Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning from Reviews

by Rebecca Talley

I recently received a rating and review on Goodreads for my book, The Upside of Down. Receiving a review, bad or good, isn't unusual. Goodreads was established for readers to rate and review books. This review, however, piqued my interest.

The reviewer started it off by saying this wasn't her favorite book and she couldn't decide to rate it 4 or 5 stars. She then went on to pick out specific examples of what she liked or didn't like. These are the kinds of reviews that are most helpful to me because I can then evaluate the comments and seek to better my writing.

After I finished reading the review, with plenty of things the reader didn't like, I realized something. She had been affected by what I wrote. My words had elicited a response. And that's the point.

We write to affect people. Even if that effect isn't what we hope, the fact that someone else thought about our words, our stories, makes the effort worthwhile. Having people think about our stories after they have finished means we have struck something inside of them. Even if it moves them in a negative way, we still moved them with our words. We made them think.

Of course, we all hope to move readers in a positive way and hope that our stories will resonate in a good way. Truth be told, we hope that everyone who reads our works will love and adore them. But, they won't. And that's okay. As writers, we need to learn to have thick skin. We need to learn to take what we can from good and bad reviews so that we can eventually become the kind of writer we want to become.

I found this particular review intriguing because it seemed as though the reader didn't enjoy my book, yet she couldn't decide whether to give it 4 or 5 stars--a high rating. I actually learned quite a bit from this review, including that different people have different ways of looking at things. When we write, we do so from our unique perspective on the world (which is why 10 writers with the same prompt would write 10 completely different stories). We write from where we've been, how we've learned, and from experiences that we've gained throughout our lives. We create stories and characters based on our own unique understanding of the world around us. I think that's why certain stories resonate with certain people.

I appreciate reviews. I appreciate readers who take the time to express their reactions, good and bad, so I can learn from them. A review isn't a personal attack (usually) but rather a commentary on how our words affected that person. If we can learn from reviews we are on our way to becoming better writers.


Shantal said...

This was helpful to me. Thanks!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

As writers we should distance ourselves from reviews. But I (like you) also check them out. I wish I didn't...I wish that I could just ignore them, but yeah...I read them.

I don't know if that's necessarily helpful or healthy. Too many cooks spoil a dinner, right? Well the same can go with too many opinions clouding out your own voice.

Steve Westover said...

Cool post, Rebecca.
Reviews are funny. I recently had a couple of reviews where the reviewer praised my book up and down. They loved it--but then gave it a 4 out of 5. Either they were just being nice in the things they wrote, or they didn't want to seem like a push over in the grading of 5 stars. I thought it was interesting.