Considering Reviews

I’ve been thinking about reviews a lot this week.  From the latest ABB (author behaving badly) meltdown that went viral and has now been turned into a mug, to incredibly well-rounded reviews of my own work that include very valid criticism, to a few reviews that made me wonder if the writer was even talking about my book when they wrote it.

When you’re first starting out as an indie, reviews are HUGE. Not only because of the “Holy crap, somebody actually READ my story!” factor but because really, we’re all just scared little kids waiting to see if they like us.  We check all our distribution points, we check Goodreads and we obsess about reviews.  If we’re lucky, our work is well received and we get good ones.  That’s a huge boost to our confidence–proof that we don’t suck.  Other times we get negative ones right out of the gate that make us consider either throwing in the towel or committing our own ABB behavior–but that our beloved writer compatriots talk us down from before we do anything rash in public.  Word to the wise: Always, always confine review bitching to phone calls or IM.  Don’t ever do it in any public forum and DO NOT RESPOND TO BAD REVIEWS.  Don’t get your friends to respond either.

Reviews are also super important when you’re starting out because nobody knows you from Adam’s house cat and once you get outside that circle of friends and fellow writers, other readers need an extra push to buy.  Good reviews do that.  So you seek them out, as I talk about in my Tome about Promo.  You hope that the people who agree to review will like your book.  Sometimes they don’t.  You gotta be prepared to suck it up and deal.  The only kind of response I’ve ever made to lukewarm or bad reviews is a “Sorry it didn’t work for you.  Thank you for giving my work a try.”  Or sometimes to add a point of clarification, as in that one case where someone thought FBS was supposed to be a YA.

You can never really guess what will prompt a reader to rate a work lower. I’ve frequently had stars docked because my work is shorter than the reader would like.  It doesn’t matter that the description says novella.  They want a full novel, darn it.  This is kind of a backhanded compliment.  They liked the characters and story enough to want more of it (win) but you didn’t give it to them, so they’re penalizing you (not win). One person was uber frustrated that Revelation, the follow-up novel to my short story Blindsight was not available RIGHT THIS SECOND.  Given that a desire to read Revelation was totally the POINT of Blindsight, I’m not taking that personally and just politely informed the reader that the book would be available this fall and thanks so much for trying me.  About 10 minutes later, she signed up for my newsletter.  Win win.  I can’t and really don’t get too upset about these sorts of reviews.

The reviews that get to me are the handful that hit on the things that were my specific fears when I released each book.  Not in an, I want to claw your eyes out you evil, mean reader you, kind of way.  In an, I could have done better as a writer kind of way.  Over the last year, I’ve had several folks whose willingness to suspend their disbelief and constitute some poetic faith in the story just got pushed way too far by the rescue set up in Forsaken By Shadow.  I expected that.  It bugged me too, but even now I can’t think of another way I’d have done it.  It was between finishing the story and not.  So I finished it and put it out, even knowing that weak spot was there.  So when a reader pops up and says that didn’t work for them, I cringe and say yeah, you’re right.  With Devil’s Eye, I worried about the length.  It’s short, even for a novella.  Some people have had a problem with that.  Thankfully most have read the author’s note in the back that says that Mick and Sophie’s story will be continued later.  With Blindsight I worried about the abrupt ending.  It IS abrupt.  Even Pot was like, “Wait, what?  That’s it?”  Yep, it is.  Because Revelation literally picks up right where Blindsight leaves off, so I didn’t feel I had anywhere else to go until I write that book.

I know there are some authors who don’t even read their reviews anymore. So far, I’m not one of them.  I’m very fortunate that the MAJORITY of my reviews are good and are a bright spot in my day.  And I keep reading even through the bad ones for impetus to continue to improve my craft for future readers–even if I lost that particular one.

What about you?  Do you read your reviews?  Do they make you crazy?  Or do you manage to be sublimely detached?

31 thoughts on “Considering Reviews

  1. I have yet to have a complete review done. I did get a comment back from a reviewer last night. Kind of a pre-emptive comment and I love it. I know my writing isnt perfect and am eager (this makes me sound rather masochistic) to receive critical feedback because It helps. I just said to a friend today that I would take 100 critical reviews over 1 5 star review that said nothing constructive at all.

