Michelle Rowen

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Thin and thick skin

I found it interesting to be greeted with this little warning on Goodreads today which I actually had to “click to agree” with.

Have to admit, I was pretty surprised this needed to be stated in such a blatant manner — across the board to all authors. But I guess there have been some problems. I mean, I know there have been problems. I see “authors behaving badly” flagged all the time in the blogosphere.

So I thought I’d do a blog post on the topic of authors and reviews — from the Michelle Rowen perspective.

Ah reviews. I’ve had a love and hate relationship with you over the years. I love the good reviews and I hate the bad. I’ve always been the kind of person that needs a lot of outside acknowledgment that what I’m doing is okay and acceptable. Comes down to self-esteem I guess. I ain’t got it in spades. Never have.

When I first entered the writing world with Bitten & Smitten, it was fairly perfect timing. I didn’t get rejected with that manuscript in my search for an agent (well, one, but it came the same day as an offer of representation so it didn’t really sting). The book had an offer within 24 hours of being sent out to publishers. Praise was heaped on me by editors and agent and my early reviews were fangtastic. And then B&S was released into the world at large and I suddenly realized that my voice and characters and story and world wasn’t going to work for everyone 100% across the board. SAY WHAT? You mean, I will not be universally loved and adored like a goddess of wordiness??

Um, no. Not so much. Every negative review felt like a wound. Why? Because I lacked any kind of thick skin, which I hadn’t had a chance to develop yet. Because of my need for outside kudos to make me feel that what I was doing was okay, I assumed that each negative review was a nail in the coffin of my brand new dream career. Oh god, I thought. They’ve found me out. I’m a fraud. I can’t write. I suck. I SUCK!! *cue the hordes of doubt weasels*

Okay, so that was one of my personalities, Little Miss Defeatist. I’m blessed (cursed?) to have a few more. I might have low self esteem, but I happen to have a big ego. I can only compare it to one of those girls on America’s Next Top Model who looks in the mirror and bemoans how ugly she is. Well, if they thought they were THAT damn ugly, why would they enter a competition where looks were the prized asset? Despite my worry that I wasn’t good enough, I had pushed myself to write a book and to take the next step toward publication. So I guess I thought my ideas were pretty good after all.

It’s a teeter totter, even now. I am proud of my books, all of them. Well, except for one, but we won’t talk about that. I put everything I am, everything I have to give, into my books. And then I put them out there for the world because that is how I earn a living. I now know without a SHADOW OF A DOUBT that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. AND THAT’S OKAY. I also know with equal certainty that there are quite a few readers out there who enjoy my tea very, very much thank you!

So…after five plus years of being published and 15 books on the shelf with at least 7 more cooking up nicely, negative reviews don’t bother me at all anymore.

HA! I AM LYING!!! They still bother me. Just because I can take them with a grain of salt and know that someone’s opinion on Goodreads or Amazon who might think I am the antichrist of fiction writers isn’t going to sink my career. If my editor and agent approve of what I’m doing, then that is what I’m aiming for — anything else is icing on the cake. But yeah, they still sting.

Should reviewers watch what they say, be nicer, or consider my feelings when they’re reviewing? Quite honestly, why should they? Just as I have a right to write anything I please (as long as my editor and agent approves) a reader has a right to like it or not like it. And then talk about it. (Unless they’re reviewing a pirated copy, in which case they can $^*#$ **$%@#). Of course, in a perfect world, I’d like all reviews to be prefaced with “this is only my opinion, but…” But that’s not reality. Besides, I’ve actually bought a lot of books based on negative reviews. One person’s pig’s ear is another’s silk purse. Or something like that.

I don’t review books because I feel like it’s not my place to do so — just like I don’t enter contests to win free books anymore on author blogs. But I don’t begrudge others who do. Does that mean everything I read I enjoy and appreciate? Hell no. If I wrote reviews, 9 out of 10 would likely be a big fat DNF for me. I’m a notoriously picky reader and it doesn’t take much for me to consider a book a wallbanger. So if I feel that way — and sometimes I feel that way about VERY VERY POPULAR BOOKS – bleh — then why can’t others feel the same way and express it? I think there’s only one thing worse than people saying bad things about your book — and that’s when they DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL. (at least that’s the theory).

Working on my own self-esteem when it comes to my books — I just need to keep reminding myself that the majority of people seem to dig what I’m doing, which is why I’m able to do this full time with four books currently on my writing roster for this year. I think I’m doing something right. I just need to keep doing it and try to enjoy the ride.


1) DO NOT read your reviews if they really bug you. Get a trusted friend to read them and have them send you the good ones.

2) DO NOT post a link to a bad review on twitter or other social networks with a “omg look at this terrible review!” If you didn’t post that link, hardly anyone would have ever read it. Now everyone is reading it out of morbid curiosity and honestly? A lot of people enjoy other people’s misery. There’s even a word for it: schadenfreude.

