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On Reviews and How (Not) to Take Them

paper_birds_by_hoppipoppi.jpgI got the call from my husband two weeks ago, the one you never want to get. While at the park, our oldest daughter (age 7) had fallen and broken her arm. (My girl is something of a tree-climbing-roller-skating-bike-riding daredevil. Yet she managed to get a fairly spectacular compound fracture–her first–falling less than 4 feet off the toddler section of the playground. Really? Yup).

She was absolutely incredibly brave about the whole experience, from the ambulance ride to the hospital to the x-rays to the procedure to set the broken bone in a full-arm cast. Then she came home–and she was still brave. But she also had to face the kind of sucky reality that the whole ordeal of having a broken arm (her right arm, too) was really only just beginning. In a couple of months (a compound fracture means a loooong time in a cast) she’ll be fine, and she knows that and understands that she could have it so much worse, but it was still hard–especially in the first days when she was under orders to stay lying down with her arm elevated to keep the swelling down.

Now, my kids are always begging me to tell them stories, sometimes made-up ones, sometimes true stories from when I was their age.  So to cheer up my daughter and pass the time while she had to stay lying down, I told her that I’d make up a story just for her.  My girl loves witches and ghosts and all things spooky (spooky by 7 year old standards anyway), so I made up a story about a little-girl witch and her adventures.

Perfect, right?  And the rest of this post is going to be all about the healing power of stories during times of adversity, right?

Ha.  Only in Hallmark movies are kids that simple.  My girl was polite–she’s always polite.  But her response to my story was basically a resounding “meh.”  My five-year-old daughter, on the other hand, loved it, couldn’t get enough, and begged for new installments multiple times a day.  So at least I have some hopes that it wasn’t just a totally lousy idea.

I’m not knocking the healing power of stories (because it’s absolutely real), but this post is about something else entirely.  Something that as authors we all face, something that I KNOW, yet it’s always good to have an added reminder about…and that’s this: you can’t take reviews personally.  You just can’t.

[pullquote]I’m not knocking the healing power of stories (because it’s absolutely real), but this post is about something else entirely.  Something that as authors we all face, something that I KNOW, yet it’s always good to have an added reminder about…and that’s this: you can’t take reviews personally.  You just can’t. [/pullquote]

I don’t connect to every story that I pick up, so how can I expect that every reader will connect with mine?  Take my recent example with my daughter–which is really pretty hilarious if you think about it.  I mean, obviously even having your own mother make up a story expressly for you isn’t enough to guarantee that magical story-to-reader connection– which makes it kind of remarkable that any readers ever connect to my stories at all.  But they do.  They review my books and write me e-mails and I’m incredibly grateful for the privilege of it all.  Even though there’s also the flip side.

The flip side, of course, is that there are always readers who don’t connect to my books.  But you know what?  That’s completely okay.  To get a bit philosophical (or in other words to say the kind of thing that brings the, Oh God I really did marry an English major look to my husband’s face): I can labor over my stories and polish every world and make every sentence shine.  But my stories–however hard I work on them–are still dead on the page unless a reader picks up my book and lets it come to life by reading it.  That’s the only shot at life that my characters and stories get: inside a reader’s imagination.  I’ve heard it said, and I think it’s absolutely true, that the author only brings 50% of the reading experience to the table.  The other half happens inside the reader’s mind, as he or she takes the written words and creates their own story from what’s on the page.  Every reader is different–which means that every time someone reads one of my books, it’s a different story.  No two readers will interpret the story in exactly the same way because every reader brings his or her own unique life experiences and personalities to the table.

I’ve picked up books and then set them back down because the story just wasn’t grabbing me–only to pick them up again sometimes years later, and discover that I love them.  Same exact story, the only thing that is different is me.  I think that’s what you have to remember about your readers and reviewers.  When someone didn’t like your book–well, maybe your story just wasn’t what they needed at a particular point in their lives.  Maybe their loved-one has died, or they’ve just lost their job or maybe they’ve just had a long and stressful day with their kids.

Maybe your reader is grumpy because her broken arm aches and it’s hard to sleep with her arm above her head and her carefully selected (long-sleeved) Halloween costume is never going to fit over a full-arm cast.  You know.

Although there is a surprise twist to that story, too.  After about a week at home, when my daughter was starting to feel a bit better and be able to do a bit more, she suddenly asked for more of the story about the little-girl witch.  “You like it?” I asked, somewhat surprised.  “I LOVE it!” she said.  There you go.  It’s all about timing.

What about you?  How do you cope with reviews?  And does anyone have any good ideas for fun activities for a 7 year old in a cast?

 

About Anna Elliott [1]

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.