Thick Skin or Stronger Heart?


Following are two Goodreads reviews of my book, Sister Wife.

1. “This is not a young adult book. I was DISGUSTED when I read this. A thirteen year old girl DESIRED to have sex/do wifely things with an old guy with cracked lips and like no hair? If you are like me and imagine yourself as the characters, this is a terrible book to read. I hated reading about how the old guy had sex with Celeste.” (one star)

2. “Unable to put the book down, I read it in a single sitting. Written with superb clarity, Hrdlitschka really delved deeply into the obsessively passionate minds of young girls. After watching Big Love on HBO, I have been interested in intentional communities, plural wives, and what the minds of young women must be when set to marry men the same ages as their fathers. Sister Wife is a wonderfully honest and brave account of the diversity of American life. Overall, I wish that I could read it all over again.” (5 stars)

It’s hard to believe these two readers were reviewing the same book. Granted, these are not professional reviews, and the writers are likely very different ages, but still…

There was a time, early in my writing life, where I took reviews of my books way too seriously. A good review made me smile foolishly for days while a bad one would send me to my bed, my mood swinging wildly between despair at my hopeless writing skills (I’ll never write again!) and anger at the ‘stupid’ reviewer (what did he/she know anyway?)

The first review I saw of my book Dancing Naked was in a professional review journal and got a Not Recommended rating. I really did toy with giving up writing for good after seeing that. However that book went on to earn more honours and sell more copies than any of my other titles. As well, I have a binder bursting its seams with letters from readers who wrote to tell me how much the book meant to them, how life-changing it was. This is when I realized that there was a massive disconnect between what the reviewer said and what my intended audience thought.

There’s a crazy tendency by almost all authors (the ones I know, anyway) to remember – with painful clarity – the negative reviews, or even one negative critique in an otherwise good review. The glowing reviews are forgotten much more quickly in the same way we tend to hold onto personal criticisms longer than compliments.thick skin 3

My advice to new authors would be to read the reviews, decide which comments have merit and disregard the rest. After all, the next reviewer may love exactly what the last one hated.

As well I only review books that I’ve loved, with the idea of promoting books that I think are worthy of the time it takes to read them. As for the books I don’t like? I give them away and quickly forget about them.

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2 thoughts on “Thick Skin or Stronger Heart?

  1. Shelley, I think what you write here is the key to maintaining one’s sanity. We all carry baggage, we all read books and see movies from our own very particular point of view. I’m hardly the first person to say it, but the world wouldn’t be very interesting if we all had the same opinion. Regarding Sister-Wife in particular… yes, that book was hard to read in places, but it is not unreasonable to imagine that some young women embrace the culture they’ve grown up in.

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