This past Sunday, PizzyGirl over at Prism Book Alliance posted a blog about negative reviews that I shared on social media. You can read the post here. In a nutshell, she posted a not so flattering review of an author’s book, and she received some serious backlash in response. The timing of her post was a bit of a perfect storm for me, since my newest book, Blood and Rain, has just been released by Dreamspinner Press, and I’m in that “will they like it or will they hate it?” mode that leaves me feeling like I’m not quite standing on solid ground.
Before I get into my personal feelings about reviews, I thought I’d break them out into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Good, of course, are those are the 3-5 star reviews (yes, a 3 star can be a good review!) where the reader really liked the book. The bad is pretty easy to spot, as well. 1-3 star reviews where a reader didn’t like the book. Then there’s the ugly. These are the reviews that are just plain nasty, including those that attack the author, are snark-filled, tell a prospective reader nothing, and make anyone reading them want to cringe (or at least, anyone with a conscience). The first two categories, “good” and “bad” can be helpful to readers trying to decide whether to read a book. The last category is pretty much worthless to anyone.
Time to add the author into the mix. I have two jobs–I write full-time, and I spend nearly every waking hour when I’m not at my real life job (public sector attorney) writing. Why does that matter? Because I work very hard to write books readers will like, and when they don’t, it smarts. No doubt about it. Do I read reviews? Yep, although there are times I wish I wouldn’t, since they can really mess with my focus. Yes, focus. I’ve got that cheerleading squad in my brain that pushes me to write, and when I get a bad review, the squad has to work overtime. Doesn’t matter how many glowing reviews I get, it’s that one bad review that I remember. Why? Because I write not only for myself, I write for readers and I want them to enjoy my books.
So let’s talk “bad” reviews. They’re really not so bad. Sometimes, I learn something from them about what readers like. And believe me, I do listen! Most of the time, I’ve realized bad reviews do not reflect bad writing, per se, but differing personal tastes. Case in point, my first novel, Blue Notes. I’ve had a number of people say it’s one of their favorite books ever. Ever. Which totally blows me away. But take a look at the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and you’ll see there are readers who said it was boring, or too slow, or, my favorite, that it must have been “Twilight” fan fiction (yeah, no, don’t like Twilight and it was never fan fiction). How can you square such differing opinions? Let me use my favorite food example. I LOVE chocolate. Any kind. My husband? Can’t stand the stuff. I don’t get his taste, he doesn’t get mine. Apples and oranges. I can’t force you to like an apple if you prefer oranges. We’re all different. It’s really that simple.
The “ugly” reviews are the easiest to stomach to some extent, because they’re truly not worth very much to people considering reading your book who are looking for direction. These are sometimes called “troll” reviews. They don’t explain what it was about the book they didn’t like. Some of my favorites? A 2-star review with the text, “I don’t like reading May/December romances” for a book that was clearly a May/December. Why read it? I’ve seen the same with M/M/M romances or BDSM. Why bother reading something you aren’t into? I’ve had a few of these where it was clear the reader didn’t realize they were picking up a gay romance (as opposed to het romance) and then gave it a 1-star and said, “This book isn’t for me. I didn’t realize what I was picking up when I started it.” What good is that to a reader?
But “ugly” reviews are the ones that make your fingers itch to respond to. I won’t, regardless of the temptation. Someone who can’t understand that the tone of a review is mean, or that the content does nothing except bash and author won’t ever be convinced by something I have to say about it. Period.
I know a lot of authors. I know some who will not look at Goodreads reviews. I know some who pay people to collect good reviews so they don’t have to wade through potentially bad ones. It’s tempting to do both of these things, but this is where I’ve laid down the gauntlet to myself: I want to encourage reviews, the good and the bad, regardless of my emotional reaction to them. Authors need reviewers (readers and blog reviews). And we need them to be honest. Kind, too, but honest first and foremost.
Does it hurt when a fan writes a lukewarm or even negative review of a book I’ve written? Damn straight. Do I get angry? No. I take a deep breath, shrug off the “ouch”, and appreciate that they’ve taken the time to review. To me, it means they care about books, and about sharing the reading experience with others. With the ugly reviews, I do my best to be sanguine. As a reader, those are the reviews I wouldn’t pay much attention to anyhow. Do I condone them? Not at all. But given the anonymity of the internet, I think they’re here to stay.
For 2015, I’m going to make myself a promise. Well, two promises, actually. First, I’m going to continue to read my reviews, good, bad, and ugly. Second, I’m going to “like” them all, regardless of the content. Because, let’s face it, without readers my books will just sit on my own bookshelf. My “like” doesn’t mean I agree with the review or that I don’t get the ouchies reading it, it just means that I respect the reviewer for his or her opinion.
If you’re a reader, please consider reviewing the books you read. Just a sentence or two and a rating can go a long way to help others decide which books to read, and it may really help your favorite authors sell more books (yes, some of us really do this for a living).
I welcome comments from writers and readers (and those of us who are both). I think this is an important discussion to have! Happy holidays, everyone. -Shira