Oh, man. Why do I do it? I made the mistake this afternoon of looking at the Amazon page for my forthcoming novel, and to my astonishment found that it had already been reviewed, by fourteen people, two and a half months before it comes out. (There is apparently a new program at Amazon, to which it appears my publisher has subscribed, that provides advance copies of books to prominent reviewers.) And of course the reviews are terrible, and I am quaking with rage.
Well--I was for a minute. Now I'm just angry at myself for looking. Of course the reviews are bad, and of course they make me feel bad, which is why I don't tend to ever read them. Indeed, I haven't read the Amazon reviews of any of my books since my very first, back in 1997. But it's been a while since I've had a book out and I just couldn't resist.
Writers should never read reviews of their work. There is nothing--I'll repeat that, nothing--in it for you. Even if the review is spectacular, you read it at the expense of a little tiny piece of your soul.
Writing is paradoxical. The impulse to do it (if it's done right) comes not from a need for recognition or appreciation, but a need to express something, some obsession or impression or emotion, which is essentially inexpressible. The pleasure in it comes from seeing how close you can get to that elusive something, or seeing what other things you uncover on the way. Every book is a failure, in that you never get it right. But insofar as the journey is as important as the destination, every book is a success, as well. Like I was saying the last post, only the writer can define success for herself; during its creation, the writing should only serve, and can only serve, the writer.
But of course that's not the whole story. Even though you aren't doing it to impress anyone, you retain the expectation that it will be seen, and the hope that it will be understood. If you're lucky, you'll get the former. But you will never get the latter. Nobody will ever see it the way you want it seen. Even if people like it, they'll never like it the right way.
This can be socially awkward. When people praise your work, you're supposed to be happy. And you are--you hope a good review will make people buy the book, and you enjoy the pleasure of someone else's admiration (or at least appreciation). But there's a part of you--a part of me anyway--that is horrified by praise. You know that your reader doesn't really understand, because only you can understand: and because this reader actually likes the work, there will be no way to convince them that they didn't get it. At least, with a bad review, you can tell yourself the review was bad because the reviewer didn't get it. (That's what I've spent my afternoon doing, in fact.) But there is no deflecting praise.
OK, I'm exaggerating here. Everyone likes praise, myself included, and I'd definitely rather have it than not. But this is the calculus that goes on in every writer's mind when a review comes out. They're poison--they're nightmares. And when you read them anyway, young writers, don't say I never told you so.