Well, it is with great pleasure that I welcome writer Hazel Gaynor to Swirl and Thread today for Irish Writers Wednesday.
Hazel has been adopted as one of our own, having lived here for over fifteen years with her husband, two children and a cat!!!
Hazel has written a very insightful piece for us on reviews and the effect, both positive and negative, that these can have on a writer.
An excellent post so I’ll hand you over to Hazel now….
Wanted: Thick Skin
We Need to Talk About Reviews
Strange assumptions occur when you become a published writer.
For example, people assume you live in Monaco on a yacht and have a butler to top up your gin. (I live in hope!) But perhaps one of the strangest assumptions is that writers are born with thick skins.
Thick skins? Writers? Those sensitive creative souls who sit in quiet anonymity with only their words and wavering self-belief for company?
It seems like a bit of a misnomer, doesn’t it.
Having handled the Dark Labyrinth Of Rejection™ on the road to publication, you could be forgiven for thinking writers would be more than ready to handle a few rough reviews that might follow.
We’re not. We’re never ready. Not really.
You see, reviews are tricky things. Great reviews are wonderful, but we cringe if we talk about them because it all seems too showy-offy. Bad reviews are … well … baaaaad, and we certainly don’t want to talk about them. Nope. Never happened. Nothing to see here.
My first experience of a bad review came quite early in my published career (and, yes, I bawled at the desk while the cat sympathised). The euphoria of finally being publishing was demolished in moments and I decided I would never write again. Ever. I learned the hard way that far from being made of armadillo hide, my skin is made of rather more fragile stuff. However, I also learned that a bad review is just an opinion, and that’s okay. I got over it (aka drank wine).
Many lovely reviews followed.
I wrote again.
Of course there’s no accounting for taste and Mary in Dublin* who dislikes my books immensely is clearly delusional – said no sane writer, ever! I’ve struggled with the biggest best sellers, and I’ve raved about books my friends hate.
Difference of opinion is totally normal, yet while it’s okay to know that people might hurl your book across the room in private frustration, it’s something else entirely to read their vitriolic reaction on a rainy Monday morning when you’ve already asked the kids to put on their shoes a billion times, and cleaned up cat sick in the process (yes, the glamour is real).
Reviews can pop up anytime, anywhere and we are rarely prepared for them. Yet reviews, in all their forms, are an essential part of the publication dream so we have to learn to accept them, handle them with dignity, and – above all else – not dwell on them too much, no matter how fabulous or dreadful they might make you feel.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic: “If you dare to create something and put it out there, after all, then it may accidentally stir up a response …” She also very wisely says, “ … people’s judgements about you are none of your business.” She’s right. They’re really not. And while part of me wants to believe this and toughen up, part of me also hopes I never find a skin thick enough to not care.
I want to always care what people think about my work. In fact, the day I stop caring is the day I stop writing, and I have absolutely no intention of doing that anytime soon. Sorry, Mary!*
Whether the verdict is good, bad, or indifferent, writing a fair and balanced review is a real skill in itself, which is why great book bloggers are so valued by authors and publicists. Anyone can say, “This is terrible. My toddler could have done better.” What isn’t easy is to express that in a way which shows respect to the author (who, remember, might be dealing with cat sick, or 5th class maths homework when they read the review).
Glowing reviews are also tricky to write well. It’s easy to say a book is brilliant, but to explain why, in an original way that excites other readers, is definitely not easy. Kudos to all the bloggers and reviewers who do this so well.
For the record, I am hugely grateful for every review ever written about my books, especially those that made me ugly cry because they were so extraordinarily touching, and yes, even those that made me ugly cry because they were so extraordinarily cruel.
Reviews, in all their forms, mean people are reading my words, stepping into my fictional worlds and interacting with my characters.
That means more to me than any yacht or gin-pouring butler ever will.
(*Mary is a figment of my imagination. No Marys were harmed in writing this post.)
Hazel, thank you so much for writing such a wonderful feature for Swirl and Thread today. It was very interesting to read about the impact reviews can have on an author.
Also I’m delighted to read about your feeling toward the blogging community. It’s always lovely to hear such positive affirmation for myself and all my fellow bloggers. Always so very appreciated!!
Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year.
Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages.
Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.
You can find out lots more about Hazel at http://www.hazelgaynor.com/
And on Social Media