The important thing to me is that I'm not driven by people's praise and I'm not slowed down by people's criticism. I'm just trying to work at the highest level I can. -- Russell Crowe
Upon their first new release, a friend and fellow author flew high on the sparkly waves of first-book-itis. The knew, for the first time, the experience that is incomparable to anything imaginable. The exhilaration of having written a book. The book being accepted by the publisher. The whole kit and caboodle that is writing. And the Grand Finale. The Release.
And then...and then...
That pin prick in the balloon of giddy glee---the first negative review. Ay.
My friend immediately fell into a slump. Their confidence was deflated. They were never going to write again, they cried. They sucked at it, they claimed. Why, oh, why, did they ever think they could write? Low, low, low. Only to be soon lifted up on the breeze of the next good review.
Reviews. Riding on the high winds of them from ecstatic glee and then spiraling down, crashing to earth then back again. A cycle.
My friend is not the only one. It is, unfortunately, the way for many of us. We base our confidence on them. We gauge whether or not we're truly talented on them.
The scariest part of it all? We use reviews to validate the very heart of our souls---our writing. I don't know why we do. But we do.
It gets complicated, too. I mean, here's one reader who praises our book to high heaven and another who condemns it to literary hell. If we're going to validate what we do based on such diverse opinions, how the hell do we ever just settle down and know what we're supposed to write and how we're supposed to write it?
Once, in a department store, I was trying on a beautiful cobalt blue sweater. The friend who accompanied me shook her head. No. Not you. Not your color. Nah. Not your style. But...but....I loved that damn sweater! I truly, truly, truly felt it looked good. I felt beautiful in it. So disappointed, I started to head back to the dressing room, to return that gorgeous sweater to the rack.
A gentleman who'd been sitting just outside the dressing room, waiting for his wife, stopped me. I think it looks very nice. It looks good on you, he said quietly. I think you'll be sorry if you don't buy it, he added.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Yes, you do. Opinions.
I bought the sweater. Not because the man advised it. But because I loved it and I knew, deep in my heart---and the mirror, too, mind you---that it was a good choice for me. The man? Oh, he agreed. I used his opinion to add weight to what I'd already felt inside.
But, more importantly, I have loved that sweater. It was me.
My near-mistake was allowing the friend's opinion to alter what I felt in my heart. She said it didn't look good, I believed her. I based my opinion on hers.
Reviews are just like the shopping incident. The varying opinions. Liking a book vs. not liking it. There, on one side of the scale, is a good review. On the other side sits a bad one.
It's your call, darling. Which one are you going to grab up to base your confidence on? The good one or the bad one?
Neither one, you silly goose! Neither one!
I can only speak for myself on this, as we're all different. I personally take heed to almost all reviews. Good and bad. Sometimes the bad ones can be valuable learning tools if---I repeat if---they are honestly presented with tactful feedback. Still, it is opinion. Only opinion. But even opinion sometimes can be helpful. I've learned more than I care to count from kind, honest criticism.
What do I not listen to? Mean-spirited feedback. There's never, never, never any cause to be hateful in a review. Never. Well, not if a reviewer wants to be taken seriously, that is. For me, spiteful snarls and hisses in reviews negate anything the reader intended to say.
For instance, I've read so many reviews that began with such things as I hate to spoil the good rating party, but... And I actually read one that said Although I don't like to leave negative reviews in this instance I felt I had to provide a little bit of balance to all the positive reviews.
And that, my dears, said it all. It was offered in order to hurt. It was dished up to purposely bring---or attempt to bring---the author down to a crash. To pierce the bubble.
I hesitate to even approach the subject of dealing with meanness when our work is burned at a stake. I think it's call authors behaving badly or something like that, and it is taboo to go to that forbidden land.
But, no. I'm not an author behaving badly because I want to be respected by persons whom I've never done anything to.
I'm an author behaving humanly.
Oh, honey, I'm a big girl. I can handle a person not liking my book. Hell, some of the bad reviews have been so on-target that even I agree with them. I am my own worst critic. I have writing faults and I know it. I don't get my feathers ruffled by a bad review. Like I said, I even learn from them. Often. I've even written to some who've given bad but thoughtful reviews and thanked them because from some of them have come some awfully priceless suggestions. I'm no dummy. I listen. And so should you.
The proverbial grain of salt. Yes, use it. Do not base your worth on a review. Not even a good one. You heard me. Not even a good one. Enjoy good ones. Just please, please don't let the goodness mellow your fervor enough that you bask in it and don't try any harder. Don't grab your good reviews to your chest like a winning poker player with his chips and walk away with your winnings, feeling that the game is as good as it gets. Don't. Enjoy it, savor it, and get out there and throw it all back in to gamble again.
Oh, trust me. For some reviews, you don't need the grain of salty stuff. You need buckets of it.
And you know what? Reviews, bad or good, prove your work has been read. It proves your work brought someone to the point that they felt they needed to speak of it. Believe it or not, even the negative feedback---considering the time involved to share it---is still sign of your work having a life out there.
And he's right. Just remember the salt. Please carry your salt with you.
The bottom line is this: good reviews, bad reviews, no reviews. Never let them, as the quote says, drive you one way or another. Do your best because...well...your work should just be your best anyway.