Thursday, September 22, 2011


I always compare it to meeting up with a shadowy figure at the end of an alley—reading blog reviews, that is. You never do know, when you first start to read a review, if that blogger is about to become your newest ally, or someone who just wants to tear your work to shreds. John Claude Bemis wrote a post last month (at my MG author blog, Smack Dab in the Middle) about some of the horrors of dealing with less-than-positive online reviews. Like John, I had to figure out what, exactly, to do with online reviews of my work when my first book released—a quandary for all current writers. I know some authors ultimately decide not to look—not at reviews on individual blogs, or on Amazon, or Goodreads. I decided early on to set up Google Alerts on my name and my book titles, and to read it all.

Now, with two books under my belt, I’ve got a few pointers for those about to face blog reviews for the first time:

1. Cut the umbilical cord. Your book is your baby; you raised it up from the tiniest germ of an idea into a complete, finished product. Like a proud parent, every writer does—and should—feel protective of their work, as well. This desire to be protective is often what carries you through rejection and multiple rounds of revision. But once that book hits the printer, you need to separate yourself just enough to grab a little objectivity. You should always love your book, and always feel proud of it. But a bit of distance is important when the book releases.

2. Accept that you’ll get some horrible blog reviews. It’s inevitable. Within the industry—among editors, agents, and reviewers for trade journals—there tends to be some similarity of thought. But once the book hits the public, there is absolutely no consensus. None. Somebody out there’s going to say, “Yuck.”

3. Don’t expect to glean much from negative blog reviews. When a reader doesn’t connect with a book on any level, their comments aren’t particularly constructive. But because you’ve cut the cord, and have gone into reading reviews knowing that you’ll get some negative comments, a one-star review won’t cut your heart out, either. You won’t dwell on it. You’ll be able to move on fairly gracefully to the next review.

4. Let bloggers tell you what you can do better. Even in the midst of a positive review, you’ll still hear, “The book would have been better if…” For instance, a blogger who reviewed—and loved—my first book, A BLUE SO DARK, noted that Aura, the protagonist, used figurative, poetic language throughout…and also swore quite a bit. The blogger wasn’t opposed to the swearing (which was used to help illustrate Aura’s desperation), but asked, If Aura speaks in such a unique, figurative way, shouldn’t she also swear in a unique, figurative way, too, rather than just dropping F-bombs? I found that to be an extremely insightful, thoughtful comment. But I don’t think this comment ever would have permeated if I was still being 100% protective of my work and not yet willing to listen.

I realize that, once a book is released, it’s done. There’s no changing that specific work. But as a writer, I know I’ll be writing more similar kinds of books—I’ll be releasing more YA, more literary work, etc. And as much as I write for acceptance from the industry—editors, trade reviewers, etc.—I primarily write to touch the audience: readers who buy my books. Without readers…well…

Constructive criticism goes into the back of my head, and it does, I would argue, help as I draft my next works…every bit as much as constructive criticism from my agent and editors also help.

Just a few years ago, a writer’s audience discussed books in private—in reading circles, over coffee, in living rooms—and the writer never got a chance to know what his or her audience was saying. I feel incredibly lucky to be writing at a time in which I do get to eavesdrop on the discussions of my books.


  1. Excellent advice, Holly! To continue your analogy of the book as baby--at some point we have to accept that our kids aren't perfect and that maybe we would do something a little differently if we were to do it over again, but they're still wonderful and unique. Same with our books! I've learned a lot from thoughtful criticism in reviews and blog posts and apply that to my next book. (No more kids, though!)

  2. Dude! That was me. You just referenced me. AH! I can't even fathom the idea that anything I could say would matter to you, but it makes me happy that it did! Wow. Holly, I love you, but you knew that. : )

    Hope MG revisions are going splendiferously!

  3. Tracy--I totally agree with your kid analogy! It's always my hope, when I release a book, that in five, ten years, I'll pick it up and see all the things I'd do differently. That means I'm continuing to grow as a writer, right?

    And Gabrielle, I'm glad you saw this post! I'm so thankful that book bloggers are out there promoting my work and giving such thoughtful feedback.

    (The MG revisions are going SUPER splendiferously!)

  4. I will take your advice to heart once my own book is finished and off to prove itself to the world. Also, I have something to add-any piece of writing captures the writer (his attitude, his skill) at a single moment of the past. Therefore, don't dwell on one piece after it has been published because you could have written it better at the present moment; just write something better at this present moment. Regret is the weak man's paradise.

  5. Uomo, I never have any regrets regarding anything I've written. But I absolutely agree that at some point, you have to move forward to the next book...Thank goodness bloggers are out there providing feedback so writers know how to make the next book better!


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