3) PLEASE REMEMBER that on Twitter you’re basically taking part in an open chat. Your off the cuff comments about your horrendous cover or your asshat copyeditor are viewable by everyone. Including your horrendous cover artist and your asshat copyeditor. Who might be working on your next book. Just saying. I used to be a graphic designer, and believe me, we hold grudges.

4) DON’T SWEAT BAD REVIEWS. I can say this objectively for everyone except myself (usually). They are not the end of the world. And, honestly? They’re rarely as bad as you think they are. I mean, some are, but some are just pointing out a couple things the reader didn’t love. It doesn’t mean they hate your book and want to watch it and you burn in some sort of Satanic ritual. And besides, at the end of the day even the “professional” reviews are only ONE PERSON’S OPINION. So…chillax.

5) This one takes this post right back to the beginning in regards to commenting on reviews you’ve received on Goodreads, Amazon, a blog, or anywhere else. DO NOT DO THIS. EVER. DO NOT EVER DO THIS. Toss back a shot of vodka, pull up your big girl panties, buy some chocolate, AND DO NOT COMMENT. This is a part of the business you wanted to be in and it will not change. GET USED TO IT. Go to Amazon, pull up a BIG NAME AUTHOR and read their nasty-ass reviews. They get a lot of them. Did it make a difference to their career? NOOOO. In fact, it’s kind of a sign of success. If you want to be a professional author, act professional. Full stop.

Reviews, both negative and positive, are the building blocks of word-of-mouth advertising. It’s all good, people. So try to do what I’m trying to do — enjoy the ride! The view is kind of spectacular!!

15 comments to “Thin and thick skin”

  1. Gwen Hayes
     · March 5th, 2011 at 1:15 pm · Link

    Good timing! I’m developing my thick skin this week for sure.

  2. MamaKitty
     · March 5th, 2011 at 1:26 pm · Link

    I’ve always tried to be as nice as I can with my reviews. I’ll mention the bad stuff, but I always try to focus on the positive. I mostly did that with authors that I spoke to on Twitter or who requested a review, but I’ve since learned that honesty is the best policy.

  3. Jolene
     · March 5th, 2011 at 3:21 pm · Link

    Wow, that was great. I love to read and when I discovered goodreads it gave me something extra. Not only do I get to share my love of reading I get to share my thoughts. I always try not to be too negative but be honest in my thoughts. I respect authors for doing something I could never do and that’s pull a story together. I don’t love every book I read, but I know books are a matter of taste and opinion. I’ve read reviews that were negative on books I loved and vice versa. So, I read reviews but I never take them to heart and not once have they swayed what I buy. I’ve come across reviewers that trash an author and those piss me off. Just say the book didn’t work for you and move on, but don’t get personal. I am always nervous when I post a review if the author will read it and if one ever commented on a review I would probably be really upset because I’ve also seen authors who get mad over a review and I hope I am never put in that situation. I’m always aware of this when I write reviews because I’m putting it out there for everyone to read. If I post a negative I always back it up with a positive and write my review knowing I don’t have thick skin so let’s be adult and write a mature review

  4. Sangria3
     · March 5th, 2011 at 8:31 pm · Link

    That’s the best advice I’ve ever read! Honest, blunt, and straight to the point. I love your books and your attitude about everything. Keep doing what you’re doing! :D

  5. Tez Miller
     · March 5th, 2011 at 11:29 pm · Link

    I am proud of my books, all of them. Well, except for one, but we won’t talk about that.

    That “one” better not be COUNTDOWN, because I love that book, damn it! ;-)

  6. Michelle Rowen
     · March 6th, 2011 at 12:19 am · Link

    Oh, it’s definitely not Countdown. Without Countdown I wouldn’t have written Nightshade. Very fond of all of those books.

  7. Colleen (MizBehavin1)
     · March 6th, 2011 at 1:06 am · Link

    First, I adore your books. I am a connoisseur of snarkasm, and I especially enjoy authors who feed my addiction.:D

    As to the topic, I try to be honest in my Goodreads reviews because I know there are others who may feel the same way that I do about plot or characterization, but there’s no call for rudeness. I usually do preface my less-than-glowing remarks with IMO or “____ didn’t work for me.” I’m cognizant that the writer may read my post, and I’d rather be more constructive than destructive with my criticism. If a book is something I really don’t like (or simply doesn’t stir me enough to comment), I often don’t leave a review at all and just mark the appropriate stars. The worst thing that will happen is that I remove the remaining books in a series (or an author completely) from my TBR list and concentrate my interest elsewhere.

