I have a good friend. She’s a traditionally published YA author. Early on in our friendship, I made a remark about how I noticed that her book had a really nice Goodreads rating. She said, “Oh, that's nice, I guess. I don’t look at Goodreads.”
“Really?” I asked. (I was a bit naïve.)
“Absolutely not,” she said. “Not after the first one-star review.”
This one-star review had come in months before her debut YA novel published. It was one grammatically questionable sentence: “Not my thing, probably won’t read it.”
I could see how that would turn someone off of Goodreads.
I don’t like star ratings. Five stars, I think, should feel important. They should be saved for the best books. Three stars feels too “meh.” There are many three star books I think I would genuinely enjoy, but three stars also feel like a bit of an invitation to lower your expectations. Two stars, forget it—who would want to waste their time on a two-star book? One star reviews just feel vindictive.
Four stars are safe. They’re solid. They’re kind of like a promise—you might like this book, but you might not. That’s okay. It got four stars.
The first time I met a YA author in person, I was in high school. I loved the author’s previous books, but the new one didn’t seem to really click with me. I gave it a higher star rating than I probably would have had I not ever met the author, because the author had been really nice to me in person. I felt only a minimal amount of guilt about this.
One of my co-workers at the bookstore was my high school English teacher. Our reading habits intersect a lot. Once, I asked her, “Did you like that book?” She made a little face and said, “It’s not that simple.”
After that, I made it a point to ask people what they think of a book, not if they liked it or not.
As a blogger, I value my right to honestly review books. Honesty, I believe, is the best attribute in a reviewer.
The line between honesty and rudeness is pretty thin, and I think people cross over it quite a bit. I know I have. It’s sometimes hard finding my way back to honesty.
When I first met one of my good friends, I was terrified for the moment when we would read each other’s writing. What if I didn’t like her books? What if she didn’t like my writing? Would that matter? Would we still be friends?
Once, I asked a customer if I could help her find anything. She asked, “Where are the ratings?”
“Like, star ratings? Why don’t they put those on book covers?” She held up a book I loved.
“They put blurbs on covers by other authors and reviewers,” I explained. “And if you want any recommendations, I’d be happy to give you some.”
“No thanks,” she said. She put the book down.
Once a month, my creative writing is critiqued professionally. It’s brutal. It’s fantastic. I love getting my feedback. Afterwards, I sometimes feel like crying. I’ve learned that there is a tiny, crazy part of me that comes out when my art is critiqued. The crazy me is sometimes very, very mean.
I work very hard to control the crazy.
I’ve been writing reviews for eight years. I don’t write them for authors. I don’t write them for publicists. I don’t write them for editors.
I write them for you, the reader.
I deleted my Goodreads account months ago. It felt good.
When I can’t tuck the crazy away, this is what I do: I get off the computer and I call my friend. (The one whose debut novel received the one-star Goodreads review before the book was even released.)
I say to her, “I’m having a bad writing day.”
And she says, “We all have them.”
And she talks me down.
Sometimes we talk it out. Sometimes we talk about something else. Sometimes we don’t talk, and we just eat good food.
This is how I control the crazy.
I think my friends’ books are fantastic. I think my friends are fantastic. What I’ve learned in the past two years is how hard it is to be an author in an environment where you have to be accessible and charming and witty and responsive, but also have to keep writing your next brilliant book.
No author should ever stalk a blogger. Ever.
The right to have an opinion does not give you permission to seek out any author and tell him/her how much you dislike their books.
The authors I know respect what bloggers do and what they say and their opinions.
Sadly, not enough bloggers I know respect authors’ inboxes and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages enough to leave the negative review at the blog post.
This is not a defense of anyone.
It’s just a reminder that we are all human, we all have feelings, and we all work hard at what we write, whether it’s a novel or a review.
Find your people. Make friends. Start good public conversations. Keep the negativity, snark, and rudeness offline or in private. Manage your crazy.