Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Reviews and Self Worth

"Following the Whispers" was launched on February 20, 2009. Prior to publication, I had not received any reviews to place on the book cover. Instead, I got three quotes, one from a therapist, one from a minister, and one from a social worker, which extolled the virtues of the memoir from their individual perspectives.

I was lucky with my first review. It came from a woman I "met" in a Yahoo Group called "Lifewriters Forum." Her review appears in the right-hand column of my blog home page. I was on cloud nine when I read it--Sharon had totally gotten me--it felt like a validation of all the pain I'd gone through, the hard work to write the memoir, and the journey towards publishing.

The PR person who had sent out releases soliciting book reviews had also sent queries to blog hosts. I had only hired her for one month, so it was up to me to make the follow up calls, attempting to get more reviews. One such follow up resulted in an email, informing me that my book had been reviewed two weeks ago, whereupon she sent along the link to her blogsite. Wish she hadn't!!

The review started off all right, praising the writing and the flow of the narrative. But then it veered off into a personal attack of me and the choices I'd made in my life. I was completely thrown off balance by this "review" and was discombobulated for days.

The outpouring of support and words of wisdom from the various internet groups I now belong to helped pull me out of the doldrums. Several people asked to read the review, in order to better comment on it. I'm going to share some of the advice I received, because as you move forward in your journeys, whether you are an author about to publish a book, or a person living their life, at some point you will encounter someone who attacks you personally. Here are some things to remember:

Mother Teresa had this version inscribed on the wall of her children's home in Calcutta:

PEOPLE ARE OFTEN UNREASONABLE, ILLOGICAL AND SELF CENTERED;
FORGIVE THEM ANYWAY.
IF YOU ARE KIND, PEOPLE MAY ACCUSE YOU OF SELFISH, ULTERIOR MOTIVES;
BE KIND ANYWAY.
IF YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL, YOU WILL WIN SOME FALSE FRIENDS AND SOME TRUE ENEMIES;
SUCCEED ANYWAY.
IF YOU ARE HONEST AND FRANK, PEOPLE MAY CHEAT YOU;
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY.
WHAT YOU SPEND YEARS BUILDING, SOMEONE COULD DESTROY OVERNIGHT;
BUILD ANYWAY.
IF YOU FIND SERENITY AND HAPPINESS, THEY MAY BE JEALOUS;
BE HAPPY ANYWAY.
THE GOOD YOU DO TODAY, PEOPLE WILL OFTEN FORGET TOMORROW;
DO GOOD ANYWAY.
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU HAVE, AND IT MAY NEVER BE ENOUGH; GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU'VE GOT ANYWAY.
YOU SEE, IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, IT IS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR GOD;
IT WAS NEVER BETWEEN YOU AND THEM ANYWAY.

My husband is an actor and has been reviewed constantly for over 40 years. He never reads reviews.. He says if you believe the good ones you have to believe the bad ones, so it's best not to believe them at all. A review is only one person's opinion, and you have no idea what's informing that opinion out of his or her experience. And it is unlikely to affect book sales seriously. And of course, we all must live with the fact that if we put something out there in the public venue, we are taking a risk and must be prepared to accept whatever comes with that. Also, we must learn to separate our work from our selves, and be prepared to take criticism of our work without feeling it's a personal attack. The kind of experience you just had with this review will be helpful to you in developing a better philosophy and a thicker skin. It will help you stand in your own truth, and once you do that, a fierce wind may shake you but not topple you altogether.I've included here a couple of quotes that have helped me weather these kind of storms. Hope they help you...Many blessings,

"It costs so much to be a full human being, that there are very few who have the enlightenment or courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying."

- from The Shoes of the Fisherman

"it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out where the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat or victory."

Theodore Roosevelt

No real reviewer would put such critical details in a review, or position themselves in judgment. Most reviewers focus on the message not the author’s personal decisions as revealed in the story.

It is actually full of some very grand and quite positive quotes in the first part, that you can cull and use in quotations when promoting, without quoting the source. As for the rest of it, it steps way out of bounds and goes entirely downhill, the mark of an amateur, and in fact, the reviewer is doing just what he/she accuses you of doing! It's overwritten, and it's rubbish.

The biggest lesson for me about book reviews is that I allowed what someone said to affect how I felt about myself. It is one of the lingering affects of being sexually abused as a young child, as well as not receiving unconditional love from my parents. I don't have a foundation of love from which to draw upon.

So, a cautionary note to writers seeking reviews. Check out the blog sites before seeking an opinion. Read other reviews by the reviewer to make sure they are professional and that criticism is done in good taste.

