Reading is an act of faith.

One of my Goodreads friends is currently suffering the slings and arrows of a Badly Behaving Author, so I angry-typed this long polemic about why authors should never respond to reviews, and how reviews are a sacred space meant for readers, and negative reviews rarely hurt sales and may even increase them and blah, blah, blah…but it all boiled down to one thing, and that one thing is so fucking important, it’s the only thing I want to talk about at all.

Reading is an act of faith.

A reader opens their brain and lets a stranger’s words cavort inside their mental theater for a few hours or a few days. That takes a huge amount of trust: they’re letting someone dictate the contents of their brain for a given chunk of time. It’s a premise for a sci-fi horror film. Reading is a benign form of mind-control.

Skull X-ray brain

It’s easy to sympathize with the author who receives a harsh review: they spent X years writing the book, pouring blood/sweat/tears/booze/etc. into their labor of love, only for Joe Reviewer to 1-star it.

But readers are giving of themselves, too. They’re letting an author into the most private region of themselves: their thoughts. That’s an amazing act of faith, and it should humble any author, even if it results in a terse 1-star review. If nothing else, respect the awesomeness of that trust. Beyond the money spent, or the time and energy devoted to reading and reviewing, the greatest thing they did was let you sink your creepy phantom author fingers into their brain and press various squishy bits to elicit certain responses.

They had faith in you to not disappoint.

That is some incredible vulnerability. And it’s phenomenally dickish to lash out at someone who made themselves vulnerable to you.

So, my fellow authors: show some damn humility. They’re letting us into their skulls, and most of us are not even qualified neurosurgeons. Respect that trust. Respect the inevitability that you will disappoint some of them, and they will let you know it. Keep your mouth shut. You still have brain goo on your hands.

26 Responses to Reading is an act of faith.

  1. Oh. So. Hard. :) I hate reading negative reviews. They can range from being polite to being downright vicious. I think anyone who reads and reviews a book, has the right to express their opinion, but they should also stop to think that the author is only human and doesn’t need to be made to feel like dog shit because Mr. or Ms. Reviewer didn’t connect with their words. :)

    • Oh, sure. Totally agree. We should all try to not be dicks to each other. But reviewers are only human, too, and they don’t need to be made to feel like dog shit for expressing their opinion. :D

  2. Leah, you are my GOD , er goddess :D

    I think you should be HONEST in your reviews, first and foremost!
    That should be the whole point of rating books, right?
    So, if some people tend to be a bit more harsh than others, it’s just their way of expressing themselves.
    When I like a book, I get so obsessed with it I recommend it to everyone I know (-all my GR friends), I think I even annoy them, they might not even like the book, but I don’t care, I just wanna share my enthusiasm.

    And, when I dislike the book, which happens often if it’s New Adult in question; there’s so much crap in that genre and I have strict criteria, I say it; because I go by if you wrote it you want to hear what people say, so be prepared to hear both the good and bad.

    Beacuse everywhere in life we’re met with critism; and we should take both praises and critics with our heads held high!

  3. We all do, but do we ALWAYS get what we want?

    Take hundred different people you’ll get hundred different opinions, personalities, tastes… Everyone’s different and not everyone can like everything. There’s beauty in diversify and those authors should respect their readers enough that they took their time to write about their book, because who knows; the thing they hated might be the thing someone else will love; and not to trash on them (it happened, not to me but to one of my friends, I mean come on, be mature :P )

  4. Any kind of criticism is hard to take,it’s human nature to want to defend yourself! But I also feel that sometimes reviewers go way overboard. If you don’t like the book,that fine your entitled to your own opinion, but writing a term paper type review as to why you didn’t like it is truly not necessary!I Plus you get followers jumping on the bandwagon,they haven’t read the book,they haven’t formed there own opinion based on facts… just here say! I think it’s wrong and a little lazy,if you ask me.

    • Deborah, I agree that it’s human nature to want to defend yourself against something that feels like an attack. But look at it this way: a negative review is basically a reader defending him/herself against the book they spent money, time, energy, and trust on, only to be disappointed.

      They should be able to express themselves in any way they want, unless it escalates to something that’s legally actionable (actual libel, threats, etc.–which it rarely ever does).

      Part of being a professional is learning to deal with criticism. If you can’t deal with it, it’s best to ignore it entirely.

      • I totally agree with you in that everyone has the right to there own opinion, that’s what makes us all unique and different. A person no matter the profession needs contructive criticism,that’s how we as people learn and grow. As a creative person you put your work out there you have to learn to take the good with the bad. The issues I have might not necessarily be with the reviewer,althought I you don’t like the book reviewers that the *beat a dead horse* within a paragraph I get it you don’t like it, it’s the people who haven’t read the book but are still trashing it…read it,make your own decision ** own your opinion ** don’t take the lazy way out …

  5. THANK YOU! I’ve not personally had my own review attacked but I’ve dealt with this issue through another friends review where my comments (agreeing with her review) were attacked. I try not to be outright ugly in my reviews but I am honest and if I did want to be ugly about it that is certainly my right. I have your book on my tbr and I have now just bumped it up! EVERYONE needs to read this. I’m of the opinion if you don’t want criticism…don’t publish your book.

