On Reviews

There’s much debate over how a writer should react to a review, whether good or bad. I have my own way of dealing with reviews and on the off-chance it helps another writer, here is my so simple take on the subject:

Everyone may have an opinion, and that is all a review is — one person’s viewpoint. What writers and readers need to remember is that most published work has already been overseen by the opinion of others — the publisher, editors, line editors, and proofers have already given their approval or provided input.

I always let a review rest for a few hours, ideally a day, after an initial reading, and then I consider whether the reviewer had something sensible — good or bad — to say. I then weigh that against other comments I’ve received, balanced with my judgement. Should the review prove negative — especially if it’s negative — I judge whether the reader has a valid point and, knowing this, whether I would have approached the story differently. If yes, then I keep that in mind for the future; if not, then I dismiss it.

That doesn’t mean I dismiss the opinions of others, just that I don’t allow them to influence the type of story I wish to create beyond what is reasonable. Almost every opinion is valid and unique to its owner, but the book belongs to the author.

Remember, we are all a product of our experiences, and one person may have knowledge that another person doesn’t. That awareness could make all the difference, could directly result from why a story works for one reader and not for another. No writer should take the word of one person or even several. No reviewer should believe theirs is the only valid opinion.

I’m not talking about bad writing here, grammar, or punctuation. They are also valid concerns, but concerning story content, someone brought it to my attention that there has been a subtle yet disturbing shift in reviews lately. Things have slipped from ‘this didn’t work for me’ to ‘the author is wrong’. As J.K.Rowling said in an interview: “I’m not taking dictation.”

I let no review ruin my day because writing and publishing are hard enough. One swiftly grows a thick skin (Rhino Skin, as James Scott Bell put it) or seldom survives. The statistics are something like 20% of people will hate a book, but keep in mind that means 80% of readers may well love it.

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