Don't get me wrong. I absolutely think that book reviewers (especially those who think my books are works of genius) serve a vital role in the community of readers. Let's face it, there are a *lot* of books published each year, far more than even the most voracious reader can hope to tackle. It's great to have a trusted person's opinion to help sort the wheat from the "chaff".
When it comes to sorting books and movies, I have a couple of close friends who know my taste well enough they can predict what I will like. If they recommend something, I listen. If they send me a book, it goes to the top of my TBR stack because past history has proven that nine out of ten times, I'm going to love it. My sister, on the other hand, has recommended to me the dog of all dogs among comedy movies with enough consistency that I avoid comedy movies she loves like the plague. Likewise with my parents and a couple of friends who are into types of books that I don't like. (One thing about writing; it makes you pickier over time and less likely to enjoy pretty much any entertainment thrown your way, perhaps in the same way food critics lose their appreciation for hot dog stands and potluck dinners. The poor things.) But the thing is, these folks aren't wrong -- they simply have very different tastes -- as does the editor who, after awarding my work first place in a contest, sent me her favorite books she'd edited in the hope that I'd write something more in keeping with that style so she could buy it.
I disliked the books so intensely and found them so at odds with my strengths as a writer, I quickly understood that such a sale was never happening. Or at I wasn't willing/able to contort myself in that particular direction.
But I digress. My point is, each of these trusted or distrusted sources evolved over time. My question is, when it comes to online book reviews, anyone can post an opinion on Amazon or a number of review sites. They folks have a perfect right to their opinions, but that shouldn't make them trusted sources. That designation should only go to a reviewer who's recommendation you have tried -- and agreed with -- over a period of time. And as for the author, all of us (and I'm preaching to myself, too, on this issue) need to remember we're not writing to every potential reader out there. We're writing to please our audience -- and to entertain ourselves and grow as humans and as writers.
When we allow negative comments to rob us of our will to produce, we rob both our readers and ourselves of future books. And I also contend that when we pay to much heed to glowing remarks, we give away some of our power -- making the work better only by virtue of who else likes it. Who else other than ourselves.
In her brilliant Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott writes about the addictive, negative impact of positive reviews, prestigious awards, etc. With her trademark self-effacing wit, she talks about the growing need for more and more honors to feed her ravening ego -- and the negative impact it has on her ability to work.
Insteading of placing our self-esteem in the hands of others, whether reviewers, editors, agents, or random idiots posting in their blogs, we need to remember the quiet thrills that resonate through our centers when we craft a perfect line or the thrill of having our characters "take over" and come up with that witty comeback we'd never have thought of in our real lives or the muse hand us a descriptive shard that pierces to the heart.
JoAnn Ross, an author I very much admire, recently told me she never looks at Amazon and pays no attention to reviews. Instead, she focuses on the next project -- and on life.
This is how I want to be when I "grow up." With eight published novels (compared to Ross's eighty-something), I'm nowhere close yet. But I'm working on what I see as a very worthy goal.
How about the rest of you? Do you read reviews? Do you lose working time after the good as well as the bad? Have you noticed that even your very favorite books aren't universally adored? And have you figured out why you should think you're an exception? Oh, wait -- that last question was for me. But if you know the answer, please feel free...