    • Thanks, Shannon. It is absolutely your right to express yourself in any way you want. It’s the author’s responsibility to separate themselves from their work and learn to take criticism well, or to avoid it if they can’t.

      Hope you like my book, but even if you don’t, I’ll support whatever you have to say about it. :)

  6. Whoa! Am I reading you correctly? “Reading is a benign form of mind-control.” Readers are not zombies who let writers infiltrate their mind. Maybe some are but the majority are intelligent enough to know that if they are not enjoying something,or it is upsetting them, they will stop reading. And if they are going to give a scathing review be prepared to accept the backlash. It’s called excepting responsibility for your own actions. Writers are human, too. We have a choice as readers, like or dislike. This does not mean we can spew whatever comes to mind. If it, in your opinion, is so bad then choose your words carefully. Don’t be intentionally wretched. Your friend suffered “slings and arrows”, well, so did mine. So you can say I “angry-typed” my reply.

    • Geri, no, you are not reading me correctly. “Reading is a benign form of mind-control” is a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to the fact that a reader lets their defenses down when they read. In no way have I stated that readers are zombies or unintelligent. This post is about trust and vulnerability.

      I think it’s clear where I stand: I defend readers. I’m sorry your friend was attacked, but please read the post again. I am against any reader or reviewer being attacked. This post is a plea for authors to be sensitive to the fact that readers put their faith and trust in us.

      We’re on the same side. No need for hostility.

  7. Leah! Well said. Negative reviews are hard to hear sometimes as they are also hard to give as well. It kills me as a reviewer to not like a book. It however is all about the approach of how it is dealt with and received.

    Thanks for the great words

  8. I respectfully disagree with your post, and I am not looking to start any arguments. Maybe the author shouldn’t post on the review, but I believe that they have the right to. They also have the right to ask that reader what could make the book better, so their next go around, they have an idea of what the reader felt needed to be conveyed or fixed, especially when the book is a series.

    We all know not everyone is going to like a book, because if we all liked the same things, the world would be a very boring place. I hate giving a bad review, and I feel for those who put time into doing it. But I also feel that if we write a bad review, it should be helpful to the author, and not just bashing. These reviews are here HELP other readers and help the authors understand their readers, whether they are good or bad reviews.

    “That is some incredible vulnerability. And it’s phenomenally dickish to lash out at someone who made themselves vulnerable to you.” This goes both ways, for the reader and for the author. If you dont like the book, fine, you don’t like it. Review it, give your thoughts, and let it go. Move on. Go read the next thing that you hope will not disappoint. I have seen a lot of readers on GR who dont like a book or something an author says in the book or in real life, and they gang up on them. They get everyone together to rate their books low for no reason. Deborah, you said it well, “it’s the people who haven’t read the book but are still trashing it…read it,make your own decision ** own your opinion ** don’t take the lazy way out”

    I’m sorry your friend felt as if she was being ganged up on my the author.

    • Respectfully Gwen, it sounds as though you think reviewers ought to act as authors’ beta readers. We aren’t here to tell them how to improve their stories for the general reading public. Reviews are to tell other readers why this specific book didn’t work for us. Suggestions for improvements and quality control come from beta readers, crit groups, editors and even friends and family who got their hands on early copies – the “professionals.”

  9. I write reviews, and I hope I don’t give negative ones. I try to be very
    diplomatic if I didn’t like it. i would never be nasty though. You guys spend a lot of time & effort into writing the books.

  10. Okay, I don’t want to come across as weird or stalkerish, but I love you so hard right now. Not because you’ve declared you’re on a “side,” but because you’re *open* to both sides and that’s more than a lot of people are right now. I love your analogy too because that’s exactly what a good book does for me – I trust the author to hop into my head and take me someplace. If they can’t hold me there, then they’re not successful storytellers. If they can, then I’ll come back for more from them over and over.

    I already have your book in my queue and while I thoroughly expect to like it based on my friends’ reviews, I’m comfortable at least knowing you won’t go crazy on me if I write a review with some GIFs and a little snark in it. ;)

    • Thanks, Barbara. No worries on sounding stalkerish. :)

      You made me realize how much I dislike the “taking sides” mentality. There is only one side any of us should be on: the one where we all love to read and discuss books.

  11. AMEN Leah. Ana Rita sent me the link to read this post and I completely agree with you. Readers can review books as they please, we spend time (not to mention money) and we deserve to have our opinion. But (and this is a big but) reviewers need to be RESPECTFUL with authors who spend hours, weeks, months and even years creating their babies. I cannot approve reviews saying “this is shit”.

    Dani Alexander, one of my fave MM authors, posted something similar a few days ago just in case you want to have a look:

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