Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cry of Goodreads

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Every day I take my little boy to swimming lessons and I hope that today will be the day there won’t be any crying. Not my son, mind you. He loves the water and swimming lessons. No, I hope it’s the little boy who comes every day, clinging on to his mother’s neck as they near the water and get to the staff who try to peel him away from her. He cries so hard and reaches out for her as they take him to get in the water, and it honestly breaks my heart to watch it. The teacher will take him, kicking, crying, and screaming, “I want my mama.” After about fifteen to twenty minutes of crying, he will start to just sob as he begs, “Please. Take me to my mama.” It’s incredibly difficult to watch every day and I want to fix it for him. I want to rush over to him and take him to his mother. I want to talk to his mother about why she’s doing this every day when the child obviously isn’t ready to start swimming lessons. I just want to do something because I think my heart won’t be able to take one more day, especially since I am compelled to be there every day.

Another place I feel compelled to go to every day is Goodreads. I get excited when I see a new review or rating. But then I dread reading the new review, in case it isn’t good. Most of the time it’s been a good experience. Even some of the bad reviews are funny. Like, “I thought your characters were too much like Wonder Woman and her sidekick.” “There was too much climax.” “I had to keep re-reading parts, but that could be because it was 3 a.m. and I was in the tub.” I don’t mind those ones at all and they bring a smile to my face. And of course I love the good ones and feel like I’m on top of the world when someone tells me my book touched their life or how much they liked it. (Jennie Hansen’s review on Meridian Magazine made my whole week because, well, Jennie liked it. Jennie. And she gave it four stars on Goodreads! Woohoo!) But it’s the ones who are very blunt, and borderline cruel that I cringe on. I wonder if these people know the authors will read their scathing review and that’s why they do something like that, or if they just don’t care about anyone’s feelings so they feel okay doing that. I just don’t know. And being the kind of person who takes things to heart, I know I need to not dwell on those few and I should concentrate on the good ones, but sometimes it’s hard.

You see, after I’ve written a book, it goes through several drafts, lots of readers, and then when I think it’s the best I can get it, it’s sent to my editor, who then sends it out to more readers. They critique it and I get their comments back, which is also an interesting experience. Some readers love it, some readers don’t, just like on Goodreads. But my publisher’s readers have a lot of constructive comments to improve the manuscript so I take the ones I can and try to make my story better. Of course it goes through several more rounds of editing and proofreading before it finally goes to press and makes it to the shelves. By the time I’m done with a book, I feel cross-eyed reading it because I’ve read it and changed it so many times. But I know this is the best book I can write and I’m proud of it. At this point, I’m always excited to see what the general public will say about it. Well, excited and nervous.

So that’s why, sometimes after I’ve released a book that represents the best I had to give at the time, and I visit Goodreads only to see a particularly harsh review, I feel like that little boy in the pool. I’m crying inside, reaching out for my mother or people like her, who know me and my heart, know my books, or know writing and how to write a review that isn’t personal or hurtful, but can offer ways for me to improve and learn my craft. And like my feelings for what that little boy is going through, I want to fix the situation, but this time, for those readers. I feel bad. I want to make my book a better experience somehow. I know, it’s unrealistic, but I can’t help it.

So when I see a particularly unmerciful review, as a person, perhaps I’m not as ready as I think to read that one yet. As an author, my skin probably needs another layer of thickness so it’s not quite as deflating to read the more brutal review. My solution should probably be not going to Goodreads so often and wait until the book isn’t quite as fresh and I can have a better perspective on the one or two horrid reviews and I am able to concentrate more on the constructive ones. Or print out the better ones (or funny ones!), and post them all over my desk so they will help off-set any bad ones in my mind. And then repeat to myself ten times a day, you can't please everyone.

It’s a process for every author, I think. You just have to be ready for it, like that boy in the pool. Timing is everything and can mean the difference between tears and learning. I want to be learning and improving, without a lot of crying. And to be the kind of person that just when I think my heart can’t take anymore, I can tell myself that, yes, there is some crying, but after the tears I can hold my head high and say that I love my job and I’m learning my craft and I’ve done the very best I could. No matter what any review said.

