I Am Not a Jackass Whisperer: Why I Don’t Read Reviews

Recently, a friend mentioned in passing that she’d written a review for my book, “The Name of the Game.” I hadn’t even realized she’d read the book, let alone left a glowing review. I thanked her and apologized for not acknowledging it earlier.

Then I had to admit an awkward truth: I don’t read reviews. At least not anymore.

 

When my book was first published,  I dutifully solicited reviews from websites and blogs, fellow authors, and even friends who had bought the book. I knew how important reviews were for sales, and let’s be honest here, I wanted to hear how much people loved my writing.

But then a funny thing happened — I started believing the reviews. If someone loved the book, I loved it. If someone dismissed it, I dismissed it.

Before I knew it, the reviews of a story I put down on paper had become reviews of me. They became reviews of my worth as a writer and a person.

That’s not how I want to live my life, so I knew I had to do something. Fast. I pulled out my old copy of Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements” and reread the second agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally. I reminded myself that good, bad, or indifferent, someone else’s opinion is about them, not me. I shut down my Google alerts and decided that the only thing that mattered was that my book was being read.

In January, “The Name of the Game” was featured as Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal. It was incredibly exciting to watch my little romantic comedy climb the charts all day, eventually peaking at the #3 spot, just below Nicholas Sparks and Glenn Beck.

But with that increased exposure came a flurry of new reviews. I tried not to read them, I really did. But when I saw the first one- and two-star reviews pop up, I just had to know. What could possibly be so bad about my book?

The handful of terrible reviews included such insightful comments as, “Everything about this book was boring.”  (Really? Everything? Such penetrating analysis!)

Another discerning reviewer called the story “silly.”  (It’s a romantic comedy about two people who have the same name. Silly is kind of the point. So, I guess…thanks?)

Instead of tearing up, I found myself laughing out loud.

It got me wondering what these same critics thought of my favorite authors. I checked the reviews for some books I truly adore, and lo-and-behold, they too were “boring” and “silly.”

It was a true Aha! Moment, something I knew intellectually but had to discover spiritually: a review is just one person’s opinion, and it’s more about them than me or my work.

It’s been nearly six months since I’ve read a review for my book, and I wholeheartedly agree when Ruiz says,  “There is a huge amount of freedom when you take nothing personally.”

Don’t get me wrong, I know word of mouth is still the best way to get my book to new readers, and I appreciate when someone takes the time to write a review for my book. And I still love knowing that someone enjoyed my book. But I won’t determine my worth, not even for one tiny second, by someone else’s opinion.

In “Daring Greatly,” researcher-storyteller Brene Brown says, with her usual sass and smarts, “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”

After her inspiring TEDTalk on The Power of Vulnerability went viral, Brown was criticized for everything from her research to her weight to her wrinkles. Her first instinct was to shrink from the spotlight to get away from it all. But she was spurred on by this great quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“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 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.”

In a recent O Magazine interview, Brene continues where Teddy left off: “If you are not in the arena getting your butt kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback. Period.  Anonymous comments? You’re not in the arena, man. If you can’t say it to me in person in front of my kids, don’t say it.  And if you can say it to me in person, duck.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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