On The Quality of Skin

I’m going to begin this blog post the way I hate people starting emails: with an apology.

I am sorry. I was wrong.

I have, in the past, on numerous occasions, stated vehemently that I do not read reviews for my books. Yes, I will skim through them if my editor sends them to me, because she has taken the time to collect them and copy them and mail hard copies to me, and ignoring her hard work would be a disservice. But I do not want to be one of those people who checks Amazon or Goodreads every day hour minute for affirmation. I do not want to yell and scream and tilt at windmills because some reader called me out for something they obviously misconstrued, or gave me one star in revenge because I cheated during the sixth grade spelling bee. I do not want to be weeping in a ball on the tiles in my bathroom because some major publication found me lacking, or misspelled my name, or worse: didn’t mention me at all.

My Greek great grandmother, the great Mama Mitchell, once said: “Never let strangers upset you.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. But I know myself. I knew, even when I was a little girl, that I could never be a doctor because I would get too emotionally involved. I would never be able to survive the loss of a patient. I knew I could never be a teacher for risk of losing my patience. I still remember crying on the steps one New Year’s Eve when some contest sponsored by fruity cultists threw the best story I’d ever written out with the bathwater. That rejection broke my heart like a cruel boyfriend.

To succumb to any amount of fear and terror and sadness is giving those strangers power over me. The only one who deserves power over me, is ME.

So every time I opened that envelope in the mail, or clicked the link on a Google Alert, I had a kind of out-of-body experience. I pretended I was reading something written about someone else. If it was bad, shrug. If it was good, shrug and smile. I blogged about them or not, and then I moved on. I did not let them define who I was, or shape the person I would become.

This winter, I started booking a blog tour. I started talking to bloggers. I followed the tweets of people who had gotten hold of ARCs at ALA, or from the publisher. I gave away (and am still giving away) books on Goodreads. I watched YouTube videos where exceptionally cute and excited young women slaughtered the pronunciation of my name. I made some amazing new friends, and I asked these wonderful people if they please wouldn’t mind helping me get the word out about my debut novel. They said yes. Yes, they would help this crazy woman who played dress-up achieve her dream of living in a fairy tale.

And then they sent me their reviews.

In so many ways, a review isn’t just whether your book is awesome or sucks. Okay, yes, those reviews do exist as well, but it takes as much effort to read those reviews as it does to forget them. A review that a blogger posts on their personal blog isn’t just a job they do for a magazine. It’s a bunch of hours they’ve taken out of their life to dedicate solely to you and your work. You have put your book out into the world, and people are allowed to have insights on it. They are entitled to their opinions. They have feelings. These reviews are written by people, and these people matter, no less than you or me.

As you know, I have my own saying about strangers: Strangers are just best friends I haven’t met yet. Ignoring their hard work and points of view would be a disservice.

YA author David Macinnis Gill posted a beautiful essay on his website about how it’s okay for authors to be thin-skinned. It’s this quality that makes us the emotional people we are, which translates into the emotional people we write, and we wouldn’t have us any other way. David doesn’t like to read reviews, terrific or otherwise. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t blame him.

But I’ve seen a vast demesne from the window of my Tower at the Top of the World, a sprawling network of bibliophiles who think and feel and speak and read and love and hate and pass it on. I want to celebrate them and their achievements. I want to listen to them. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to enable them in any way I can. So I started reading reviews.

I can’t tell you how humbled I am at what I’ve found: good and bad and everything in between. One woman scolded the AlphaOops Halloween book as not being appropriate for young children. “Kids these days dress up as fairies, firefighters, astronauts, etc. so they aren’t used to seeing all of these scary creatures.” It is to laugh, right? And yet, another woman wrote about how her son was having a tough time learning his letters, but after a week of reading AlphaOops, he knew them all. A two year old in California loved it so much, he destroyed the copy his mom had checked out from the library…and she admitted this to everyone on Amazon. My Nana’s review is still there too, in all caps, complete with misspellings and details on her trip to the dentist.

Enchanted, even thought it won’t be in stores for another couple of months, is already getting significant blog attention (in no small part to the very lovely cover, thank you Harcourt). Kirkus, ironically, hated the cover but granted me a star for the “wizardly grace of my storytelling.” On the flip side, a woman on Goodreads (who is completely entitled to her opinion, so please let’s leave her to have it, thank you), stopped reading Enchanted because of its horrible pervasive sexual innuendo. (I’m still scratching my head at that one. And yes, she was reading the correct book.)

Most recently, a review from Embrace You, a multicultural webzine, almost brought me to tears. Not because it was such a wonderful, heartfelt review–which it was–but because the reviewer (Kai) saw something in the book that I had never realized. “There’s emphasis on the meaning of loss,” she wrote, “in death, to marriage, and in magic.” I have never been taken so aback as I was when I read that someone I did not know had seen something in my writing–in me–that I had never seen.

Maybe all those years of avoiding reviews has grown me a thick skin, but I doubt it. I still cry when I open my annual Valentine’s gift from my daddy, or when I see the fairy goddaughters giggling together on the couch and miss my little sister like a lost limb. I’m pretty sure I’m still the same old me, only nowadays I wear a tiara and read book reviews. And that’s okay.

See there, I’ve said it again: I read book reviews. Mea culpa. The Princess Was Wrong Day. Mark your calendars.

And now I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to read me. Happy Monday to you. xox