I Am Not a Jackass Whisperer: Why I Don’t Read Reviews

Recently, a friend mentioned in passing that she’d written a review for my book, “The Name of the Game.” I hadn’t even realized she’d read the book, let alone left a glowing review. I thanked her and apologized for not acknowledging it earlier.

Then I had to admit an awkard truth: I don’t read reviews.

At least not anymore.

When my book was first published,  I dutifully solicited reviews from websites and blogs, fellow authors, and even friends who had bought the book. I knew how important reviews were for sales, and let’s be honest here, I wanted to hear how much people loved my writing.

But then a funny thing happened — I started believing the reviews. If someone loved the book, I loved it. If someone dismissed it, I dismissed it.

Before I knew it, the reviews of a story I put down on paper had become reviews of me. They became reviews of my worth as a writer and a person.

That’s not how I want to live my life, so I knew I had to do something. Fast. I pulled out my old copy of Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements” and reread the second agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally. I reminded myself that good, bad, or indifferent, someone else’s opinion is about them, not me. I shut down my Google alerts, and decided that the only thing that mattered was that my book was being read.

In January, “The Name of the Game” was featured as Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal. It was incredibly exciting to watch my little romantic comedy climb the charts all day, eventually peeking at the #3 spot, just below Nicholas Sparks and Glenn Beck.

But with that increased exposure came a flurry of new reviews. I tried not to read them, I really did. But when I saw the first one- and two-star reviews pop up, I just had to know. What could possibly be so bad about my book?

The handful of terrible reviews included such insightful comments as, “Everything about this book was boring.”  (Really? Everything? Such penetrating analysis!)

Another discerning reviewer called the story “silly.”  (It’s a romantic comedy about two people who have the same name. Silly is kind of the point. So, I guess…thanks?)

Instead of tearing up, I found myself laughing out loud.

It got me wondering what these same critics thought of my favorite authors. I checked the reviews for some books I truly adore, and lo-and-behold, they too were “boring” and “silly.”

It was a true Aha! Moment, something I knew intellectually, but had to discover spiritually: a review is just one person’s opinion, and it’s more about them than me or my work.

It’s been nearly six months since I’ve read a review for my book, and I wholeheartedly agree when Ruiz says,  “There is a huge amount of freedom when you take nothing personally.”

Don’t get me wrong, I know word of mouth is still the best way to get my book to new readers, and I appreciate when someone takes the time to write a review for my book. And I still love knowing that someone enjoyed my book. But I won’t determine my worth, not even for one tiny second, by someone else’s opinion.

In “Daring Greatly,” researcher-storyteller Brene Brown says, with her usual sass and smarts, “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”

After her inspiring TEDTalk on The Power of Vulnerability went viral, Brown was criticized for everything from her research to her weight to her wrinkles. Her first instinct was to shrink from the spotlight to get away from it all. But she was spurred on by this great quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly.”

In a recent O Magazine interview, Brene continues where Teddy left off: “If you are not in the arena getting your butt kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback. Period.  Anonymous comments? You’re not in the arena, man. If you can’t say it to me in person in front of my kids, don’t say it.  And if you can say it to me in person, duck.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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16 thoughts on “I Am Not a Jackass Whisperer: Why I Don’t Read Reviews

  1. I actually like to read my reviews. It pumps me up when I get a good one. And I try to learn something when I get a bad one. Luckily what I’ve learned from most of the bad ones is that the person just wasn’t my reader. We can’t please everyone and I take courage from the fact that many best-selling authors have 1 & 2 star reviews. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it stings a little, but it keeps things real and helps you appreciate the 4 & 5 star reviews more. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I actually bookmarked this page because of some of the great quotes you used!

    1. Well said, Mary. The best situation *would* be the ability to take reviews in without letting them effect me one way or another. I haven’t gotten there yet, so I just don’t look. But it seems like you’re on the right track by acknowledging that sometimes a person sometimes just isn’t your reader. It removes judgement all around. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I just love this post. It should become our motto: .A review is just one person’s opinion, and it’s more about them than me or my work. I love to hear when someone likes my book, but I can’t—won’t let it define me, nor will I allow it to define what I write or if I write. Reviews are like critiques. You have to take what you can be help you grow and leave behind the rest. Just to make sure I stay on track, I’m going to type out, “I’m are not a jackass whisperer” place it by my laptop. Thanks for a very insightful, thought-provoking post.

  3. Great post! I too have taken a break from reading reviews. It’s very freeing when you no longer obsess about why someone does or doesn’t love your writing. I’d rather concentrate on my next book than freak out over someone else’s opinion.

    1. Glad I helped! It’s tough, but even just taking a break for a while will help. For me, it will be interesting to see if I’m still able to do it when the next book comes out…

  4. A very topical post. I enjoyed it. Coincidentally, I just finished a post along the same lines for my blog, written differently but similar idea, about inner authority vs. outer authority. I like the way you put it.

  5. I hear what you’re saying. There are people who will jump at a free or reduced book regardless of whether it’s something they’d normally read. That’s the downside of reaching a wider market. There’s a tendency to veer away from your target audience. I do admit that I eagerly watch for reviews. I’ve grumbled and moped at some I’ve read but on the whole I’ve lucked out. Most have been very positive and those are the ones that keep me going.

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