  2. As a reviewer, I try to be as fair as possible in my reviews. Books I’ve given low/bad ratings to I always add WHY it didn’t work for me and that it could very well work for someone else.

    There was a book I reviewed almost a year ago that I just could not get into, no matter how much I really wanted to love the book. In my review I explained why I couldn’t get into the book (for me the scenes were confusing and the prose was very flowery), but the things I didn’t like I also complimented — even though for my tastes the prose was too flowery, it was beautifully done. In the end, I ended up giving the book away to a curious reader and they ended up enjoying the book.

    As a writer, I’m terrified of reviews. I know I’ll be the sort of person who obsessively checks reviews. I will never be one of the ABBs, though. I truly hope that when my work is ready for publication and it’s reviewed, I can take the good and the bad with a measure of dignity and grace.

    1. Yeah I think that’s really important…to say WHY it didn’t work for you. I’ve gotten several low ratings of my audio book, which is fine, but WHY? What was wrong with it, so I don’t duplicate it in the future!

  3. That mug is hilarious. I feel bad for the author, but man, that’s funny.

    I’m not even published yet and am considering getting my friends to read reviews for me (when I get to that point) and just tell me about the good ones, or about bad ones that say something helpful. I might be able to maintain my serenity in the face of bad reviews, but at this point in time I can’t be sure either way.

    As you say, in the end, regardless of your mental equilibrium, the ones which really get to you are the ones you feel have a valid point. The others are just people’s opinions and as such can be disregarded, unless the whole damn world agrees and then you might have a problem – but it will be with your writing – not you.

    I think this is what authors tend to forget. Unless they do something stupid in public, the criticism is aimed at their work, not them. Reviewers don’t generally know you. It really isn’t personal so there’s no need to take it personally.

  4. When I’m reviewing a book I do my best to not be too harsh or critical.If I find that I don’t particularly enjoy the book I’m writing a review for,there are many ways to say so without writing an overly negative review which may result in angering the author of said book.

    1. I think it’s totally the reader’s right to leave a negative review. They should just use common courtesy when they do it. No need to be ugly about it. (Pot tells me that using “ugly” to describe behavior is a really southern thing…) If I don’t like a book I tend to not review it at all. I don’t know that I was as big about that before I was in the public eye, but still.

      1. Blimey, Riley! :S She’s really deranged, isn’t she?

        I still don’t understand what she meant about “playing snake”, but it made about as much sense as anything else she said! 😀

        I didn’t read the whole thread, but I did scroll down to the bottom to see if she ever DID apologise. I’m an optimist, what can I say? 😀

  5. I am seriously in review-reading-rehab. I am not doing it anymore. Or…I’m trying.

    At first, I LOVED reading reviews. I was so absolutely blessed by a flood of positive early reviews and yeah, you know I’m the sort who needs the reinforcement. I really only had one bad review in the early months and I knew that more about the reader than my writing, so even when the positive reviews had minor criticism, they were easy to take in stride.

    I think a tipping point happened for the book where it reached a level of enough visibility and too many good reviews that there may have been some feeling that balance was needed. And I got several reviews within a short period that were…less than glowing.

    I’m not saying the book’s perfect. No book can be all things to all people, and people are allowed to not like it. I can’t know anyone’s real motivation for titling a review “worst book ever” and then saying “my honest opion i loved the story line but the way it summed up was not somthing that i usally read.”

    But for me it got to a point where I started to be conscious of the specific criticisms all the time, even the ones from people who said they loved it overall. I started to let that affect not only the WAY I was writing even thinking, but also my ability to write at all.

    And oh no, it does not work that way.

    So my plan for the next release is this: review screening. I’m just not going to read any reviews unless they’re vetted for Susan Sanity Safety by a trusted Safety Advisor.

    I think some of the most extreme reviews are at least partially meant for me. Those who want me to know the loved it and want to support and encourage me, and those who hate it and think I should be punished. Most reviews are meant for other readers and have nothing with me. I think a lot of readers don’t even think about us reading the reviews, and the criticisms there aren’t meant to instruct us, they’re just talking about books because they like books. And I think there’s a segment of reviewers who publicly pick books apart to make themselves feel smarter. (I think many of those are unpublished writers.)