  8. Tori
     · March 6th, 2011 at 8:32 pm · Link

    Am I allowed to ask which book it is you aren’t proud of? I know you ended the Demon Princess books on a clifhanger (also know its not the way it was supposed to have ended, I understand publishing sucks!) so was wondering if that was what you were talking about? Because, as far as I’m concerned, all your books are amazing and I can’t see why you wouldn’t love all of them!

    I will say I have a deeper love for NIGHTSHADE tho. I am seriously digging your darker voice Michelle, I can’t wait for BLOODLUST! That love triangle…so hot. Why is it I always love the guys the girl DOESN’T end up with in your books? :p I say…I know she won’t end up with (insert name here) but I so want her to!

    Back on topic to what you originally posted about, I have a feeling I am not going to be able to read reviews, the bad ones I mean. Because I would get really upset. I wouldn’t call the person names, in fact, I would probably cry. So still a good reason to stay away!

    Love ya Michelle, hope your writing is going well! I’m stuck in revision hell right now…not fun.

  9. Michelle Rowen
     · March 6th, 2011 at 11:36 pm · Link

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone!

    Tori… I said that more as a joke, really. However, there is one book that was an absolute slog for me to get through from page 1 to The End, but it didn’t turn out badly and got good reviews. And I’ll never say what it was publicly. ;) And don’t get me started on Demon Princess. I loved those books and was very sad they never really found their audience. Oh well! Mum’s the word on the love triangle in Nightshade. I do try my best to find a way to get the “loser” his HEA eventually with a heroine who’s his perfect match. We’ll see if I can do it this time. But who knows what’ll happen with Jill? ;)

  10. Tori
     · March 7th, 2011 at 12:38 am · Link

    Hmmmm, I think I MAY have an idea of what it could be, just because I remember you talking about one of your books taking a lot of work to get into shape, and I totally understand not wanting to say it publicly ;) I was just curious.

    I think you’re wrong about the Demon Princess books not finding their audience…I loved them and so did a lot of other people, and we were sad when you didn’t get a contract to Book III. I know it might not happen, but I do hope you write the third someday, whether its the traditional publishing route or not.

    Well, I’ll say this, you did a GREAT job making both those guys in NIGHTSHADE an interesting match for her…regardless of who she chooses I have my favorite, and others may not agree, but I though the sexual tension was hot! :D

    I can’t wait to see what happens with Jill in BLOODLUST!

  11. Michelle Rowen
     · March 7th, 2011 at 1:00 am · Link

    Well, okay. It was a very tiny, very smart, and very wonderful audience. ;) But, alas, not big enough to get the sales I needed to write more of that series. We’ll see what the future holds. I’d really like to finish that story someday, be it one book or more.

  12. Ashleigh
     · March 7th, 2011 at 7:51 pm · Link

    Am I allowed to ask, where did you get the idea for The Demon in Me???

  13. Ashleigh
     · March 7th, 2011 at 8:15 pm · Link

    I’m sure a lot of your fans are disappointed and sad about when you didn’t get contract for the third book of Demon Princess.
    My nanna aka June Whyte and I really enjoyed reading Demon Princess books.

    Have a nice day

  14. Michelle Rowen
     · March 11th, 2011 at 11:24 am · Link

    Ashleigh… it came from a lot of different places, but essentially I was watching a horror movie about the devil (Rosemary’s Baby) and I thought at one point… this could totally be a romance novel if I just changed a few things. Also the Exorcist was a bit influence, and how I could change that up so it wouldn’t be as scary. So it basically blossomed from there. ;)

  15. Amy W
     · March 12th, 2011 at 12:49 pm · Link

    Wait, WHAT?! Demon Princess books are done? Slag it all, but that bites. Why am I just finding this out? Because I couldn’t find the dang things anywhere. Seriously. Saw them on a bookshelf, went back to get them with a few trusted YA’s and they were gone. There are still little cliques of YA’s I know waiting for them in the library, arguing with their P’s about why its okay and important to a) let them buy it online and b) let the bookstores order it for them. But the p’s figure if it was that good it’d be on the shelves. *grumble, grumble, grrrrrr*

    Anyway, I honestly hadn’t thought of how reviews come across to authors much. I try to write my reviews the same way I’d say them to a friend in conversation. I don’t generally put little disclaimers into my conversations (as its generally understood that its an opinion being stated). Maybe I’m merely humbled by my family that understands that Mom may “always” be found to have been right after the fact, but live their lives as though she isn’t more times than not. When something doesn’t work for me, its more than like because there’s something wrong with me than the author. (lol) Again, ask my family. However, I know I LOVE reading those reviews that make authors cringe. I’ve found so many books I love and adore that way. In fact, I once read the worst review I’ve ever heard of, bought the book over one I’d been anticipating, and have never looked back. That author is now one of my must-have’s.

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