February 16, 2015

My Very Humble Advice to Fellow Authors About Reviews

One of the most difficult aspects of being a published author is the public feedback on your work. After toiling over a story for however long, sharing with critique partners, integrating editor suggestions, combing, combing, combing…Obviously, you’ve left little fleshy pieces of your heart scattered throughout your work.

Then it goes out into the world. You hit up family and friends and solicit bloggers for honest reviews. The ball starts rolling. Reviews start coming in from all over. So many are good. Three people said, “great writing.” A couple people give props to your favorite character, the best friend. And then…oh…wait… “It’s like Hunger Games, which I’ve never read, but more complicated and lame” What the…?! Did you even read the book?

But here’s the thing. No book will EVER be the same experience for every reader. There are about a bazillion factors behind why two readers interpret a book differently.

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Let’s say you read a review that says,

“Things were okay until the ‘insta-love.’ That ruined it for me.”

You might feel the need to explain to the reviewer that it wasn’t insta-love it was a grieving person reaching out for comfort in an inappropriate way. Or maybe a reviewer says,

“Overall the story was good, but there was swearing and underage drinking.”

And you growl at your computer, “It happens in real life – deal!” How about,

“Nobody talks like that.”

And you want to say, “Especially the girl-in-real-life I based the character on!”

See, the thing is, reviewers come at your book with their entire lifetime worth of experiences in tow. You might have grown up in a big city where teenagers swore, talked openly about sex and drugs, and maybe the reviewer grew up on a dairy farm and simply wasn’t exposed to that. It isn’t wrong they don’t like swearing. It isn’t wrong they don’t like characters swearing.

Maybe a reviewer agreed to review your book before the hose to the washer broke and flooded their basement and the family pet died. Suddenly your industrious heroine just exhausts them and they can’t even begin to believe anyone would ever fight that long and that hard to save the world. It’s okay for them to think that and it’s okay for them to mention it.

Why?

The point remains that no two readers read the same book – or the same review. Though one reviewer points out insta-love where it doesn’t belong, or grumbles about Einstein language, there are readers whose interest will be piqued by that review. If someone says, “Over the top drama,” “immature characters,” “Nobody in the world would EVER act like that!” There are readers who will simply dismiss that information and focus on what the reviewer did like about the book. Or, dismiss the review altogether, because the reviewers ‘voice’ doesn’t sound like anything the reader would agree with.

Just like there are readers who decide to read the book based on the “Couldn’t put this book down!” comments, some will also decide to read the book because of what you consider negative feedback.  Maybe they want to confirm the supposed idiocy, prove it wrong or they just simply aren’t bothered by it.

So, get over it. As long as the review doesn’t attack you personally—stop taking the feedback personally. Be grateful for the reviewers who clearly understood what you wanted them to from the book. And do not—I repeat DO NOT—engage with the reviews that mention seemingly random or really mean things. They still gave their own personal time to YOUR book. Chances are other readers will recognize when a reviewers opinion is in the minority.

10 comments:

  1. This is something I regularly remind myself. I know there have been books I've read that have irked me to no end, so why should everyone like the same book in the same way? That would just be dull! Though, let's be honest, a lousy review is still a downer ;)

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    1. I would be dull if we all felt the same way about everything! That's a perfect way to view differing opinions. And yes, a lousy review stinks, hurts, crushes my soul - but that same review just might be the thing that sparks interest in a new reader.

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  2. This was so well written and so well expressed, Kai. You've nailed it. How many people do you know who share the same opinion about Picasso, Hitchcock or Steinbeck? I picked artists across three disciplines and ones most of us have been exposed to or told are true geniuses. Geniuses maybe, but not everyone "gets" them or "likes" them or would go out of their way to see or read their work. And they've all had their critics. Here's to critics. May they be fair and honest in their handling of their "good" and "bad" reviews. We can't ask more.

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    1. I love that you compared it to art. Because it is! Why didn't I think of that? I do wish we could expect maturity from all reviewers, but alas its our differences that make the world go 'round. Thanks for visiting, Lee!

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  3. Well said. We're all going to get negative reviews--just check out the reviews for any acknowledged classic, past or modern--and there's absolutely no point in getting miffed about it. Indulge in self-pity for twenty seconds, then move on.

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    1. I completely agree with this because I'm currently struggling through Anna Karenina.

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  4. Such a well-made point. Thanks for sharing and encouraging writers to let these reviews go. Some of the most successful books in the world have hoards of bad reviews. It's just how it goes.

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    1. There will always be bad reviews, a writer has to hope they aren't the majority. Thanks for reading, Meg.

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  5. Great points. I just wrote a blog post similar to this two weeks ago. People have opinions and they are just that, opinions. Savvy readers who use reviews to guide their purchases can spot a solid review vs. crappy review. And you nailed it when you said, " Or, dismiss the review altogether, because the reviewers ‘voice’ doesn’t sound like anything the reader would agree with." So true.

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    1. You know what they say about great minds, Dana *wink* Great of you to stop in. I've had my interest sparked by something a reviewer mentioned as negative before, and I comfort myself with that instance all the time. Thanks for stopping in!

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