Monday, April 18, 2016

Why I don't read reviews of my book anymore

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This post was brewing in my mind since long. But I was not ready to publish this before. This is my story. The story of my shame. Of my insecurities. Of my friends. Of my hours of darkness.
But I guess every debut writer goes through such a phase. This is a post which had to be written. I hope some of you might find it helpful in your moment of confusion.

It requires immense courage for a writer to put his/her work out there for the world to read. We never know how the readers who are going to pay money and buy our book are going to react.

 
In July 2013, I started working on my book. I completed writing it in mid-2014. I had spent hours writing, re-writing and editing my manuscript. I had done so by setting apart dedicated hours to writing every day. Then, I sent it to a professional beta reader, did the corrections suggested, sent it again to trusted group of school friends to beta read. The response from everywhere was positive. So I decided to go ahead and approach publishers. I got rejected by a few, some wanted me to wait. Eventually, my book was published by Write India publishers.

On the day of the release, like any other writer I was tense. But luckily for me, my book clicked. It debuted on Amazon at #19 position. Thanks to the many wonderful friends I had on the social media and the small group of dedicated readers that I had on my blog. I got rave reviews. Especially from my blogger friends. Most of them bought the book and did not ask me for free copies to review. Wasn’t I one lucky writer? I was.

My book was released on June 3, 2015. It is going to be a year almost now. The majority of the til now have been positive, especially the blog reviews. I thought maybe the bloggers were kind to me because I was a fellow blogger. Many assured me that it wasn’t the case. It was because I had written a good book and I deserved all the praise that was showered upon me. I was happy beyond my dreams. Pumped up with enthusiasm, I promised myself to continue on the path as a writer. My book also continued to climb the chart.

 I started writing my second novel in July 2015. I was writing the last chapter of my second book in Feb 2016 when it happened. I received my first detailed critical review. It was from a blogger with whom I had interacted a few times on Facebook. She had won my book as part of a giveaway. It should not have surprised me the way it did as she had already rated my book on Goodreads before writing the detailed review. 

 I went to check the faults that she had found in my book. It appeared like a detailed review. But it was clearly one which was meant to project the mistakes than talk about the story or writing in general. What hurt me more was that many bloggers whom I had met at a blogger meet had commented on it ridiculing the book’s concept and storyline. I was devastated.

I cried a whole night. My husband was confused as to why I was crying.  I told him I was not going to write anything anymore. He told me it is part of the game. It happens to the best. My writer and blogger friends who had seen the review also told me the same. Wherever I turned on social media, I was seeing the review being shared. “This is the end of my book and my writing career,” I told myself. The days that followed just made me more miserable. The last chapter of my book remained unfinished. I couldn’t write. I was full of shame. I was facing writer’s block for the first time.

It was not the review which affected me, but the lack of support from my blogger friends that hurt me more. Most of them were ‘friends’ on social media with me. Most of them had not even read my book and were commenting how pathetic it was.

But the worst was yet to come. At the end of February, another review came. This was written by another blogger whom I considered as a good friend. We used to chat on Whatsapp and she was also part of the anthology which I co-edited and co-created. She had even come to my book release function and bought my book there. Her review was harsh. It felt to me more like a personal attack than a book review. Most of the comments on this one were from the same set of bloggers whom I had met.  Some of these bloggers I admired. Some, I considered as friends. Some were contemplating a bonfire where they would burn books like mine. Mostly the discussion was about pathetic ‘Indian Writers’ of whom I was now a part. I was completely broken. I was blocked. I couldn’t pen a word.

 I decided to quit social media. All through this a few friends stood by me. One chatted with me all through night consoling me. Some others emailed me.They told me they could clearly understand it as they had faced the same at one or the other point in their career. One of them shared the following video by famous author Ravi Subramanian where he describes a similar experience.






 So, public shaming of an author in the form of a book review was not new. It seemed to be a practice especially when it was an Indian writer. Unfortunately, it came like an out of the blue punch to my stomach for me.

What was different in my case was that it came from someone whom I considered as a friend. If I was in her place, I would not have trashed her book publicly. I would tell her in private what I didn’t like in the book or what was wrong. I would never publicly shame her with something like what she wrote. A blog is, after all, a public platform. We can ignore such reviews easily if it came from a stranger. But it is hard when a friend stabs at your back. It is also hard when fellow bloggers join the shame-game.

 Many advised me to chuck these people out of my social media list. I hesitated initially but I did that. I unfriended and even blocked all of them for a while. 

