Sunday, March 6, 2011

On reviews, hearing you suck, and falling to Twitter

I'm not afraid of anything.

Okay, I'm lying. I'm a terrible liar. My face gets all blotchy and I can't make eye contact, even though I know people know I'm lying when I blink and look away because in the police academy, they taught us that perps will look away and avoid eye contact when they're lying. Or, they'll blink. A lot. I do that. (Yes, I completed a police academy, albeit a reserve academy, because I'm just that bad's the part where I don't admit that I got my scrawny ass kicked on a regular basis and talked my then-husband into having a baby so I wouldn't have to become a real cop. Best. Decision. Ever.).

I'm afraid of lots of stuff. Lightning, thunder, spiders, and bridges top the list. Prose constructed minus the use of serial commas. I'm terrified of the dentist, of dying before my kids are old enough to call me for advice about Geritol vs. Centrum Advanced, and of driving off one of Vancouver's many bridges and plummeting into the icy depths (I run survival drills in my head where I successfully roll down all the windows and unbuckle everyone's seat belts before we slam into the wall of water, after which we will all swim to the surface and be rescued by the Coast Guard and/or a boat full of hot fisherman who have cookies for the kids, Irish cream for me).

Now I'm afraid of something new: reviews.

WHAT am I going to do if someone hates this book? Seriously? Husband keeps reminding me that it's definitely going to happen, that someone is going to say something terrible and mean and "she shouldn't quit her day job" because it's impossible to make all of the people happy all of the time and blabbity blah blah. That's why I don't sing in public. I don't want to get shot or have someone turn a fire hose on me because they think I've caught on fire and thus explains the discordant undulation and ear-piercing vibrato.

I come from a long line of oversensitive people. Man, my mom--she's the worst. If you look at her the wrong way, she bursts into tears. She cries when her clients yell at her (Mom's a kick-ass kitchen designer. If you live in Southern California and you're in need of a killer kitchen, she's an uber-designer. Just don't yell at her.) She cries when my 27-year-old sister and I are fighting. She cries at the grocery store if someone tells her a sad story and she only has $5 to give to them for their child's kidney transplant. (She might be a bit of a sucker, too, especially when we see that same fellow behind the 7-Eleven just moments later chugging a bottle of Colt 45.) So I come by this need to people please quite naturally. I want people to like my work. I want folks to feel that they haven't wasted their time, or eventually, their money. And since I'm only allowed to call my shrink twice a week AND I'm out of American Oreos, I need to keep my sensitivities in check.

This sounds stupid to even say out loud. Machiavelli would rip me a new one, tell me how it's never good to let the enemy see your weaknesses and certainly, don't come right out and admit them. (You're not my enemy, though, right?) I mean, duh, we all want other folks to like us and read our work and tell the world of our brilliance. We don't want 2-star reviews (and worse) and snarky comments popping up in the Amazon stream or on Twitter. It's like telling us our children are ugly (which, for the record, mine are not. The last one is sorta funny lookin', but he's wicked smart). The other day saw a fair bit of commentary on blogs and Twitter about how GoodReads has had to change their policy about writers commenting on reviews that may not be as magical as one would hope--but who are these writers who are actually taking the time to go in and refute a review? (It was GoodReads, wasn't it? Correct me if I'm wrong.)  If you have time to go in and comment on someone else's comment/review, your time would be better spent learning how to make your writing suck less. YES, I know--this advice from someone who, at this juncture, has received one written review of the novel. (It was a good review, so I can't provide commentary with any weight as to the devastation of hearing I suck. It's going to hurt. Bad. Like a super-heated fork tipped with snake and spider venom, stabbed into an open, infected wound, over which is poured hydrogen peroxide and ammonia. And lemon juice.)

However, if the vomitus from Mean Reviewer Person is riddled with spelling errors and incomplete sentences and sounds like it was written by a 2-year-old or your ex's inbred cousin, then, again, I remind you what my mother often told me growing up: consider the source. Like the time that pesky Andy McCarthy cut in line again on the new slide and stuck his tongue out at me, and after school, I told my mom I was going to call him a fu*ker but instead decided to consider the source. (Maybe I didn't quite grasp the whole concept, but at least I got to say fu*ker at age 8 without the usual soapy snack.) It was very easy for me to criticize painters and paintings until I actually picked up a paint brush for the first time ever. Which I did, about two weeks ago. It was excruciating. See?

The same is true for us. Writing is hard. I could insert some overused quotes here that equate writing to blood draining from arteries, but you get the point. (And thanks, Lauren, at Back to Earth Designs, for being so patient with me while we giggled our way through Tofino's landscape.)

The POINT: It got me to thinking about the whole process of critiquing each other's work. There are a lot of writers who won't review other writers. Again, lots of debate in the blogosphere about why writers reviewing is a bad deal. It's the readers we want to connect with, right? I had someone ask me once, "Why do you care what other writers say about your writing?" Omigod, I SO CARE! But I also care about readers--and THAT is the circuitous way of me saying that I'm freaking out about those first reviews. I think an ulcer has reactivated in my gut. *squirt squirt* 'Scuse me. Gastric juices abound.