(Although I should probably admit, that after I cried over one review, I realized this person had a great name for the pitiful victim in my next book. It’s a writer’s prerogative, right?) Kidding, kidding. (Sort of.)


At 7/22/2010 1:00 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I was sad to see that a friend I'd loaned a book to gave that book only 2 stars and a luke-warm review. (Sorry, Stephanie!) I, of course, had given the book a glowing recommendation to the friend.

I mean, she's WRONG!!! but I guess she's entitled to her opinion, even if it's clearly misguided.

At 7/22/2010 1:41 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Some people like chocolate; some people despise it. (Weirdos.) You've got to look at it that way.

And yes, totally name your villain after them!

At 7/22/2010 1:46 PM, Blogger Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great post. Loved it. This boy's mother needs to do a mom and tot swimming class, or find a friend with a pool where they can work together at a slower pace. My sister has a pool and it has been a fantastic tool in teaching my kids to love water and to swim.

As for the other. Are we EVER ready for that first bad review? Or the tenth, or the fiftieth? I doubt it! LOL

At 7/22/2010 1:59 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


Even your "bad" reviews aren't all that bad. One of them said how much she liked your earlier books. Maybe this just wasn't her cup of tea. You don't even have any one star reviews yet.

How would you like to get this one, I received for Water Keep--from a teacher no less, in Wellsville.

Jul 16, 2010
Maree rated it: 1 of 5 stars

bookshelves: not-recommended, to-read

I started reading this book and I really can't stand it. Talk about wordy, it's very distracting all of the adjectives that this author uses. When he came to our school, I thought he was terrible and at that time, he did talk about using adjectives to excess; which made me wonder where he went to school and what he learned about being an author. Anyway, I thought I would try his books because several of my students have read them and said they were "alright".

Well, I'm not sure I can finish them because they are so hard to read and not really that interesting.

When they are that bad you just have to laugh. the funny things is, I don't ever remember talking about adjectives at a school visit. That's not usually a hot topic for 3rd-6th graders.

And what's even funnier is she already gave book two a bad rating as well, even though she hasn't finished book 1.

Don't worry about pleasing everyone. It can't be done.

At 7/22/2010 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked out the goodread reviews. Even the two star ratings said good things about your book.

How do you do that Julie? How do you get a two star rating and still get people to say good things about your book. Share that with us, please. Jeff would like to know before his next school visit.

At Deseret Book online the only one who reviewed your books was Heather Moore, which probably means she's more of a friend than an unbiased review, but a good stroking is worth its weight in gold.

Where eles are your books reviewed? Now I'm really curious. Will I ever find a bad review of a Bellon Book? So far your fears are based in some alternate universe. Earth to Julie: Dangerous is a good book!

You done good, girl. Keep it up.

At 7/22/2010 6:01 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jon, I can't imagine anyone giving Stephanie a bad review. Her books are amazing!

Karlene, I thought about naming a villain after them, but decided a pitiful victim would suit me better. I'm bad, I know!

Melissa, I totally agree with you on the mother and on the bad review. We're definitely on the same page!

Jeff, I practically cried reading that review. I don't know how you are so thick-skinned, but I wish I was more like you. And that lady was totally up in the night. Your books are amazing. I would hate to have her teach my child when she seems so narrow-minded.

Anonymous, thank you for your comment. It did make me stop and think and it also made me smile. I do try my best, and if you went to Goodreads, you saw the review there that I cringe every time I read. But it's like you said,there are good in all the reviews, I really just need to concentrate on that.

Thanks everyone for your comments. You really helped today! And I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels the way I do. :)

At 7/22/2010 6:03 PM, Blogger Lexie said...

I love goodreads!

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At 7/24/2010 3:49 PM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

I don't read any reviews that are less than three stars. I read the good reviews eventually. (Usually when I'm having a bad day and need a pick-me-up)but I don't check them to see when new ones pop up or anything. It's not productive to care that much about them as it will end up depressing you.


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