I was still on the verge of depression. I stopped checking my emails and social media accounts.I was obsessing over the reviews and also about the comments. Writing was as dear to me as life and suddenly I was not able to write anymore. It was suffocating.

 March is also the month of loss for me. I had lost my father during March years ago. They say our loved ones become our guardian angels once they leave. One day when I was forcing myself to complete my household chores, one memory of my father came to me and it saved me entirely. I felt the love he surrounded me with. I drew courage from the lessons he had shared with me while alive. I began to share those lessons with my Facebook friends through daily posts. My writer’s block vanished and words started to flow easily again. I got back to my manuscript and finished the first draft of it by the first week of April.

Now I don’t read reviews of my book anymore, good or bad. Reviews are always opinions of the reader, never fact. And every reader reads a different book as they visualize it differently. I am not obliged to read such reviews which are written with the intention to hurt. I promised myself not to go digging for criticism. For constructive criticism, I have friends and editors whose wisdom and kindness I trust.

I hope writers/ aspiring writers will find this rant to be of use. I chanced upon one good piece of writing about dealing with critics written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Go ahead and read it if you need further assurance as to why writers should stay away from negative criticism.


16 comments:

  1. Hi Preethi, great post, and every author should focus on your summarization, quoting 'Reviews are always opinions of the reader. And every reader reads a different book as they visualize it differently.'

    I am sure you must have come out stronger and will succeed in all your endeavors. All the best!!

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    1. Thank you Ruchi. Yes, like they say that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. :)

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  2. Preethi,
    I just finished reading this. Social media enjoys public shaming. Good to hear that you came out of what you faced very boldly. What you said is right. Reviews are just opinions. Trust me, you will only become a better writer after these kind of experiences.Keep going. Best wishes for your new book.

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    1. Thank you Pyari. Yes, Social media has become a breeding place for trolls these days.

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  3. THat is the reason why i have not written a BOOK :) :) :) :)

    my best wishes always ..

    Bikram's

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    Replies
    1. Hahaha...that is not a solution :D

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    2. I agree .Just because there are horrible diseases if I stopped visiting the hospital it would be chaos.More power to you Preethi

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  4. I had goosebumps as I read this. Only after reading this , I got a hint of how much the things we say on social media can affect other people.

    I have not read your Book but I will.

    Hugs. It takes courage to tell your story to the world. Only Brave Souls can do that.

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    1. Thank you The Enchantress. Words are powerful. We should use them cautiously. :)

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  5. I had my first low review from a friend, but his review wasn't a stab in the back. We even talked about it and he said he struggled with writing it. I don't often read reviews. Sometimes I catch myself if I'm on the book's page and notice the review numbers change, but for the most part, I try not to because it's not worth the emotions––both good and bad.

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    1. Yeah that is what is usually done. You never expect your so called 'friends' to turn you into a clown and if that happens it becomes a stab in the back.

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  6. Hello Preethi,

    First of all, I'm glad you bounced back (I hope it's with a bang!).

    I know what you mean here. I truly appreciate honest reviews (I can't help writing honest reviews, no matter what), but I hate it when people make fun of new writers in the name of review. Actually, it's not their fault. They don't know what it takes to be a published writer, and how difficult and painful it is, to write a book and getting it published. And, very well said about so-called-friends doing that. There are different ways to highlight the negative points. It's better to be straight-forward than making fun. Professional book reviewers don't do that.

    But, when you put your work in public domain criticism is inevitable. I don't think there's a writer/book, which hasn't got negative comments no matter how good they are. I would suggest you to read the reviews. Good or bad. Don't stop doing that. It can help you grow as a writer. You may feel bad for a while, but this is a great way to improve and bring out your best.

    Keep writing. I wish you all the very best for your next!

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    1. Thank you Tarang Sinha for all the encouragement. I do beta reading for friends. If I find anything wrong, I tell them in the kindest way possible. I will never even dream of undermining their talent to prove that I am more talented or well versed than them. Some people say they are brutally honest in their reviews while they are just being brutal. I have seen it happening to many fellow authors. Especially newbies take it hard.

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  7. I agree Preethi public shaming helps no one .Not even the person who wrote the review.It's always best to be honest but always kind. People who never create anything of value often love tearing down others

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  8. Truly sad to read this, Preethi.
    Ashamed of the bloggers who put you through this. Proud of you that you bounced back, and how!

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  9. Everyone is entitled to an opinion; when you put yourself out there , its bound to happen.
    So fret not as this is the way of life. Trick is to have faith in self and belief in your support system!
    More power to your pen!
    Cheers

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