    1. There are absolutely some snotty people who like to publicly pick books apart. A lot of them are English lit grad students (my BFF in college was in that program and always talked about those people….annoying!). And there’s definitely a component of “if I put others down I can feel bigger myself”. And I think you make a great point that MOST reviews are NOT meant for the authors. They’re meant to help other readers make a more informed decision. I know that when I review a book, particularly one by a traditionally published author, I don’t expect them to actually READ IT.

  6. Ref: Reviews
    Susan said it, “I think a lot of readers don’t even think about us reading the reviews, and the criticisms there aren’t meant to instruct us, they’re just talking about books because they like books.”

    Ref: Blindsight
    It was nice to see Mick again. It wasn’t long enough…again 🙂 When’s the next story coming out?

  7. I read my reviews. I don’ t have too many just yet, which is fine by me. I’m moving slowly, since I know the MC in my latest is going to drive a fair number of people up the wall. Can’t be helped though, that’s who she is, and I actually really appreciated the low review I got on Goodreads about that very thing, because it was *so* well thought out and nicely put that I think it will help people make an informed choice on whether to read about her or not. My next book doesn’t have that problem, so I’ll undoubtedly be less hesitant to send it around to a wider review pool.

    The only other truly bad review I’ve gotten was *so* bad it was laughable, and considering I made a sale on that book the same day shortly after, I wasn’t all that burnt up about that either. The majority I’ve gotten thus far are good, even from pro-review sites, so that really helps balance out the negatives.

    The one I’m really scared of getting hasn’t shown up yet. That will suck, I’m sure…but I’ll take it in stride like everything else. And probably whine and complain a lot – in private. 😉

  8. I will read the reviews, especially if I am not familiar with the author. I will read the good and the not so good hoping to get the gist of the book. However, I have bought books that did not get rave reviews and was interested in the storyline and have often found a real treat. All things are subjective. What I enjoy reading the person next to me will not. I had a favorite book and lent it to a friend to read. Now I have read this book probably five times, whenever I have felt like revisiting those characters, and she just did not care for it at all. Enjoy the praise, listen with an open mind to the critique, and keep up the good work!

  9. I’ve tried not to read my reviews, but sometimes I can’t help it. Guardian Vampire has some terrible reviews, and some of them were written by people who never reviewed anything else. I thought that was strange. But then I get emails from people saying how much they loved the book and a good review from a book reviewer. So I end up feeling like I’m on a roller coaster…up, down, up down. Then I say I’m not reading them anymore. Then I do. Grrrrrr. Bad reviews haven’t seemed to really hurt sales, though. Zoe says not to read them. I try to obey, but….

  10. Hi Kait, I read and finished Forsaken by Shadow last night (all in one sitting!) and left a review on Smashwords. While reading down through the other reviews, I came across that particular criticism about the rescue. For me, it wasn’t a problem at all because I think you set it up earlier on when Cade/Gage was recognised by the pizza delivery guy. For the soldiers to then want Cade to come along to the base and fight one of their own worked for me.
    What was a bit more unexpected was the WHO he was expected to fight. (Don’t want to spoil the story for any readers so I won’t say who it was.) The motivation on the Sergeant’s part to thrust that particular character into the ring with Cade was not explained. But still, it was such a good story I was willing to suspend disbelief.

    I’ve written an ebook and had one review for it – someone who requested to read it actually. It was a mixed review and as I read it I found myself arguing with the computer screen and defending the points raised. I knew I was too worked up to respond to the reviewer so I left it overnight and wrote back the next day to thank the reviewer for the time they took to write the review, especially when they happened to be working on a project of their own at the time.

