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?