Friday, April 18, 2014

4 Craft of Writing: Why I Read Reviews... Even the Soul-Crushing Ones by Gwendolyn Heasley

There are two genres of young adult fiction that I absolutely devour, and contemporary is one of them. Gwendolyn Heasley has written one of my absolute favourite books in that genre, WHERE I BELONG, and with the upcoming release of DON'T CALL ME BABY, i'm sure i'm going to have another favourite! Her new book arrives on shelves April 22nd and is supposed to be an amazing look at the relationship between mothers and daughters. I can't wait!

Why I Read Reviews…Even the Soul-Crushing Ones by Gwendolyn Heasley

Recently, someone wrote a review for my upcoming novel. Actually, the word review doesn’t describe it quite adequately as all it said was, “I’ve never wanted to punch a book in the face so much.” And that was it. Part of me wanted to laugh and the other part of me wanted to sob. Like many other authors, my books are my babies and no one wants someone to punch their baby. (And if someone punched my real-life baby, they would have another thing coming.) Even more puzzling, the reviewer then gave book two stars. If you want to punch a book, does it even deserve one star?

But here’s the thing…I love reading reviews, even the ones that don’t heart my books. In fact, I would have LOVED to know why that reviewer wanted to punch my book and I would’ve taken his or her reasoning very seriously. While I know many authors avoid review sites like GoodReads, I flock to them…and not in that I –want-to-rubber neck-and-see-my-own-car crash sensation. Rather, I read reviews because my readers are my customers and reviews can contain very valuable information.

(Of course, I’ll admit the reviews and fan letters that say my books changed their life are my favorites. I even save those in a secret file for when I’m feeling down and need an emotional writing boost.)

But the reviews that I learn the most from are the ones that specifically state what they didn’t like about my books in terms of craft. For instance, in my first novel, Where I Belong, the characters don’t use contractions when they speak. It was a simple choice I made that apparently drove readers bonkers. I respectfully read their opinions and contemplated my choice not to use them…and I realized I was in the wrong. It does make it harder to read when contractions are not used…and in my future books, I do use contractions. It’s a small thing, but it can make a big difference.

As an author, I spend a lot of time alone writing and being in my own head. It can be lonely. Reviews are a wonderful way to connect with readers because I don’t write just for myself. I write for teens (and those who are teens at heart), and it’s important for me to read and absorb what they think…even if it doesn’t change how I write or what I think. As in all aspects of life, I find it to be important to engage with people who’s opinions differ from your own and I think that applies to writing too.

But while I think it’s important to read general reviews, I think it’s even more important to find a group of beta readers. I recently graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts where I earned my MFA. The entire experience was incredible but the best part is the community I gained during my time there. I know now that I have over dozen people whose opinions I trust completely. I respect and admire their writing and I know that they’ll give me honest and helpful feedback on mine. Since the line that “everyone is a critic” is definitely true (especially in the day and age of social media), it’s important to establish and foster relationships with other writers, ones whose opinions you value. While I read everyone’s reviews, the notes I get from my beta readers is what’s most important to me.

If you are an inspiring writer, try to open yourself up to feedback and critique. It can be hard, but it’s something that you’ll have to deal with throughout your writing life so it’s good to star early. And truthfully, you can learn so much from what others see in your writing. (And it’s also great to find out what people love about your writing too.) Also, once you get a book deal and have a editor, you’ll be getting a lot of feedback from him/her. If you are already open to critique and suggestions, you’ll be a step ahead. Of course, it’s always your story, so stick your ground on the parts that matter most to you… but also remember to listen to what others have to say too :)

So to all the writers out there, don’t be afraid of critiques and reviews. They can be crushing but they can also be inspiring and illuminating. Personally, I find readers’ ability to contact and connect with authors to be one of the most magical aspects of being an author in the 21st century.

So if you have opinions on my work, please share...And to whoever it is who wants to punch my book in the face, please let me know why. Also, if you want to hug my book, I’d love to hear about that too.

About The Author

Gwendolyn Heasley is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Missouri-Columbia where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. When she was a little girl, she desperately wanted to be the next Ann M. Martin- the author of the beloved The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. She’s incredibly grateful that the recession rendered her unemployed and made her chase her nearly forgotten dream. She lives in New York City, teaches college and eats entirely too much mac and cheese for an adult.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

All her life, Imogene has been known as the girl on THAT blog.

Imogene's mother has been writing an incredibly embarrassing, and incredibly popular, blog about her since before she was born. Hundreds of thousands of perfect strangers knew when Imogene had her first period. Imogene's crush saw her "before and after" orthodontia photos. But Imogene is fifteen now, and her mother is still blogging about her, in gruesome detail, against her will.

When a mandatory school project compels Imogene to start her own blog, Imogene is reluctant to expose even more of her life online...until she realizes that the project is the opportunity she's been waiting for to tell the truth about her life under the virtual microscope and to define herself for the first time.

Don't Call Me Baby is a sharply observed and irrepressibly charming story about mothers and daughters, best friends and first crushes, and the surface-level identities we show the world online and the truth you can see only in real life.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


  1. Wow, are you brave, reading your negative reviews! Not sure I could do that (I would tend to dwell on the negative ones instead of the positive ones). Very interesting!

  2. Good for you for finding the good in the bad or at least not so good. The book looks very interesting. Thanks.

  3. I can see the value in reading reviews.

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