Dudes, stop reading your reviews!

In light of yet another instance of reviewer bashing I’d like to reproduce here a small post I made on the AbsoluteWrite forums re the oft repeated fallacy that writers can learn from their reviews:

Reviews are not the place to learn your faults as a writer. They’re just too varied and the comments in them too out of context to be of any use. The best way to learn this is to pick one’s favorite book and then go read a wide variety of reviews on it. It doesn’t take long to understand that if the author were to do the same in an effort to ‘learn their faults’ they’d end up so confused as to be paralyzed. For every person who thinks Murakami is a tedious maudlin waste of space, there is someone else who loves every word. For every one who thinks Sebastian Barry’s prose is genius there’s another who finds it overly dense and pretentious. You can’t write to a committee, not if you want to produce anything close to honest work ( note: I’m not talking about taking editorial or peer advice here. I think feedback is essential. Just not the kind of varied and subjective critique one gets from reviews)

I’d also like to – once again – repeat my post from June 2012 re reading one’s reviews and interacting with reviewers

Yesterday, as part of the comments thread in this post, Maeve from Yellow Brick Reads linked me to the above video. I think it’s hilarious – but it also sparked a reaction from me that I’d like to move from the comments section into the more open arena of an actual blog post. Here it is:

That Woody Allen clip is hilarious. You know I don’t read my reviews and haven’t for years*? Much against the current trend in social media where we have authors tweeting all their great reviews and freaking out over the bad, I just can’t do it. I don’t think reviewers should have to look over their shoulders for fear of authorial comment while they are working their way through an analysis. I feel they should be given the space to explore a work as they experienced it, and not as the author hoped or intended them to.
However, if a reviewer has a desire to work their way through a piece of writing using the author as reference or contrasting their actual reading experience with the author’s intentions, that’s another thing altogether. When the author is invited into the discussion in that manner, I think there is room for wonderful conversation and discovery. But (for me anyway) to engage with reviews on a casual basis would feel intrusive. (I’m also not too sure that wide scale authorial interaction with reviews won’t lead to a whole new type of selfconscious reviewer who maybe heightens the negativity or positivity of their reviews with an eye to nothing more than an entertaining engagement with the author. This would be good for marketing maybe, but for the art of reviewing itself and the genuine discussion of books for books’ sake? I don’t know. I doubt it.)

*(at the beginning of my career I was advised to read all my reviews so that I could ‘learn from the criticism’ This is bullshit advice. Every new author is told this by at least one person. Every new author should ignore it.)

ETA: Thank you to the reader who took time to point out my misuse of apostrophes in this post. I appreciate the very kind way you went about it, unfortunately when confronted by dyslexia the internet is often less than gentle and your decency is appreciated. I hope that I have managed to find and fix all the mistakes now – but I doubt it : )

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