Monday, March 05, 2007

LS: To read or not to read . . .

Do you really want to go there? or Why I don't put harsh reviews up on bookselling websites.

I remember when The Church Ladies released, my first women's fiction book, my first offering of "the real Lisa Samson." In fact, I had a tag-line back then (when I thought branding would help me--it didn't) "Real Fiction for Real Women." I think when Angie Hunt and I thought of it in a hotel in DC, we thought it might just skyrocket me to popularity! (Thanks anyway, Angie. It was still fun to brainstorm and the Pad Thai was great!) I was excited, loosed to write like myself, delve into situations that seemed important to me as a woman and as a Christian, to explore contemporary metaphor and setting.

Six years ago this March The Church Ladies hit the shelves to great reviews, healthy sales, wonderful emails from ladies all over the country, particularly pastor's wives who claimed I'd somehow crawled into their heads. Even those who'd had extra-marital affairs wrote to tell me the Lord used the book to allow them to forgive themselves and move on. God knew I needed all that. My mother was dying. I was caring for her. It was the most difficult time of my life.

A few months after the release, enter the Amazon reviewer. I don't read my Amazon/ reviews anymore as my friends know, because as a person of words, (like a horribly violent scene in a movie or book) I can't get the words out of my head. The positive reviews aren't enough to offset the damage of the nasty ones. I don't remember the woman's name who wrote a long, scathing review of the book, but these two lines have followed me around like hecklers for six years now and I doubt they'll be leaving anytime soon.

"Samson is no wordsmith."

"She smears words around like a kindergartener smears fingerpaint."

Believe it or not, I haven't read that review in at least four years.

So I know firsthand what these reviews can do to a person. Don't misunderstand me. I can appreciate an honest review. Not everyone is going to like my work and it's fine to say that. It's the internet; we can say whatever we want. But know what you might be doing to that writer when you cross the line from critical to mean-spirited. Realize your words won't simply go further and further down on the Amazon reviews page, they may become the voice the deceiver uses to discourage and whisper words, sometimes, of debilitating doubt.

Or maybe that lady was right. Maybe I am no wordsmith, just a kindergartener smearing words like cheap paint.

See how it works?



At 7:02 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Yes, Lisa, I know. I've read plenty of red-hot words about my books and those of my dear friends, and what can I say? Maybe the evil one prods folks out of jealousy. Maybe the Lord allows it to keep us dependent on him.

But if you're a kindergartner with words, may we all be so free and creative in our approaches! You're as unique as a snowflake, and I thank the Lord for you. Keep on painting, dear one.

Angie, who owes her love of pad Thai to you!

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

I wonder if that reviewer must have read Church Ladies during a cycle. If she'd go back and read now, maybe eat some chocolate first, she'd see what the real critics saw and the rest of us saw, a breath of fresh air.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

What you say is SO true, Lisa. I have several reviews that still sting as freshly as they did the first time I read them. I've tried to ask myself if there is anything of truth in the review that I can learn from and thus become a better writer. And after that, I try to put them out of my mind. But there's some truth to the theory that it takes 100 stellar reviews to counterbalance one meanspirited review.

If anything good has come from my bad reviews, maybe it's that I've become far kinder (yet always honest, I hope) in my own reviews.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Robin Lee Hatcher said...

Lisa, this is great sharing, one I hope people will take to heart before sliding from honest reviewing into mean-spirited bashing. Maybe reading your post will cause at least a few readers/reviewers/critics to pause and remember there is a person on the receiving end of their words. That doesn't mean they're required to love every book they read. Anyway, take heart. I'd love to play with your crayons. From them, you create such beautiful portraits.


At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The impact of words reaches into all areas of life. I still remember a comment from an old boyfriend that he made when he was a sophomore and I was a freshman. "She'd be pretty if she wasn't so fat." I can remember exactly what hallway I was standing in, what locker he was opening. And that was 20 years ago.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

That is such a portrait of how embedded hurtful words get in our spirits. My husband and I have made a pact, neither one of us may say one critical word about any person or any entity. We're amazed at the silence it creates, but also the need to fill up that silence by practicing and activating life-giving encouragement.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm struggling with this very subject right now. I started reviewing as a way to serve the CBA community.

I don't review books I absolutely hate and with ones I'm lukewarm about, I still try to be as positive as possible. There's usually much to like even in novels that weren't my thing.

I feel dishonest if I write a glowing review on a novel that does have some issues which stood out to me. Or at least I feel it's probably fair to point out the most glaring of those issues. It is a review after all.

I'm tempted to not review at all rather than hurt anyone's feelings. I've never been accused of being "mean spirited" but is pointing out a flaw against a backdrop mentioning many attributes also hurtful?

Another question is: if all reviews are five star and glowing regardless of the book we write, then doesn't that give us a false sense of our own work?

I'm not trying to argue, just get some feedback on these questions I'm struggling with myself. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

Lisa, if you're not a wordsmith, I don't know who is.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger batgirl said...

I guess people forget that authors are people too. Lisa, I've said this before, but I love your writing. I took ages to get through Songbird because I kept reading and re-reading your clever and beautiful metaphors, underlinging things that made me laugh or cry, and yes, trying to emulate such poetic prose in my own novel.
Sometimes, we Christians writers want so badly to be as edgy and tough as the ABA world- which is fine- but we do need to remember that we are all about Jesus and speaking the truth in love.
At the end of the day, we all bring our best efforts to God, and before Him and His perfect holiness and glory, they all look like kindergarten fingerpaint pictures, but He accepts those offerings with the love of a parent and uses them for His glory.

At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say: Are you not the same Lisa Samson who wrote The Living End, a book I read in only two days??

I need to go chase a toddler, but I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. I suspect there are many more people like me than that one nay-sayer.

At 12:49 AM, Blogger Karen said...

This is a sticky issue. There are people on both side of the coin: the author and the reviewer. Both will be critized for their words.

A novelist sets out to write a great book. A reviewer sets out to write an accurate review. The two will inevitably collide because that's just the nature of the beast. Some novelists write cheesy books and some reviewers write fluffy reviews. Both leave you with tummy aches.

The best defense is to write the best you can, whether you're a novelist or reviewer. And leave the rest in God's hands.


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