redcurlygurl said: Maggie, I just found reviews of your books on Goodreads, and I was absolutely appalled at the negative reviews, and then slightly pleased I had read them. The people who said you have slow plots were probably looking for the explosions and sex they see on TV. I am happy I read those reviews because I have a more firm argument as to why I love your writing: you create realistic characters with realistic (disguised) problems. Your sentences sing and your words breathe. So, brava. Write on.
First of all, thanks! I’m revoltingly pleased that you like my writing. I know you didn’t ask a question about reviews, but I’m going to answer a question about them anyway, because I have a few related asks in my inbox.
I once heard that writers should ignore one star reviews and five star reviews, because they’re both lies.
I actually think they’re both true. They are the purest, most unchecked reaction to a novel. Right before my first novel came out, I went onto Goodreads and I read both the good and bad reviews for several of my favorite novels. I wanted to remind myself that if my favorite novels to read didn’t appeal to everyone, surely mine that I’d written wouldn’t either. The thing I realized about the one star and five star reviews, though, was that they often said the same thing. The five star would praise the anti-hero narrator; the one star would harpoon the unlikable narrator. The five star would admire the thorough exploration of the mother’s backstory; the one star would ask why the book had to slow for someone as unimportant as the mother character. The five star would praise the energetic pace; the one star would complain that there was no description.
Same book, different tastes. I do think a book can be done badly, sure. But even a book done very well can’t please everyone. And the more specific a book is, the more polarized the reviews are.
I figured out then that my goal isn’t to write a book that everyone likes. It’s to write a book that some people love — which means some people are also going to hate it. The more passionate my reviews get, good and bad, the happier I am.
So even though you didn’t ask a question, I’m going to answer one for aspiring writers: learn to love your reviews of all stripes. Learn how to read them for the true, objective bits, and decide for yourself if those bits match the kind of novel you’re trying to write.
I want to translate this entire post about reviews into a post about relating to people. It’s a wonderful perspective on the feedback you get as a writer, but I think it applies to the feedback you get as a human being. You can almost substitute “book” with “person” and “write a book” with “be a person.”
A book that tries to pleases everyone will fail and won’t find readers who will really connect with it. A person who tries to please everyone will fail and won’t find people who will really connect with her.
I believe in being specific. Not controversial for controversy’s sake, but specific: about what you like and don’t like, what you want and don’t want, what you’re interested in and what you care about. It’s hard to be happy without being specific, not least of all because you don’t find your people by being vague.
reblogging because this, yes, yes, yes, definitely.
Also, it doesn’t just apply to people, it applies to The Everything. Specific versus general is the way to both satisfying success and memorable failure. You just have to be willing to face the latter to get the former.
I’ve never liked to read reviews of my work, good or bad, but I’m rethinking and adjusting my attitude towards them because of this.