During my eleven years as a freelance magazine writer, I’ve rarely received comments on my work. Occasionally, but not often, someone I’ve interviewed for an article will send me a nice email or a handwritten note with some kind words about a story I’ve written. One man, a former illustrator for NASA, upped the ante and brought me homemade biscotti after the piece I wrote about him was published. And every once in a while, I’ll run into someone who will say, “I loved your last Man About TOWN. It was hilarious.” When that happens, I thank them graciously and try to remember what I’ve written, and if it was meant to be funny.
So, when my novel was released in August of last year, I was completely unprepared for reader reviews. As they started appearing online, my blood pressure, already relatively high, spiked into stroke territory. This one’s going in the trash where it belongs, a woman noted in her one-star review. A man, who hated the book so much it took him six hundred words to fully communicate his distaste, said: The book sounded interesting. It wasn’t. Other reviewers called the book: Brutally boring, and Almost a DNF (Did Not Finish), and overly simplistic, relying solely on the stupidity of bumbling cops to string things out for an entire book. To be honest, that last reviewer might have a point.
Fortunately, the positive reviews vastly outnumber the negative ones. But it’s the handful of negative reviews that feed my insecurity and my insomnia. Why don’t they like me? I’ll wonder as I toss and turn at two in the morning. Why do they have to be so critical? And so mean? The reviewers remind me of the bullies in seventh grade who tormented me because I carried my books in a briefcase instead of a backpack.
“Don’t read them,” an author friend recently told me when I divulged my obsession with reviews. “Good or bad, don’t read any of them,” he said. “If you’re reading reviews, you’re not writing, and writing is your job.” He’s probably right. It would be better for my mental health, and my productivity, if I put all reviews in the trash, where he believes they belong. But I’m too neurotic to do that. I’ll keep reading them and keep tossing and turning. And keep kidding myself that it’s possible to please everyone.