Thursday, March 08, 2007

Musing on Reviews

It's Thankful Thursday and I'm thankful for reviews...sometimes.

My third book, The Naked Earl, will hit bookstores on April 3. I was thrilled when Publishers Weekly gave it a great review. (You can see the review online on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, if you want.) It was my first time in PW. I was happy dancing along with my editor and agent. Then Romantic Times BOOKreviews gave the book four stars and a K.I.S.S. (Knight in Shining Silver) for the hero. More happy dancing here at chez MacKenzie. And then...well, then I got an advance copy of a review from someone who did NOT like the book. It was worse, really. She wasn't some ignorant toad. She was a fan! She'd loved my first two books; she was disappointed and slightly upset by this one.

Sigh. No happy dancing.

My philosophy on reviews keeps evolving. The fact of the matter is, you just can't please everyone--and you shouldn't try. If you did, the book would be a complete mess, contradictory, unfocused--or, worse, bland and boring. Reviews--yes, alas, even the good ones--are simply one person's opinion.

I do read my reviews if I come across them. (My Lenten resolution for the Earl, though, is to step away from Google.) Now I'm trying for what I consider a Zen outlook--the ability to be dispassionate about the review and the book. Oh, I'm not totally fooling myself here. I'll still feel elated at a good review and kicked in the gut by a bad one. But I also try to ask myself--after I've recovered my equilibrium--does the reviewer have a valid point or something interesting to say? Do I want to consider anything here when I write my next book? Or does the reviewer merely have his/her head up his/her...ahem.

(It's sort of like child rearing. I love my kids to death, but when I get less than pleasant information about them, I owe it to them, actually, to consider whether there is any truth in the matter.)

This doesn't mean I will let a reviewer change my writing--not at all. But I do find that occasionally I learn something useful--or even fun--that I can play with in my next novel. My writing skills are always growing, after all. I can find inspiration anywhere--even in a review.


Christie Craig said...


I'm reading about reviews and listening to everyone with open ears. It will months before I'll see my work published, but having been here before, I remember the roller coaster ride the reviews can send you on.

I hear people say that they just don't look at reviews, but how hard is that? I don't know if I will able to resist. However, I do know that we can't let other's opinions of our work cut to the soul.

Good post.

Nancy Morse said...

Somebody must have liked your book because it got published, didn't it? For every person who doesn't like a book, there are tons of others who do. I had a friend once who said that she couldn't imagine anyone not liking her. I was one of those who didn't like her, which is why she's no longer my friend. But the point is, while we all want to be liked, there's always going to be someone who doesn't like you. If you fret over it, you'll drive yourself crazy. As long as you're a good person and not boiling puppies in hot oil, or if you've written the best book you can, don't worry about it.

JoAnn Ross said...

Sally, sounds as if you've got a great attitude (giving up googling reviews for lent is a great idea!), though count me as one of those Christie mentioned who doesn't read reviews that aren't sent to me by friends, agents, editors, and/or the reviewers themselves. (Have NEVER had a reviewer send me a bad one, so if they're out there, they're keeping them to themselves, lol)

As for Nancy's comment about not boiling puppies in oil, I'll add another bit of advice. DO NOT KILL A CAT. Even a fictional one, or you'll receive more reader mail than you may want. :)

JoAnn Ross said...

BTW, I forgot to mention, there should ALWAYS be happy dancing for any good things. This business is too much of a rollercoaster to let one less than spectacular review stop you from celebrating.

With that in mind, I'm bringing out my Cajun Dancing Boys just for you. Did I mention they love dancing for and with writers? So, get up there and shake your thang, girlfriend!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

When reading reviews of your work, remember what it takes to be a good putter on the golf course -- a short memory.

Sierra Donovan said...

I think the trouble is, it comes so much more naturally for people to express what they DIDN'T like than what they did. It's just human nature -- it's easier for them to pick out the faults than to pick out why something works well.

And of course, for the same reason, those negative comments are the ones that tend to burrow into our brains!

Sally, I'm curious: What useful things -- and especiall, what FUN things -- have you learned from reviews?


Sally MacKenzie said...

LOL, Christie! Staying away from Google helps. All these reviews were sent to me--even the "bad" one.

Well, I can say with no reservations that I haven't boiled any puppies, Nancy (nor killed any cats, JoAnn!), but I do know that I would like everyone to love me--or my book. I also know that's not possible. As you say, you can only write the best book you can--at the time you wrote it. Once the book is done, it has to go off into the world on its own.

I'm dancing with the Cajun boys as we "speak" JoAnn. Thanks for sending them. Though I fear now that I've been writing my, my "thang" is somewhat more...expansive. Um, assuming it's the right thang I'm thinking of.

LOL, Dr. Bill. Well, I definitely have a short memeory--and it's getting shorter every day.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Sierra, here's a short list of interesting or "fun" things I've gleaned from reviews/comments:

1. I stumbled on a blog once that discussed my use of pov in my second book. I think the blogger didn't quite care for the way I handled it, but since I was consciously working with pov in that book, I thought it was cool that she noticed.

2. My first book had a rather over the top, nasty villain. Some folks didn't care for him and pointed out how dastardly he was. I hadn't really noticed, it being a first book. So I've been thinking about villains a bit more. I even tried writing my 4th book--The Naked Gentleman coming May 2008--without a clear villain.

3. I write humorous Regency-set historicals and my heroines so far have been somewhat naive virgins. I read a comment once--it might not even have been a comment on one of my books--from someone who felt it was unrealistic that women growing up in the country around animals wouldn't know all about sex. Well, I'm not so sure. In the spring, the frogs across the street from our house really go at it, but I don't believe their activities would give the uneducated a clear idea of human interactions! So, I had some fun with that in a scene or two.

LOL--probably more than you wanted to know!!

Kalen Hughes said...

Frogs? No. They don't even have "real" sex. But if you've ever been in the country the bulls/cows and stallions/mares will certainly give you a good idea of the mechanics. LOL! Any girl who's ever seen a male horse pee in the street isn't going to be shocked by her huband's member.

Colleen Thompson said...

Yea, Sally!
Congrats on the great review! Celebrate the good ones and blow off the bad (or blow them up in your next novel).

L. Faye Hughes said...


Mega congrats on the two FABULOUS reviews for your soon-to-be-released baby!

(I prefer to celebrate the good with balloons and confetti and ignore the other stuff. *s*)

Faye, tossing handfuls of glittery gold confetti into the air and generally making merry

Sally MacKenzie said...

Thanks, Colleen and Faye! I think I'm having a case of the pre-release jitters.