I talked in an earlier piece about the power of feedback from readers. While reader feedback is often positive and can infuse a writer with boundless energy; “professional” reviews often do the opposite. Almost every actor is asked at some point if he reads the critics’ reviews of his work. The answer is usually something to the effect that he did when he was brand new, but seldom if ever does now. That is likely sage advice for writers as well.
An important point for writers to remember is that “professional” reviews of their work are done in a different spirit and with a set of marching orders a world apart from the enthusiasm that inspires a reader to write an online review or drop an email or letter. When writers and historians are paid to review books for magazines they do it in the same fashion that annual job reviews are written. We’ve all been there, the 95% that you do right is quickly summed up in one or two short paragraphs that can be boiled down to “that’s nice.” Then is disclaimed with a note to the effect of: that’s your job, that’s what we expect from you. Then they go into laborious detail on the other 5%.
Book reviewers often do the same thing. Writers usually are the worst readers. They haven’t had to do the hard work of the good writing that they glide right through, but have the luxury and time to destroy every part that isn’t quite what they thought it should be. Of course in these reviews, matters of personal preference become hard and fast rules in the eyes of the reviewer as well.
The thing every young writer should remember is that when allowed, these reviews can cripple your creative energy for more days than a laudatory email from a reader can charge you up. It should not be this way. Ask yourself, just who are you writing for anyway? When you have that answer, then you can see these reviews in the best light. Read them if you must, but take the negative points and examine them. If they have merit, figure out how to improve on them. If they are simply pettiness or personal opinion, discard them and move on. These reviews can help us if we choose, or cripple our writing careers if we allow it. The choice is ours.