Thursday, 7 April 2011

Gladiator: An Author's Thoughts on Reviews...

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, the EDITIOR 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 buy that book! Thanks for the warning! I’ll pass on this book! Taking this book off my 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’t take 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 the same 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.


Julie Lynn Hayes said...

You make some very valid points. Although it's hard not to take a review personally, you have to, good bad or indifferent. It's an opinion, and everyone's entitled.

At the same time, no one is entitled to be deliberately cruel, which some reviewers seem to find their prerogative.

If you can learn from a review, you should - good or bad. But don't let it keep you from writing.

Great blog!

C. Zampa said...

I agree 100%, Julie, about the unecessary use of cruelty in reviews. I've seen some reviews and their subsequent comments that were beyond cruel, they were merciless. And, to me, that is unacceptable, and I will not--even when they're doling out good reviews--EVER take them seriously as reviewers.

Thank you for visting!

Sarah Ballance said...

Very insightful as always, and words certainly to be taken to heart. You've got a great outlook - yet another reason I'll be sure my shelves always boast your latest release. ;c)

Cooper West said...

I really like your comment about how useless it is for the gladiator (or the actor, or the writer) to turn to the audience and tell them to stop laughing/criticism/etc., because it really is pointless. Worse, it makes you look like a fool -- professionals have to stay focused on our goals, be they lions in the ring or the next novel we're working on.

Great post. Thanks!

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Sarah Ballance! Thanks for visiting!
You know how scared I was. And it's a scary time as you wait for it to be posted. If, like me, you were unfortunate enough to know ahead of time that it was coming! LOL. Thanks for being there.

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Cooper! I was fortunate enough not to have many hecklers. But I've seen them and know that, for me personally, it would have been hard not to shout back. LOL. But somehow it seems to make you stronger by not letting it faze you.

Cassie Exline said...

I want to hug you for this excellent blog post. That "incident" upset me for days and for many reasons. I felt her pain and yes, her reaction was a big, big no-no, but I understood.

A review is only ONE person's opinion. Reviewers should be open minded readers. If they are not, they shouldn't review stories. There are some excellent review sites with excellent reviewers, I used to work with one of the best. And there are some nasty reviewers who clearly don't have a clue.

In the end, I will be the judge if I want to read a book or not, a review good or bad isn't going to make me buy or not buy a book. It's my money and my call.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Cassie!
I do agree with you! Even I, as a reader, don't base a purchase from a review.
There are too many best sellers out there with poor or mediocre reviews. I'm just sayin'...LOL.

Thanks for visiting!

Harlie Williams said...

As a reviewer, I alwasy post the positive aspects of the book that I have read. If I see anything that I didn't like, I will tell that in the review but I don't dwell on it. I respect the author's time it took to write the book, and the publisher for putting it out there for the world to read.

I have learned reviewing that there are bad reviewers out; some that just don't care, some that only look for the bad and some that just take the time to read the book honestly. That just makes reviewers that take their job seriously...ticked off.

Great post and I love Russel Crowe, too.

Harlie Williams said...

Should have put a pic of Russell up on the blog.......just saying. LOL!

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Harlie! I suppose it is hard to delve into what's not right in a book, and it would take quite a bit of tact. And I agree with you that some don't take the time to get to know the book, either. And there are those, too, that do NOT say anything good, as though they pleasure in negativity somehow.

Nice to see you, girl!

C. Zampa said...

Harlie, would you believe I looked for a LONG time today on google for a pic of Russell. But every one of them, no kidding, every one of them was bitmap and would not download. Waaaggghhhh.

Damon Suede said...

Vive Zampas Maximus!

A lovely post... and true in so many ways. Anticipation IS the worst part of any form torture. Anticipation is how governments break political prisoners and children are broken in abusive homes.

I think gladiatorial combat is a phenomenal metaphor because the flip side to combat of course is the raw spectacle of slaves fed to carnivorous beasts. Gore always draws the eye and in a world of bread and circus we have to expect the bloodlust of the mob.

Being a slave to other's opinions chains you to the ground as firmly as any manacle and leaves you just as vulnerable. As you say, the difference between a gladiator and a slave chained for slaughter is the honor with which they face the attack, and the possibility of advancement. Only warriors can stand up and fight again. A slave in the ring is only a meal. Bravo to you to standing up and walking forward.

As an agent once said to me, "You don't have to love the process, but you have ot learn to live with it."

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Damon!
I enjoyed your comment! Such good thoughts, and all so true!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Damn--I'm proud of you. I'm also inspired and motivated. You are a mentor to so many. I know you don't realize that, but writers are going to read this blog, for reasons you and I don't get to see, and they're going to come away feeling better. What a wonderful legacy. I'm so proud to know you.

Fiona McGier said...

Very sage advice. Like you, I try not to write for reviews and really, you can't because every reviewer is reading your words through the prism of their own life experiences, which you are not privy to. When life throws unpleasant stuff your way you can laugh or cry...laughing leaves nicer lines on your face.

C. Zampa said...

Joylene. With those words, from you, I'm honored. I mean, truly honored.
Here I go again, I know, but you were my very first supporter when I started writing. So anything I learned and can pass down, I'm only paying it forward from when you reached out to help me.
Thank YOU.

C. Zampa said...

Fiona, thank you so much for visiting.
And, you know, I never thought about it that way---that even reviews can sometimes reflect events in a reviewer's life that we are not privy to. Oh, that makes so much sense.
They're only people. And how nice it would be to think everyone would like our book, but it's just not going to be that way...because readers and reviewers ARE people, individuals.

Laura G. said...

Great post, C. Zampa! Very honest and heartfelt. I applaud the way you handled the review and the way you veiwed the review itself. You're right, reading criticism is tough...but if you can take a breath and reach for objectivity, then you might learn something. But sometimes, it takes a day or two to reach that objective zen. LOL

Nice job! Hugs!

Kelley Heckart said...

I love Gladiator too. My favorite scene is the opening battle scene. I get goose bumps whenever I watch it.

Reviews are subjective. Sometimes a reviewer just doesn't get the story or maybe they prefer m/m to m/f.

You can't please everybody.

Great post.

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Laura! I LOVE what you said about it taking a few days to reach that 'zen'. And, boy, are you right! A pouty spell first, then it settled in and I stood back to think about it.
Hugs to you, lady!

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Celtic Chick! (LOVE that title!).
Yes, you are so right. You have to accept that you truly cannot please everyone.
And...oh...I love Gladiator, too! In fact, I think it's time to get that out and watch it again. Sigh. Loves me some Russell.

Thanks for visiting!

Tess MacKall said...

You're absolutely right, C. You can't write to a review. That should never enter your mind. There will always be one review in the mix that just has to point out something. At least one. And you'll end up brushing it aside once you read all the others that take a story just for what it is and try not to add a superior spin and rewrite the author's book.

One thing you missed here, C, is that sometimes a reviewer just plain gets it wrong, too.

Great post. Great attitude! You'll go far in this business for sure.

C. Zampa said...

Thanks, thanks, Tess!
I agree with your outtake on it 100%.
Hugs, lady!