Friday, May 04, 2007

Wasting Time while Learning Something, Too

By Kathie Shoop

The other night I was searching for a way to avoid revisions. This wasn’t hard to do with the internet at my fingertips. Through some convoluted path I can’t recall, I ended up reading Amazon.com reviews for some of my favorite books.

There are two books I like so much that every word I read makes me want to toss my computer into the Allegheny and if possible, rip any inclination to put words to paper from my brain or heart, or wherever the drive to write comes from because why should I bother writing if these two authors have already written my story and better than I ever will?

A lot of the reviews mirrored my thoughts and feelings toward the books. But I was shocked to read a good number of reviews were not only negative, they were scathing. Nearly word for word the negative reviews were the polar opposite of the positive ones. And mean, those things were mean.

Putting the tone of the angry, searing ones aside—what makes people say such incredibly rude things on a public forum deserves its own post—I learned a lot about the process of getting published.

What I learned was nothing new. I’d heard it before, but this time it became tangible—the notion that reading is subjective and the world rarely agrees that the same books are great.

I’m well aware everyone has their favorite authors and categories of literature and I know humor plays different to different ears, but when I started reading those reviews I never in a million years suspected people could think these great writers, are crap (not my word). But there it was.

I felt a surge of relief. Maybe the people who rejected me are wrong. It is just their opinion.

It’s not that reading the reviews let me off the hook for preparing the best manuscript possible (I did eventually get back to my revisions), but it was comforting to see even the published ones aren’t categorically praised by the everyday reader. These two authors, well respected, widely and well sold were told they can’t write for anything—that their work was unreadable, unworthy, the result of nepotism.

There will always be people who think I can’t write, that my stories aren’t well-done, that I single-handedly forced the earth’s temp to rise a degree from wasting trees on my book. But there will be the others who enjoy my work, find meaning in it, who smile while reading it.

Mostly, I learned that avoiding my future Amazon reviews will be top priority. No good can come from reading those bad-boys.

4 comments:

Joyce said...

I stopped reading any reviews on Amazon precisely for the reasons you mentioned. Too many of the so-called reviewers just want to be mean. If they don't like something, fine, but some of the comments are uncalled for.

I already decided when I have a book out, I won't be reading those reviews. My self-esteem is low enough as it is!

Nice post, Kathie.

Tory said...

This is something I've struggled with a lot in my writing: when are comments constructive and helpful and when is someone just speaking out of their biases or having a bad day?

I finally decided that negative comments don't upset me, per se. It's comments that I DON'T AGREE WITH that upset me. This was a major revelation for me, and helped me sort out the criticisms I choose to address and those I don't.

Tory said...

P.S. I used to advertise that I do Career Coaching and one day someone left a message on my office voicemail asking for Lenzer Coach Lines (a greyhoud-like bus service.) As well as providing some good comic relief, the incident helped me realize that, no matter how clear you are, SOMEONE will misinterpret you!

kathie said...

Joyce, I agree, it's not the idea some people don't like a particular book, but it's the cutting edge to the comments that took me back. And, the notion that some writers are just crap, etc. Even if the book isn't up to snuff or not your thing, I don't see how making these comments is useful. BUt, maybe that's why Amazon likes to have that component...people talk and then go look?

Tory, that is funny--the Lenzer Coach query on your machine. I can see why that gave you a chuckle. I have nothing against feedback, negative or otherwise, but it's the tone and the holier than thouness that bothers me.
And it was the realization that not even well-selling, well-regarded writers are safe from people disliking their work, that made me feel better--that it happens to everyone.