown entity).
The degree to which each of us reacts to criticism varies. Though I can understand the public display of anger by some authors, it is not something I consider healthy or helpful for anyone. It certainly is not professional.
3 truths about book reviews:
1) No piece of writing is universally beloved, so as wonderful as it is to receive 4 and 5-star reviews, they are not the ones that will help you become a better writer. The 2 and 3-star reviews are more likely to provide clues to your writing deficiency, especially if it’s a recurring criticism.
2) It’s a waste of time to engage with online trolls, people who post ridiculous comments because … well, because they can. These are reviewers who like to push their own agendas on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. Remember, a reader can write a negative review for ANY reason, even just to be mean.
3) Reviews, good or bad, are not a measurement of your abilities as a writer. The actions and opinions of others DO NOT define your work.
Bad reviews sting, but they don’t have to sting for long.
I’ve had my share of bad reviews, but I choose not to dwell on the negativity or take them personally. I don’t allow negative comments to derail me. After all, external feedback is not the reason I write. I do it because it’s my passion.
And though I don’t look to reviews as validation of my efforts, I do appreciate praise. Who doesn’t? I also appreciate honest reviews, when someone takes the time to tell me what is wrong with my book. I know this is more difficult to do, so most people won’t do it, and that’s okay too.
The truth is, writing reviews is not obligatory for readers. It’s not their job to review a book even if they LOVED it, even if they know it might help the author sell more books. As professionals, it’s important to ask for reviews but not to coerce them from readers. Some people may choose not to write reviews, for whatever reason.
So do opinions from readers matter?
Yes, they do. Feedback should be sought. Beta readers, editors, critique partners are not the enemies; book reviewers are not the enemies. Learn from constructive criticism and ignore the troll-like comments.
As a professional, grow a thick skin, not one that will numb you to bad reviews, but one that will allow you to believe in your own strengths while working on what needs to be improved.
You don’t have to crumble at the first sign of a 1 or 2-star review.
Bad reviews are part of being an author and not within your control. How you handle them, though, is entirely within your control.
Whatever you do, don’t let someone else’s negativity stop you from writing.