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
Damn, I love Russell Crowe. I mean, he is so…oh, wait a minute. Wrong subject. This blog isn’t about Russell Crowe; but it is awfully cool to me that, while browsing for inspiration for this blog, I happened upon his quote on the subject of criticism. Because one of my favorite—if not THE favorite—of his roles was Maximus in Gladiator. You’re scratching your head, I know you are, asking what does this have to do with anything?
Well, the gladiator experience is just what I’m blogging about today. My experience in the arena, the big literary coliseum—the review.
I’d received a google alert which advised me that my book was going to be reviewed the following week on a popular review site. So, like the gladiator of old, I was doomed to wait for the reviewer to post it as I watched many of my fellow authors go boldly into the arena before me—some to march away with high rankings, some not so high.
You want me to tell you what my rating was, don’t you? Well, I’m not. That’s not what this is about. The rating itself is not important, or rather I cannot allow it to be, whether it was good or bad.
What it IS about is the experience—the anticipation, the event, and the aftermath…the lesson.
The event itself? Oh, pretty much what you’d expect.
I learned important things in the arena. You don’t argue or defend yourself. Sure, you want to. I chomped at the bits to protest, but I didn’t SAY my story was a mystery, and hey,you spelled the bad guy’s name wrong, or hold on there, theEDITIOR told me to use that word!
Why, though, would I argue? With real fighters in the arena, you do NOT talk your way out of it with them. You just face them. A true sport will be gracious and will not lash out at a review, no matter how bad.
Just like in the coliseum of old, there are the anxious spectators, which in cyber terms are those posting comments. Some can be very considerate and kind to the gladiator, but some shout with chants of thanks, now I know I won’t buythat book! Thanks for the warning! I’ll pass on this book!Taking this book offmy TBB list!
But, if it really were a coliseum, would it do any good to turn to the jeering masses and blubber, Stop laughing at me! Of course not. It would only goad them on and make you appear silly. So, with true gladiator courage and composure, you simply smile and understand that spectators are simply part of the game. While standing alone, staring down the lions, every word of advice I’d ever been told by fellow writers rushed to my brain. It’s only opinion. You can’t please everyone. You can’ttake it personally. And I found that, after this expedition into review-land, all this advice is true—all of it. And it is good counsel.
One of the most VALUABLE pierces of advice I received was one I feel compelled by duty as an author to pass on. And it is this: Weigh the negative points in the feedback and, if there is substance to it, think hard about it. There is the chance that the reviewer is spot-on, that they really have spotted weak links in your writing. Don’t brush it off. Be open minded. If you CAN learn from it, then LEARN from it. If you cannot be humble enough to admit you might have flaws in your writing, and if you refuse to learn when it is legitimately pointed out, then you’d best just drop your pen right now and stop writing. Because you’ll never grow unless you allow your craft to be nurtured by solid advice and feedback.
Sure, some feedback is strictly a reviewer’s personal opinion. They are humans with different tastes just like anyone else. The next reviewer may adore the very thing that the other found annoying.
Just as fellow writers tell you that a bad review does not necessarily mean your book was bad, the same applies to a good review. It is, bottom line, one person’s evaluation. Period.
Here’s s surprise for you. I’m realistic and humble—or maybe it’s just a horrific lack of self-confidence—that, when a review of my work is TOO good, I tend to scratch my head and take a second look at my book cover on the site. Wait a minute here.Are you talking about MY book? Are we talking about thesame book here? My book’s not THAT good! As much as I adore and genuinely radiate at the wonderful praise, I am my own biggest critic. And I will know, it my gut, that my book just simply had flaws that the reader missed.
But there’s sweetness in the missing of the flaws by a reader who just enjoys your work and is not looking beyond the pleasure of your story. When a reader just lets it BE a story and isn’t critiquing it, isn’t digging for mistakes OR good points. When they grasp the things that were most important to you when you wrote the book—the emotions, the characters. When they forgive your errors and love what you wrote just the same. We may not learn from this kind of acceptance, but we can beam if maybe—just maybe—the heart of the story was NOT missed and was embraced. I can’t let myself be sidetracked by that beauty, though, to the point that I feel I need not try to correct something simply because it’s invisible to some.
And my own advice? Do not hinge whether your writing has been ‘worth it’ based on a review—any review. I’ve heard more than one comment since I began writing from authors who, when reviewed with praise, felt their writing endeavors had been validated because they were sanctioned by a review site.
I personally can only use a review as a possible tool for learning, and I refuse to allow it to be a measure of my writing worth, to employ it as a gauge of my success.
I cannot and will not crowd my writing ambition into such a narrow little space of worth. I will not gear my writing toward hopeful positive reviews. If I did so, I’m afraid I’d lose my natural flow, my voice, and I’d be writing for the wrong reasons.
I hope to NEVER walk away from a good review with any arrogance; but, even more importantly, I intend to never exit a bad review with any chinks to my armor of self-esteem.
To fellow authors: If you get a bad review, learn from it and move on. But DO NOT jump off the writing cliff because you think you are a failure with one bad review, with ten bad reviews. You have two choices: you can walk away from the edge and devote yourself to strengthening your talent, or you can just…jump and crash. Depends, I suppose, on how badly you want to write and why you’re even writing in the first place.
To reviewers: As authors, we and our publishers entrust our products to a reviewer to observe and offer feedback. And we have the right to demand—not ASK, but demand—that they treat us respectfully in their report. They do not have to like our writing, they do not have to like us. They do not even have to say nice things about our writing. But, as a representative of the site who enlists their services, they owe it to us, to their websites, to readers and potential readers, to respect us and to show dignity in their presentation.
If a reviewer fails to do this? Then they must understand that their opinion will not be taken seriously…not by this writer, anyway.
As a kid, I used to have a recurring dream in which I was (who knows WHY) pitted against a lion, much like the gladiators of old, no weapons, no nothing. Well, in every dream the lion overtook me. And, surreally, I laid there beneath him and he began to…well, to do what lions do. LOL. And, as one can ONLY do in a dream while a lion feasts on them, I thought to myself, This doesn’t hurt as bad as I though it would. And neither has the review experience.
So I stand before you, fellow writers, to say Zampas Maximus has survived.