After you bravely pass through the bramble-covered gates of submissions and rejections, you will sail through the ocean of publication.
That journey is different for everyone: forest-lined shores, sandy beaches, candy-coloured villages built on cliffs.
Once you’re back on land, a new path emerges. You will meet the rocky peaks and sunken valleys of book reviews.
What could possibly engage a writer’s shadow more than reading their own book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads?
I used to advise writers against reading their own reviews. And yet, I know we’re all going to do it anyway! The temptation is too great.
Maybe that’s okay.
Reading my own reviews has been one of the most painful and powerful ways I’ve learned to bring my unconscious to light and integrate it.
Now I understand it as an initiation we all get to go through, in order to access a deeper sense of ourselves, our writing, our voice, and our values. It’s an opportunity to stretch into our larger, interconnected creative presence, a force that is so much more than “good or bad.”
When I read my own reviews, I try to embody the angel from the Temperance card. She stands with one foot on the earth, one in the lake, mixing the waters of good and bad until they can’t be separated anymore.
We don’t talk about this enough. Reading your own reviews is a dramatic emotional quest. It’s far from easy to get from one side of that 5-star rating paradigm to the other side, where there is no bad or good.
Especially if you’re a writer who has been a good student, trained to respond to gold stars.
Here are quotes I’ve copied verbatim from Goodreads reviews of my novel, Radiant Shimmering Light:
This is one of the most beautiful tributes to creation and creating I’ve ever read.
Utter utter crap.
I have never read a book like this one. It is light and deep, witty and fun, satirical and innocent… I loved it.
I couldn’t bear to spend another second in the protagonist’s empty head. I just couldn’t take it any more. Sorry.
I couldn’t put it down… It felt a lot different than most of the books I read, in a good way.
It’s more of a one note attempt at a satire straight down to its lackluster ending. The light, ladies and gentleman, is pretty dim, actually… Now it can be forgotten.
This was completely outside my preferred genre, but I LOVED it!!! I picked it up on a whim at the library and I’m so glad I did. It made me think and it made me laugh…what more could you want!
What in the liberal [sic] hell did I just read? Awful. The most awful thing I’ve ever read. No likeable characters, plot was just….awful. I cant [sic] believe I wasted my precious reading time on [sic] this.
I didn’t want this story to end. Selecky holds up a mirror to our obsession with social media and self marketing tools and leaves one torn between when to laugh and when to cry.
i feel like she forgot to finish the book. it literally just ended. nothing was wrapped up, nothing made sense.
Radiant Shimmering Light is one of the best, most surprising books I’ve read in a long time.
Each sentence presented one eye roll after another.
This was a magnificent read.
If I were writing for external praise or acceptance, scrolling through my reviews would be crazy-making. What am I supposed to do with this?
This has forced me to reckon with my motivations, my vision, and what I’m writing for. It’s not acceptance — it can’t be. What is it, then? My reasons for writing are personal, mutable, and part of a bigger story — and a topic for another day.
For now, it’s worth noting that my ego and emotions react to every single sentence of every one of the above reviews. I can’t help it.
If you’ve received good or bad reviews, you know what I mean. Your body takes them in, and they move it through your breath and blood, organs and muscle tissue. Your body processes the reading experience as something real that is happening to you.
So, how do we go through that roller coaster, feel those highs and lows, and then go on to find enough equilibrium to write and publish again?
“Just seeing what’s going on — that’s the teaching right there. We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate. Awareness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.”
— Pema Chödrön
In a heroine’s journey, the protagonist goes into the underworld to integrate the masculine and feminine, logic and creativity, pain and pleasure, and whatever other binaries lurk in the false system that have kept her disconnected from the full experience of her life.
She emerges whole: powerful, connected, wise.
You are also that heroine, always.
If it is your first book, I highly suggest reading your own reviews with a compassionate mentor, friend, or therapist/coach who is familiar with shadow work, to help you integrate whatever comes up.
You don’t have to read them! But if you do, you can use this as an opportunity to transcend the dominant paradigm of good and bad.
Then you get to put this wisdom into the next story you write. Write the pain and pleasure of your experience into your character’s journeys. Sense your resilience. Knowing what you know now, you can mine your memories and ask your dreams for even deeper, more layered and nuanced stories.
Above all, be nice to yourself. And keep writing what you want to read.
ps — A PSA from my ego: if you loved Radiant Shimmering Light, please give it a 5 star review on Amazon! My publishers in the dominant paradigm thank you.
Photo credit: Sarah Selecky, with Modern Witch Tarot Deck by Lisa Sterle.