I had an interesting lesson in perspective last week when I received my second review for No Right Thing.

Perspective is all about our individual reality.  A luscious, triple decker ice cream cone viewed through the eyes of a hungry five-year-old will elicit a far different reaction than the same ice cream cone viewed through the eyes of a diabetic adult who also has a heart condition.

On an intellectual level I understand that my taste in movies, restaurants, shoes, art, politicians or books may not be your taste. That’s a good thing. Diversity is healthy.

Intellectually, I also understand that reviewers have different tastes too. The key word in that sentence is intellectually. Because even with over 20 books published, I still have the ability to be emotionally impacted by a less than stellar review.

Kirkus was the first to review No Right Thing. You can find that review here:

CM magazine was up next with their review for No Right Thing.  That review is here:

Same book, two different readers. One found the plot predictable and the main character one dimensional. The other found the plot richly layered and the main character fascinating.

The Kirkus review upset me. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I had a few rough days wondering if I’d failed in what I set out to achieve in the novel. Kirkus and CM reviews are read by the bookstore owners, librarians and educators who are trying to decide where to allocate their book buying funds. A bad review in that kind of publication can make a major difference to a writer’s bottom line.

I had to remind myself that reviews are, as one writer friend used to say, out of my sphere of influence. There is nothing I can do to influence them. All I can do is write the books, send them out into the world, and hope they are well-received.

My lesson for the week was the reminder that perspective is subjective. Perspective comes from personal taste, life experiences and expectations, among other things. It varies from moment to moment, day to day, mood to mood. And it certainly varies from person to person.

Not only should I remember that but I should celebrate it too. Because what kind of world would it be if we all thought and believed the same thing?  

A Matter of Perception

bigmagicWriters love getting their books reviewed. You hear that all the time, and it’s true. We do. But every once in a while, a review comes along that makes me wonder if I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone. Or if the reader has. Those reviews inevitably reference something – it could be a person, place or a plot point – that never happened in the book I wrote. And yet there are always just enough references to make it clear that the reviewer read my book and wants to share their views. Unfortunately they seem to be viewing things through their very own, highly polished, fun house mirror.

I thought this particular treat was reserved just for me. Apparently not.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this in her latest book Big Magic. In her case, a reader approached her at a book signing for Eat, Pray, Love and thanked Gilbert for writing about a restraining order she’d put on her ex-husband because she’d had enough of his violence. The reader went on to say that Gilbert’s words had given her the courage to leave her abusive marriage. Those words, however, were never written. In fact, Gilbert says you can’t even read that narrative between the lines of her memoir because it’s so far from the truth.

Rather than being shocked/angry/frustrated/amused (pick one), Gilbert was philosophical. She decided the woman had every right to misread her book. “Once my book entered her hands,” Gilbert says, “everything about it belonged to her, and never again to me.”

I’ve always known that not everyone will like the novels I write. I also understand that while 100 readers might find one of my characters strong and sympathetic, 100 others may see her as wimpy or harsh or critical or simply rotten. It’s all a matter of perspective. I get that, objectively. But it can be brutally hard to maintain objectivity when a reader reads something into my book that I never put there in the first place. Especially if they don’t like what they think they read. It can be crazy-making.

My cousin is a visual artist. Some of her paintings are abstracts. They’re open to interpretation. People see whatever they see. That’s the nature, and the joy, of her work. But my books, at least the ones I’ve published so far, are reality-based. There’s only so much interpretation possible. What you see is what you get. At least, that’s what I used to believe.

Now, Gilbert’s perspective has me re-thinking. Maybe I should embrace whatever readers find (or think they find) in my words. Hand each book off and let the readers own it. After all, Elizabeth Gilbert says their reactions don’t belong to me. My only job is to create . . . create . . . and create some more.

And that’s more than enough for me to handle.

Support Your Favorite Author

toomanybooksAs authors, we love it when people buy our books. But from a personal point of view, I can’t buy every book I want. It’s not practical or possible. For one thing, my house won’t hold many more bookshelves and, for another, my Kindle is quickly reaching capacity. I know I’m not alone. But even if you can’t buy an author’s book, there are a number of other things you can do to support them.

Write a review. Leaving a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads is a huge help to authors and other readers too. There’s nothing like a recommendation to encourage someone to pick up a book. And, honestly, having someone read our book is almost as good as having them buy it.

Tell others. If you loved a book, spread the word. Tell your friends. Let librarians know. If it’s not in circulation, ask them to order it. Make a point of telling booksellers if you enjoyed a book too. It’ll help them when they need a recommendation for a customer.

Use social media. Mention a book you liked on your blog. If you’re on Facebook, share the title in your status update. If you’re on Twitter, send out a tweet about how much you enjoyed it.

Contact the author. Authors love hearing from readers and most of us are pretty easy to find. Drop us a note through our website or via Twitter.  Let us know you enjoyed our work. That kind of feedback is literally priceless. And it’s appreciated far more than you could ever know.

Happy reading!