As you are, you are

“Do not let your peace depend on the hearts of others; whatever they say about you, good or bad, you are not because of it another, for as you are, you are.”

A friend recently posted the above Thomas a Kempis quote on Facebook. I thought immediately of this week’s Debutante Ball theme: reviews. To me reviews can take all different forms, not just straight-up book reviews. A verbal comment can be a review. No comment at all also can be a review.

When you publish a book, address a crowd, blog, vlog, or offer some bit of yourself in any public arena, you invite judgment, evaluation. That’s the nature of the beast.

Also the nature of the beast: certain reviews reveal much more about the reviewer than the material being reviewed.

Some writer-friends of mine seek out every review of their books that they can find, whether it’s in a major magazine,, or a book club they visit. They treat it as a learning experience, a way to learn what readers like and don’t like, a way to join the conversation.

A few of my writer-friends avoid reviews of their work, because they know themselves, and they know that even a small criticism might sap their creative energy, drain their hard-won self-belief, color their current writing projects, darken their moods, trigger depression ….

Many writers are sensitive. Some are acutely sensitive. Sometimes, in reaction to nasty, negative reviews, we resort to defensiveness, or simply point out that, by virtue of publishing a book, we take a risk that most others do not. As Rocky Balboa says to the guy who calls world champion Apollo Creed a bum: “What shot did you ever take?” Maybe that’s a valid response; maybe not.

Regardless, if you have something positive to say about a book — any praise, however insignificant it may seem — please, say it. Shout it, blog it, email it, tweet it, status update it, give it as many stars as possible in online forums. If the author sees it, she or he will take it to heart. More than anything else, authors — even big-time authors — need fuel. Positive “reviews” are among the best fuel.

My book is a few months away from reviews. I’m not sure how I’ll respond. But I know I’ll keep the sound advice of an author-friend in mind: Never let a less than kind review get you down.

For as you are, you are.

~Alicia Bessette

18 Replies to “As you are, you are”

  1. I would never write a negative review. Just because I didn’t like a book doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t. I will write positive reviews of books I like as I feel the author deserves to know it was read and enjoyed. As I have learned, second-hand, publishing is a pretty brutal industry.

  2. Once you decide to submit your work and try to publish, I believe that you have already decided to ignore reviews. How many published writers grew up surrounded by people saying ‘Your writing will change the world; everyone will love every single word’? In my life there were always one or two people telling me that I should write, but most people made me feel like it was a silly thing to do, and my thinking of myself as a writer was/is even more absurd. I’m never very surprised when non-writers non-artists write mean or harsh responses to a novel, but when fellow writers dole out the hard words, it always makes me pause. There are some who believe all writers are in competition, and these people act accordingly. Some feel as though it is important to discuss such matters objectively, and there is probably something to that. And there are also some hurting people out there. But no one has ever published a book that was embraced by everyone alive, and it’s important to remember that you will never please everyone. I do believe it’s the negative stuff that determines whether you will continue or not. You have to be able to handle the negatives and keep moving forward. So whenever I encounter a negative response, I now greet it like a question. “Do you really believe in what you are doing?”

  3. Good post, and I think it’s important to figure out which camp you fall into before your reviews come in. I read my reviews, and negative reviews don’t crush me as long as there are positive ones to balance them out. But I think a writer gets in trouble when he or she believes their reviews, because at the end of the day, it’s just someone’s opinion. It’s not the last word on your writing.
    I suspect your reviews will be mighty nice, Alicia!

  4. “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 comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”


  5. Greg, that TR quote is printed out in big letters and taped to the back of Q’s office door. I think that is exactly the point Rocky is trying to make when he says, “What shot did you ever take?” in defense of Apollo Creed.

    Thanks to everyone for weighing in! Reviews are a thought-provoking subject in many ways.

  6. What the hell, this is about reviews, right? Speaking of TR – River of Doubt by Candice Millard (ISBN 0-385-50796-8)is a very good book about Roosevelt’s journey on an unexplored river in the Amazon that nearly killed him. Great adventure story and gives you much insight into the man he was.

  7. I’m sure that your book will get great reviews, Alicia. I really look forward to reading!

    I feel sorry for the people who take the time to write negative reviews. They honestly have nothing better to do with their time than put others down? Clearly they lack their own passion projects. Sounds like a flashback to middle school to me!

  8. Many, many profound insights in this week’s entry, Al. I especially like the concept of silence as a review. I gave my children’s book to my dad to read; it was very different than his beliefs. After a few weeks of not hearing anything from him, I got the courage to email him and ask his thoughts. “I liked it….” with a lot of white space was his only response, and I could feel his hesitation across the streaming airwaves just in that statement! To this day, we’ve never talked about it. I have learned that I am comfortbale telling him he doesn’t have to read my work. I know he loves me anyway.

    I also liked the insight about what the review says about the reviewer, and it is so true.

    Our life mission is to be who we are and shine who we are and know ourselves, and that is so true in how writers repsond to their reviews. We’re all different (even though all writers use the same tools) and experience will teach us who we are (as long as we’re willing to learn)!

    All I have to say is, Yo, Adrien!!!! Talk about a great reviwer; that women loved and supported Rocky as best she could and that got him through his roughest times (can I also say that I love the fact that you referenced this!!).

    Thanks for this, and I know the reviews for your book will be glowing!!

  9. I think I’m one of those people who has to seek out every last detail (even the snarky details) written about my work. This may not bode well for me next summer, when my novel comes out!! I’m already nervous. 🙂 xo

  10. A, you may remember this one. I’d written a funny (non-fiction) story about cooking a turkey and suggested the newspaper might want to use it in the holiday guide, which they did (with a few of my favorite bits removed to protect the guilty). It exposed a great deal of family “stuff,” but all of it amusing. When my oldest brother (the family cut-up) read it, he didn’t crack a smile, not once. He finished reading it, closed the newspaper and went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, then asked what we were all going to do next. If that hadn’t been just one more salvo in the ongoing war between me and my brother, I would have been devastated; as it is, it still rankles, but it was a good lesson, or several: 1) don’t expect validation from my family; 2) don’t expect validation from anyone, but be grateful when you get it! Since I’m my worst critic anyway, others’ voices just sound like part of the same chorus, so I need to listen for the praise, and try to garner what I can from the criticism. For what it’s worth, I love your book.

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