One of the things that happens when you publish a book is that you get reviews. Some of them are really positive. And others? Well … they’re terrible.
People misinterpret you. You misinterpret what they misinterpret. Then you lie awake at night, annoyed. Troubled. Scared.
You think … what if my book doesn’t sell?
As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, all conflict is a result of misunderstanding.
This is so true! When we hate the feedback we get, we think people have it in for us. Whether we’re artists in the public spotlight or employees showing up for a performance review, we forget something critical.
It’s nothing personal.
It’s the reviewer’s right to express an honest opinion. In fact, it’s their obligation.
After a lifetime of fleeing criticism, I finally get this. And I’m so relieved! When I was younger, I fought the specter of doing things imperfectly. I had to be brilliant at everything – or so my twenty-something brain thought.
When I published my first novel at 29, I was terrified to read my reviews. I told my editor to withhold them (yes, this was before the Internet.) I was convinced that one bad review would shut me down forever. I stuck my head in the sand and would not come out.
Twenty years later, I performed a one woman show on the Fringe Festival circuit. By now, at age 50, I figured I could take it … so I read my reviews. They loved me in Miami! They even appreciated me in Washington, D.C.
Then I got to Vancouver.
Here the reviewer tartly compared me to William Hung from American Idol, and went on to describe it as ‘painfully awkward’, ‘clued out’, ‘stale’. The list of negatives goes on and on.
As one of my fellow actors put it, ‘That review was so bad it doesn’t count.” The show flubbed in Vancouver … and so it goes.
Did it hurt? Yes.
Does it matter? No.
This experience taught me that a) my show wasn’t for everyone … and it probably needed more work and b) bad reviews won’t kill you.
Again, a review is one person’s opinion. And yes, if fifteen people say something needs work, then it probably does. That’s when reviews are truly useful.
But should we use reviews to define our worth or chart the path of our destiny?
That’s a really bad idea.
Recently I looked up the reviews for my first novel … the ones I refused to read back in 1990. Yes, some of the reviews were negative in very specific ways. And yes, their points were well taken.
But another review compared me to a ‘budding Nora Ephron’. That was a compliment I could have used back when I was young and terrified.
It was also proof that there’s no accounting for tastes.
Ultimately, there will always be people who love our work … just as there will always be people who don’t. Back when I published my first self help book, How Much Joy Can You Stand?, I literally got hate mail for writing a book about happiness.
So we all stumble through life with our corrective lenses on, trying to find our way. And we bash into each other, sometimes unapologetically.
This is life.
If we wish to express ourselves out in the maelstrom, we must expect whatever comes to come. And know, at the very same time, we are safe, we are whole and we are doing the best we can.
Then no review, good or bad, will make much of a difference at all.
(If you’d like to learn more about my books in print, please click here.)