by Michelle Gagnon
As part of Thrillerfest one year, they gave a special
award (if a piece of fossilized poop can be considered an award) to our
very own John Gilstrap (even though he's no longer
officially part of this blog, he'll always be the Friday guy to me).
The award was for the Worst Amazon Review, and he won for this little
nugget (no pun intended): "The glue boogers in the binding were more
captivating than Gilstrap's torpid prose."
know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors,
nearly impossible, but here's my advice: don't read your reviews, ever.
Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.
This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive
ones. Because here's the thing. As we all know, a reader's opinion of a
book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at
different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things
into it that you might never have intended--and they're all going to
have vastly different opinions about what worked
and what didn't. I'm always startled when I get feedback from beta
readers--everyone always manages to come up with different favorite
sections, and least favorites. So when taking their advice, I usually
try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the
end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt.
The same applies to reviewers, naturally. Maybe Marilyn Stasio ate a bad oyster before reading your book, and the nausea she felt skewed
her experience. Maybe the Kirkus reviewer was going through a divorce,
so the way that you depicted a couple falling apart resonated too
strongly with him (or not strongly enough). I know that for my last
book, several reviewers felt the plot was tremendous, but the character
development was weak. Others loved the characters, but the story left
them cold. When writing a review, even when you loved the book, there's an irresistible inclination to find something to pick at. That's what many of us were taught to do in school; otherwise it doesn't feel like we've done the review justice.
As writers, we already have enough voices in our heads. Resist the temptation to let new ones in. This is particularly critical if you're writing a series;
if one reader hated your protagonist, do you really want that small
seed of doubt planted in your head? Do you want to be swayed by Merlin57
if he declares that you should be the next winner of the fossilized
Even when a review is entirely positive, there are drawbacks. Say a particular reader took a shine to a
relatively minor character, and hopes to see more of her in the next installment. Should that be factored
into your writing process? I say no, not if that wasn't part of your initial vision for the
It's a challenge not to dive into the fray--especially
since, with all the blogs out there, there are potentially dozens of
opinions on your prose just waiting to be perused. But avoid the
temptation; don't dive into the rabbit hole. If
your book is amassing lots of great reviews and accolades, you'll hear
about it from your editor, agent, and friends. But knowing precisely
what's being said can be detrimental.
*side note: I'd also advise against doing a Google Search for fossilized poop. Trust me on this one.