One more disclaimer, I am using the phrase 'negative review' to mean anything critical even though that's not really the way I look at them. It's shorthand, though I think we need a better term.
When we hear about author-on-reviewer misconduct of any kind, the first thing you think(after OMG, is the reviewer okay!?) is:
What in the world was that author THINKING?
So down that rabbit hole I went. I want to understand... well,everything, but especially things I could never see myself doing. (I also am fascinated by serial killer and true crime documentaries... But that's another post.)
Everyone tells authors not to read reviews, which I do understand. Baby writers(and probably writers who are all grown up too) have muses that are like turtles: They retreat into their shells when anything startles or scares them. A muse that's in full-on turtle mode makes it harder to write your next book well. Or in a timely manner. Or at all. So as a muse-prophylactic, not reading your reviews makes excellent sense.
But personally, I do read my reviews. (At least for now, it doesn't take much time to read them, there aren't that many.) And sometimes while eating chocolate.
I don't do it because I want to hear that I'm awesome (When people say that? I never believe them anyway.).
I don't do this because I can't stand not knowing (Though I do have an epic case of InstantGratification-itis, and basically want to know/do/be everything right NOW.).
I do it because I want to improve my craft.
Not so much the way I write. Not structure, or really anything to do with the mechanics of writing. I do it because I want to know what story elements, plots, and characters resonate the most with people who read my genre(category romance, medical series).
I fully accept that my books are a product. And without writing another whole post on why I don't think it's selling out to say this: I want to give the customer what they want. Or at least understand so I can make that coincide with my own desires to give others that happy sigh at the end of a book.
But even though I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of reader expectations, I'm probably more like 80/20 than 100% on the understanding. Reviews, especially negative reviews, offer insight and help me become not just a better writer, but to build the career I want to have.
So that's my goal when I read my own reviews. And it probably matters that I go into reading them with that mindset(Years of art school taught me how to take a critique too, but that is yet another post).
But I'm still stuck on: What was that(or that, or THAT...) author thinking!?
And more specifically: What in that particular review started them down the yellow brick road to Crazytown?
Obviously, in the case of Kathleen Hale, one review stuck with her(that book has loads of 1star reviews, and only one reviewer was terrorized that we know of). So it must have triggered some kind of emotional response. That's not Miss Harris's fault or responsibility, but something about her words earwigged into Hale's brain, and I want to understand. Not to excuse--I'm still horrified by the situation--but just to comprehend the thought processes on that downward spiral.
As I only have myself to compare with(and I've never hunted down a reviewer... that I know of o.O) , the questions I asked myself when pursuing that elusive understanding:
- What negative review stung the most?
- What ones didn't bother me?
- When I was bothered, how exactly did the review bother?
- What made the difference between this 2-star review and that 2-star review...
The conclusion I've come to?
Negative reviews that actually stung, were the reviews that
said something I secretly agreed with/feared...