A new review just appeared in New Mexico Magazine. It is a positive one. Now I know, positive or negative, book reviews will not change who I am or my status as a writer or a person. It is just one person's opinion.

Blessings,
Karen

14 comments:

alexisgrant said...

Glad you got into this topic. I can imagine it must be difficult to deal with negative reviews, especially after you put so much of yourself into your book.

In the news biz, when readers harshly criticized the way I wrote a story, sometimes I just wanted to say to them, "Hey, remember that journalists are people, too."

Marvin D. Wilson said...

Bad reviews can be devastating to aspiring authors. I once stumbled across a scathing review of my first book, a memoir - it was an attack on and an indictment against my character and worth as a human being. Fortunately it was on someone's obscure blog that gets very little traffic. If it had been on amazon I'd have probably slit my wrists. Even so, it did hurt me to the quick. But when I settled down, I realized that when an author of a review veers off the subject of the book itself and starts going off on a personal attack tirade against the author, well ... this is obviously not a professional in any way shape or form and should not be taken very seriously. Easier said than done, but that's how to deal with angry mean people with issues and no sense of professionalism or decency.

Glad you got a good follow up review. Loved the Mother Teresa quotes also - she's one of may all time favorite contemporary spiritualists.

Helen Ginger said...

This was a wonderful post. I hope all new writers read it. It doesn't matter who you are, at some point you're going to get a bad review. Shrug it off. Yeah, that's easier to advise than to do, I know.

If you read or save reviews, focus on the positive ones!

Helen
Straight From Hel

Galen Kindley said...

In addition to the gems you posted, try this one from Hemmingway in, The Green Hills of Africa, "Critics are the lice that crawl upon literature."

Well, clearly, this has to be selectively applied, that person who just gave me a great review, is more in the, "Angles who fly to protect me" category. (Grin)

Galen

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Good reviewers stick to talking strictly about the book and how it is written so I wouldn't consider a personal attack a review. I think most readers can also distinguish the difference.

Jane Kennedy Sutton
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It certainly was unprofessional for the reviewer to go off in a personal direction. What was supposed to be reviewed was the book itself. It's wonderful that you were strong enough to realize that the review was only one person's opinion and to move on.

Elizabeth
http://www.mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/

Patricia Stoltey said...

Karen, it is frequently discussed among mystery authors that a review from one of the big four reviewers is needed for good library sales. The interesting fact is that the review need not be that good. Any review sells more books than no review. Kind of takes the pressure off...

Patricia
http://patriciastoltey.blogspot.com

Linda Suzane said...

I once had Marion Zimmer Bradley call my work hackneyed. I used the letter as an example in a letter to Writer's Digest editor, my first actual published piece. I rewrote the story and sent it back and got a glowing letter back from her, felt vindicated. I deliberately took a negative and turned it into a positive.

I will also point out that often negative publicity is still publicity and can cause people to buy your book. Often I go to movies the critics pan because I know I will like them.

K. A. Laity said...

I can only agree with what everyone else has said: bad reviews hurt, but they hurt less when you can see that they're incompetent and irrelevant (i.e. they have an axe to grind and you're just fodder). A colleague of mine at one of my publishers had the unpleasant experience of a very personal and very spirited bad review that spat all over her book. Sales jumped -- people either saw the review for what it was or were curious to see if it was as bad as the reviewer said. Either way, they bought lots of copies!

AlanChinWriter said...

That's a great lesson, but a hard one to learn. My novel, Island Song, has been lucky enough to get mostly 5-star reviews, yet early on, one of my close friends reviewed it on his very active blog, and he murdered it. It was clear to me that he was building himself up by trashing my work. Sad, because we haven't spoken since, and not because I hold a grudge.

alan chin
http://alanchinwriter.blogspot.com

Jina Bacarr said...

Good advice for all writers. Your willingness to share your personal story is very generous. Thank you.

Jina

http://tinyurl.com/BerlinSexDiary

N A Sharpe said...

Karen,
I always enjoy your blogs. You have excellent advice here. Unfortunately, no matter who you are you will at some point have to deal with someone's negative feelings. It hurts. You have great advice here though... and like Eleanor Roosevelt said, "nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent". Of course, advice is easier to give than to live.

Nancy
http://nasharpe.blogspot.com

Enid Wilson said...

My book got 4 extremely good reviews, one 3 stars and one really bad 1 star. I guess I'm happy to overlook the bad review. You win some you lose some.

Steamy Darcy

The Practical Preserver said...

Thanks for this post. I'd forgotten Mother Theresa's advice and it helps so much. The world is too much present with us, and it helps to soothe the soul to remember what's really important and what we need to be about in our brief time on this planet.