Zen and the Art of GoodReads: Author Priscilla Warner

Last year I happened to read Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner. The subtitle is My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life. This is a beautiful book about centering onesself.

(In other words, it is not a book about doing ones' own book publicity.)

I happened to leave a short but very positive review on GoodReads. And to my surprise, Ms. Warner responded to it, thanking me. This blew my doors off, because I would have thought that anyone who knew about zen and calmness would cross the street to stay away from GoodReads. So I wrote Ms. Warner a note, asking her to enlighten me. How does an author find engagement there, in a way that's not soul damaging? Bless her, but she responded with some very sage advice.
--Sarah P.

By Priscilla Warner

When The Faith Club came out in 2005, my co-authors and I traveled to more than 50 cities around the country, speaking at events that drew as many as 1000 people. We occasionally remembered to set out a notebook and collect people's email addresses if they chose to share them, and our website allowed people to contact us pretty easily, but there was no efficient way to build a community online back then. Our publicist at Free Press did connect us with goodreads. I remember doing an online chat, which was very cutting edge (and confusing!) But when we tried to connect people so that they could form faith clubs across the country, we were often frustrated. MySpace just didn't work.

Once we slowed down a bit and took a break from our three year book tour, I spent time online and was delighted to rediscover goodreads. I could not believe how many reviews The Faith Club had gotten! I was shocked. And thrilled. I started engaging with people who'd liked our book, and I really enjoyed the interaction. The Faith Club was very a very honest, provocative book about religion, so I was used to the idea that not everyone on the planet would love it. Also, I wrote the book with two co-authors, and we'd discovered that sooner or later one of us was going to be criticized. We were very supportive and protective of each other, and were even able to joke about the criticism sometimes, on goodreads and in other places.

When I began to work on my memoir, Learning to Breathe, my experience trying to find inner peace was exciting and life altering. I knew my experiment to meditate my way from panic to peace was working. But writing is such a solitary experience, and I didn't know a lot of other authors. I was looking for a supportive literary community, so I started hanging out on goodreads. It was easy to engage with readers who'd liked The Faith Club, especially if they'd liked my writing in that book! If they criticized The Faith Club, or my writing in particular, I used everything
I was learning about Buddhism and letting go to detach from negative reviews!

I had a great time building my bookshelves on goodreads and remembering my favorite books over the course of my lifetime. I friended people I felt a connection to because of the books they liked. It gave me confidence as a
writer to see that many people in the goodreads community liked the same writing and authors as I liked. And to be perfectly honest, when I saw writers I loved being criticized there, I thought "Wow, if they get critiqued, who am I to complain?"

There are so many people on goodreads, and so many genres of writing, that I find it easier to let go of negative reviews there. Because people on goodreads love books, and spend the time to read and review them, I
respect their eagerness to engage with the written word, no matter how I might be personally affected by the words they use in their reviews. I find the community enormously engaged and respectful of a wide range of
opinions and interests.

I had a wonderful experience taking part in a discussion about my book on goodreads, in a group called Yoga Folks. The format allowed for a thoughtful, honest discussion that took place over time. People could
reflect on each other’s comments in a way I found quite unique and respectful of all parties involved. I’m a goodreads fan for many reasons!

Thank you, Priscilla! You can learn more about Priscilla Warner on her website, or find her on GoodReads.