It took me awhile to write this post because there really isn't that much that one can say about reviews. The truth is that good ones make you feel euphoric and bad ones make you feel like crap.
I think the real question for writers is whether or not to read your reviews.
I know so many authors who do not read their reviews at all, ever. Or who stopped reading them after a particularly brutal review. I always wondered how they could do this--I mean wouldn't you want to know whether or not anyone out there liked your book? But now that I'm published I realize that even if you don't read your reviews, you may still get messages from satisfied readers (or dissatisfied readers) via email or Twitter or Facebook that will give you some indication of how it is being received.
I think the whole To Read Reviews or Not To Read Reviews is a choice each individual author has to make. As of right now, I do read mine. That may change in the future. Who knows?
Of course I am lucky because the majority of my reviews are very positive and yes, when I read a good one, it does put a little more pep in my step. I'm incredibly grateful for everyone who has taken the time to write reviews of my book, whether on Amazon or on Goodreads.
If the majority of my reviews were terrible, I'm certain I'd be singing a different tune, and I certainly wouldn't be reading them. As of right now, I like to think of getting a bad review like taking a punch.
The day of my release, I did a 10 Things People Would Be Surprised to Know About Me post on Nicky Wells' blog and one of those items was that during my 20s, I boxed a girl in a bar for money (and won). I had studied martial arts for several years and in my twenties, almost all my social time was spent with my fellow martial arts students and my instructor. Occasionally we'd all go out to a local bar and have a few drinks. One night we went to a giant bar/club type place that actually had a boxing ring inside of it. I am pretty sure that the reason we went there that night was because they were having a semi-pro female boxer fighting that evening. But when we got there, it turned out she wasn't coming and the fight was off. The club owners asked for volunteers to fight--I guess they had to put on some kind of entertainment--so with my instructor's permission, I volunteered.
It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. At that point I had been studying martial arts for almost ten years. I had earned my black belt. But in boxing you can't use your feet or anything else you've learned. You have only your punches. I kept getting in trouble for trying to slap one of the few armbars I knew on this girl. My instincts--apparently, from years of training and muscle memory--were to get in close to her, put some kind of hold on her (i.e. "pain compliance") and subdue her. I was not allowed to do that. Anyway, my point is that it was hard. The girl I fought had no experience at all, but I thought she did rather well. She came at me like a whirling dervish, just wind-milling her gloves and trying to hit anything within three feet of her. It was disconcerting. I was used to being punched by people who knew what they were doing--kind of like how you get used to hearing criticism from critique partners who are other writers.
Anyway, what my opponent lacked in form, she definitely made up for in spunk. And yet, at the end of the fight (I think we went 3 or 4 rounds) she was in the back sobbing hysterically and hyperventilating, and I was sweating with $50 in my pocket. I said to my then-boyfriend who had been my corner man, "Why is she crying? She did great."
And he said, "She's never really been hit before. She doesn't know how to take a punch."
I hadn't really thought about it before, but it's true. If you've never been hit before, the first time it happens it totally freaks you out--even in a controlled environment. It's even worse when you've never been hit before, and six or seven punches follow that first one, and you realize that the person isn't going to stop, and you don't know what the hell to do. It is scary and can be traumatizing.
Reviews can be scary and traumatizing. The bad ones anyway. But like I said, you have to learn to take a punch. Bad reviews are part of this business. Not everyone is going to like your book. Not everyone is going to "get" what you were trying to do in your book, and sometimes, even if they do get it, they'll think you didn't pull it off. There is no avoiding them, and there is nothing that will make them sting less. That's just the way it is.
So if you're going to read your reviews, you have to be prepared to take a punch. Because there will be bad reviews and often extremely hateful reviews. If you're going to flog yourself by reading them (and possibly re-reading them, as if we writers aren't insecure enough!) then you should know and be prepared for the simple fact that, like a punch, it's going to hurt. And like a punch, you need to be able to shake it off and move on with the business of kicking ass, er, I mean writing. You can't let it stun you or paralyze you. It's just a punch.
I mean if you're going to go into a fight, you're going to get punched. It's the nature of the thing. The same goes for being published--if you're going to put your book out there for all the world to read, you're going to get reviews and some of them are going to be bad. Very bad. Again, I say: Bad reviews are part of this business. Which brings me back to my original point--the real question about reviews is whether or not you should read them.
How about you? Do you read your reviews? If you're not yet published, do you think you would read them?