Friday, June 22, 2007


Oy. This can be a painful subject--or a joyous one. I always try to take reviews with a grain of salt, but sometimes they feel like salt being rubbed into an open wound. I had an educational psych professor in college who said something like, you have to hear 7 affirmations about yourself and your work to negate the effect of 1 negative comment. He was talking about interacting with students, of course, but I think the same philosophy applies when talking about how readers evaluate our books.

I've gotten a couple of really hurtful reviews on some of my older books on Amazon from readers. Personal attacks more than criticism of the books. I've gone through the gamut of emotional reactions--that first knee-jerk defensive reaction. Anger. Blame--as in clearly s/he doesn't know what s/he is talking about (and in some instances, they don't, but you can't go online and correct their mistakes or oversights or else you give them status and possibly something more to argue about). Self-doubt (questioning whether what I wrote was the garbage they say--and I'm the loser they claim). And hurt. Definitely hurt. Writing a book is like opening a vein and pouring out my own blood. Or giving birth and raising a child and then sending her out in the world. Or putting your heart and thoughts on paper. You've heard the metaphors, I'm sure. It isn't an easy job.

Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, and like my career on the stage, if I'm not willing to take the inevitable judgment that comes when you put your creative self out there, then I need to get into another business. But whatever happened to the old adage of, "If you can't say something nice, then..." Or even, "You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar." Or just plain ol' knowing how to say things in a nice way. Disagreeing is fine. Inevitable. But there are ways to state an opposing opinion or criticism to help someone learn and improve their work-instead of emblazoning harsh words on someone's psyche so that they need to hear 7 positive comments about something they do right before the pain lessens.

Don't get me wrong, I've had some fabulous reviews from professionals and readers that make me blush--and make me wonder at the opposite end of things--am I as good as they say? I'm grateful to them. Humbled by them. And enormously appreciative of the kind words and helpful comments. I'd like to think those readers "get" me and my stories. Maybe the others don't--after all, there are thousands of authors out there, and not all of them appeal to every reader. Or maybe they just like their moment in the spotlight and see the opportunity to sound off as their chance to put themselves out there.

I don't know how many readers read reviews, or have purchases and book check-outs influenced by those reviews. But I know many authors read them. Even if you don't like a book, please be kind. It's an old-fashioned notion. But it has been around a long time for a reason.

Any other words of wisdom about reviews out there? Great stories or heart-breaking ones?

Now I'm off to get back to my family and my writing--and put those hurtful reviews behind me.

Julie Miller

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