31 March 2024

Should Authors Read Reviews? 8 Tips for Navigating Critical Feedback

Should authors read reviews?

To read or not to read? That’s a good question. For authors, the siren call of reviews is both tempting and terrifying. Writers often ride the highs of positive feedback only to be brought low by a single, sharp critique—akin to a paper cut, seemingly small but surprisingly painful. Reviews can sometimes appear as if they’re divinely insightful, perfectly capturing the author’s intentions, or bewilderingly off-target, as though meant for another writer altogether. At its core, this situation challenges to separate ourselves from our work to view it objectively, a Herculean task, granted. The pivotal question then becomes: Can you, as an author, constructively digest feedback? Should authors read reviews?

Every author remembers the moment their work first faced the public. The exhilaration of a first positive review (that’s not your friend, or your mum). The allure of reviews lies not just in the feedback itself, but in what it represents: a connection, however fleeting, with the reader. Yet, this comes at the cost of exposure to potentially harsh critique, especially in times that follow very focused isolation in preparing the novel for publication.

Digesting Feedback: A Matter of Resilience

The decision to read reviews often boils down to one’s emotional resilience and professional outlook. Can constructive criticism serve as an energising stepping stone to better writing, or will it hinder the creative process? This is a personal judgement, one that varies widely among authors as they battle the eternal conundrum: the desire for validation versus the fear of condemnation.

The Benefits of Ignorance

Choosing not to read reviews can protect an author’s creative well-being. This approach allows writers avoid the feeling of searching for their name in the obituaries, preserve their original vision and maintain focus without the distraction of outside opinions. It’s a path well-suited to those who find that criticism, particularly of the unconstructive variety, stifles their creative voice.

The Value in Engagement

Reviews can be a goldmine of insight. They offer direct feedback on what resonates with readers, providing clear avenues for growth and improvement. Even negative reviews have their silver lining, identifying blind spots or areas that may benefit from further development. You’ll often find that reviews are not the people the closed loop of your reader groups or Facebook groups, where they have less incentive to be real with you and tell you the truth.

Finding Your Stance

Ultimately, whether to engage with reviews is a deeply personal decision, informed by an author’s capacity for criticism and their approach to their craft. Historical figures in literature demonstrate this divide, with some embracing feedback as a tool for growth, while others chose to remain in their creative bubbles, undisturbed by the public’s reaction.

A Guide to Objective Review Analysis:

For all those eager to bite the bullet and trawl through their available sources of feedback. There are some tips you can do to mentally keep your distance and approach the task with your business head and protect your heart a little more.

  1. Reader Engagement Drivers: Understanding what captivates your audience involves not just recognising the elements that resonate but also why they do so. Are your readers drawn to your storytelling because of its pace, its emotional depth, or its imaginative settings? Identifying what repels readers can be equally instructive. This feedback is essential for tailoring future works to enhance reader engagement and satisfaction. 

  2. Themes and Concepts Resonance: The themes and concepts that resonate with readers often reflect broader societal interests or timeless human experiences. By analysing which themes strike a chord, you can align your future works with reader expectations or explore untapped areas that could distinguish your storytelling.

  3. Character Development Appreciation: Feedback on character development is a direct reflection of your ability to create multidimensional, relatable characters. Readers’ reactions to characters’ journeys, growth, and interactions offer invaluable insights into the effectiveness of your characterisation skills and how they contribute to the narrative’s overall impact.

  4. Balancing Educational Content: Integrating educational content without detracting from the entertainment value of your story is a delicate balance. Reader feedback can guide you on how well you’ve achieved this balance, indicating whether the informational elements enhance the narrative or disrupt the flow of the story.

  5. Criticisms and Constructive Feedback: Parsing through feedback to distinguish between subjective preferences and actionable criticism is key to growth. Constructive criticism can pinpoint areas for improvement, from pacing and plot development to dialogue authenticity, providing a roadmap for refining your craft.

  6. Broad Appeal Factors: Identifying factors that appeal to a broad audience can help widen your reader base. This involves understanding the universal themes, character archetypes, or storytelling techniques that transcend niche interests, enabling your work to resonate with a diverse audience.

  7. Ratings and Helpful Votes Analysis: Reviews that garner many helpful votes (Amazon) are indicative of sentiments shared by a significant portion of your readership. Analysing these can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your work from a broader perspective, offering a more generalised understanding of your book’s reception.

  8. Sentiment Analysis: Delving into the emotional tone of reviews can unearth the deeper emotional impact of your work on readers. This analysis can reveal whether your book elicits the feelings you intended and can guide you in crafting narratives that better connect with readers on an emotional level.

By examining each of these aspects, authors can gain a nuanced understanding of their work’s reception and leverage this knowledge to enhance their pending WIPs

Whether to read reviews is a personal choice, dictated by what fuels your passion and perseverance in writing. As Mark Twain humorously remarked, “I could live for two months on a good compliment.” Ultimately, the path you choose should support your journey as an author, not hinder it.

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