    If I ever get round to self-publishing more of my work I’m sure I’ll read the reviews, even if some of them will put a downer on things. In the end, bad reviews don’t cost you readers, but rude, immature and unprofessional behaviour will. I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the booksandpals blog…

    1. I meant to add before hitting the post comment button that it’s important to separate the writer persona from the human being behind it. One you share with readers, reviewers, the public, and the other is for family and friends.
      And the review of my ebook was actually quite good, and once I put the human with feelings to one side, the writer side WAS grateful for the time the reviewer took to write the review.
      Yep, I’ll probably continue to read reviews ‘cos it’s possible I might learn something valuable from them 🙂

    2. I think the bigger issue for a lot of people was the security stuff…and the fact that the military is kind of set up as a bunch of morons (side note: To military peeps, I do not believe this about you! I am not the first and will not be the last to make that type of character a bad guy in fiction!)–the idea that the infiltration was too easy. I mean it’s supposed to be this high powered secret military base a la Cheyenne Mountain (from Stargate) and they just get invited on in… Thanks so much for your feedback (and your review!)

  11. I think I’ll be one of those people who don’t read my reviews once I finish what I’m writing. After all, if I react negatively, it will reflect badly on me. Besides, I don’t want to keep track with all of them.

  12. Potentially not a popular opinion but fanfic has made me completely get over the problem of reviews. I’ve had more than 400 in the past year. Good, bad, gushing, indifferent. Every single one has helped. I now know what to ignore and how and what to pick up on in both the good and ‘bad’ reviews.

    Also — I don’t understand the concept of not reading reviews. Maybe if I am a rip-roaring success I’ll get it. Each person who writes something voluntarily is someone who’s taken the time to interact with you (for whatever reason), which means you touched something in that person. That means you have an opportunity: to turn them from a reader into a fan, to turn them from ‘meh’ to ‘I’ll give this author another chance’; and if the review is of a ‘I’ll never read you again because…’ to potentially minimise the effect on other people reading said review.

    It’s still a person on the other end of that review. An author is a person too. So you should probably be able to meet somewhere in the middle. 😀

    1. OH! That’s brilliant! INOCULATE YOURSELF! And Selene you’re absolutely right that there is a person on the other end. I think it’s easy to forget that sometimes. Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Yeah. Fanfic author here, too. Haven’t gotten harsh criticisms yet. One really got to me, though. The reviewer encouraged me to keep on writing but said that it isn’t her thing. I thanked her and I apologized that it’s not her style. Not everyone would like our work. 🙂 But all those other reviews? Don’t even bother. It’s hard to keep track of them.

  13. Reading reviews reminds me a lot of the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each reader sees the story through their all personal filter. In some ways, they are all right and in other ways, they are all wrong. One person can think that your elephant is the most magnificent thing they’ve ever encountered, and another may just think it stinks. I’ve had reviews that span the spectrum and still need to work on thickening my skin. I have to remind myself that I don’t write to make everyone happy (impossible!); I write to tell a story that’s inside of me. One thing that ticks me off, though, is a reviewer that ‘quotes’ a line from my story and quotes it wrong!! I grit my teeth…

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a star away from an Author because of length (even if I mentioned it in the review that I would have preferred more). Maybe I should go to goodreads and dock some stars…KIDDING. 😀

    Kait, odd, but I was never once bothered by the rescue scenes in FBS. It wasn’t an issue for me because Gage was well….what he was (Vagueness is next to spoiler-freeness?). It was a non-issue for me, maybe because I’m used to the “non-stalwart and true military” troupe. I mean, like yourself, I have nothing but respect for the military but well, not every soldier IS stalwart and true…or well, smart. I agree that an entire BASE filled with such like-minded individuals is unlikely but meh, it’s fiction? And damn good fiction. So again, non-issue. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief quite a bit if I like a story enough!

    1. 🙂 I got one really horrible review at Barnes and Noble early on that drew attention to that one. It was anonymous of course. Probably someone who IS one of those staunch military types who got angry at my portrayal and poor understanding of how the military works in real life. Susan made a comment to me the other day about how she remembers in a pre-911 world, how easy it was to sneak into restricted barracks to see her Marine husband and that’s why it didn’t raise issues for her. In TODAY’S world where national security is a much bigger thing, I probably am pushing it. But it just seems to vary from day to day about whether it really bugs me or not. Either way, I really was NOT interested in making it a longer book. I didn’t see the need to recount the cross country, relatively uneventful drive, and of course the escape was the climax of the story. I might one day come back to these characters, but I still felt like this particular story of theirs was finished.

      1. I think that’s why. If I *KNOW* something is a novella or a short story upfront…why dock stars? Especially when I enjoyed the heck out of ’em?

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