We're all people pleasers. That's why we're writers who are grabbing this publishing bull by the testes and saying, "Down, demon! You're mine!" And, unless you're one of those people who really doesn't give a rip about what others say, I'm guessing that I am not alone in this darkened room with my insecurity. There are lots of us here, aren't there? I can hear you breathing...oh, man, I think someone just farted...

This past week, I finally joined the Twittersphere and set to expanding my virtual connections. This exercise has reassured me in one thing: we're all in this together. The gals at DarkSide Publishing have certainly figured this out, as have the collaborators at Independent Author Network, Red Willow Digital Press, and numerous other sites springing up every day, the writers becoming partners in this grand adventure.

Don't believe everything the reviewers are saying (unless they're consistently saying you should take up dog walking as a profession). It would be like being a virginal 17-year-old and believing your boyfriend when he tells you he probably is infertile because he only has one...

Wait. I could be sued for defamation if I finish that sentence.

New friends are so much fun. I had no idea. If you haven't found me on Twitter yet, I'm @JennSommersby.

Time for chocolate!


  1. I need to make a note to remind myself never to read your blog posts while eating and/or drinking. My monitor's starting to think it's at a Gallagher show. I loved the way you described getting a negative review. For me, it was like being shot while wearing a vest - it hurts like hell, knocks all the air right out of you, and makes you think you've died for a moment. But, when you finally get back up you're sore and everything hurts but you want to get the... person... who shot you. Except, with reviews you do it by writing something better to prove that you're not a monkey randomly typing letters on the keyboard.

    Anyway, I completely agree with you that the author network really helps because everyone's been there and, unlike a group of gum-popping teen girls at cheerleading tryouts, no one's going to rip your hair out to get ahead of you. It's a big ol' support group, just, you know, with more honesty and words.

  2. Jenn, love the post, as usual, and feel your pain on the fear of bad reviews. (and also slugs, but that's a conversation better left between me and my shrink.)So maybe you'll have to be a little tipsy when you finally hit that 'publish' button on Kindle Direct... whatever it takes, but do it anyway =)

  3. Thanks for the comments, ladeeez. Kara, use those Lysol wipes. They're great. Sometimes I start to giggle because something funny comes into my brain, and I'm laughing while Husband and children are watching me. Child: "What's Mom laughing about again?" Husband: "Who knows. She probably told herself a fart joke." Yeah, weird. I know.

    And about cheerleaders: When I was in high school, my senior year, I was the school mascot because I was too dumb to remember the cheers. The cheer squad tried to teach me one cheer--it took five hours--so they gave up and let me do whatever the hell I wanted. MUCH more fun that way. No one tried to rip my hair out because they knew they were better, even if they'd been blind and tied to a wheelchair. :o) Go, TEAM!

    Heather -- I posted a comment on your blog. Friday night is only four nights away!

  4. Continuing Kara's simile of being shot while wearing a bulletproof vest: "it hurts like hell, knocks all the air right out of you, and makes you think you've died for a moment." But... it doesn't kill you. And whatever doesn't kill you may make you a stronger writer, as the saying goes.

    And, if it's any consolation, in my experience the reviews tend not to be ENTIRELY negative. And the ones that are seem to have touched a particular chord in that single reader -- leading me to believe I've resonated on the frequency of that person's greatest fear or hurt or point of negativity.

    Ultimately, if we can't please all the people all the time, we hope the criticism is at least constructive, not destructive. Be brave! And good luck!

  5. Thank you, Loranne. Advice from you is golden. 'Cuz you're a REAL author with a big-girl book that is sitting RIGHT THERE on my bookshelf. Me wonders if it's been signed by you...must check and get back to you. Ladies, it's THE HANDLESS MAIDEN ( Loranne, get thee into digital format!

  6. OK please stop being so awesome and hysterical. This blog is my new favorite hangout--please pass the Oreos.

    But I agree with being scared as hell when it comes to reviews. I once brought an excerpt from my WIP that I've been slaving over for, oh, forever, and they ripped it apart. I went home, threw some things against the wall and mumbled angrily to myself for a while. Then, the next day, I realized they were kinda right (begrudgingly). I suppose reviews for WIPs are a bit different than the finished product because you can't go back and make changes, but I say don't worry. Do you have a cat? Because then you can take the bad reviews and use them to line the litter box. - Ashley

  7. Jenn~ I start to get all worried about the negative reviews and then I just completely turn that talk off in my brain. What I want to do is publish! So I am going to do it. I am NOT going to let the fears of the naysayers stop me. I didn't write seriously until this year because I was afraid of querying and the rejections. No More! I will not let the fears of the maybes dictate the joys that are inevitable (because even just mom saying she's proud of me and

    Of course there will be people who won't like my book, but those are not the people that I am writing it for anyway. I am writing it for the people who will love it and feel a little bit sad when the last page has been read. And I am sure that there will be some of those who will feel that way for my book.

    Live your life with passion and don't let fear guide you.

    Oh, I keep meaning to ask you; What is your sign (zodiac)?

    Angeline Kace

  8. Ashley: American Oreos are the best. Come on over, bring me a Costco pack (while you're at it, grab some Red Vines--hard to find in Canada), and we'll have a taste test party. It's sweet, sugary goodness.

    Angeline: VIRGO. Down to my paperclip collection and sock drawer organized by rainbow colors. And you?