Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Dreaded Book Review

My previous post was written from the perspective of someone who reviews books (me). This post is written from the perspective of someone who has had reviews written about them (me).

I just spent a few minutes over on GoodReads. I really love that site - my to-read list never shrinks because as soon as I check something off, I add something else - but I really like seeing book recommendations and having a little more to go on as far as what I might and might not enjoy. It's also quite the hoot to have my own books listed there and to see what others thought of them. But there's the rub - not only do you see the compliments, but you see the harsh criticisms, too. I've got everything on there from "best book I ever read" to "really rotten." Well, okay, those aren't exact quotes, but you get the drift. One that's making me chuckle right now was found on a review of "Agent in Old Lace," lambasting me because I didn't do my research into law enforcement. I mention in the acknowledgments that I had a good friend and former SWAT team member read the manuscript for me, but either the reviewer didn't read that part, or ... I don't know. At any rate, research was done.

So, what do you do when you get a bad review? Let's face it - being an author isn't all sunshine and roses and five stars on Amazon. I've gotten a goodly number of nice reviews but also some less-than-stellar ones in my day. I'd be lying if I said those bad ones don't hurt just a little ... but you know what, I learned something along the way, and as many of my blog readers are authors or aspiring authors, I'd like to share it with you.

When I get a bad review, I can generally tell from something said in that review that they just didn't get where I was coming from. This tells me that they aren't my target audience. If you've written a book, and your reader doesn't "get" it, that doesn't necessarily make you a bad author or them a stupid reader - it can just mean that they aren't on your same wavelength. Of course, our goal is to tell our story clearly so it can be understood by everyone who reads it, but understanding the words and "getting" the message are two entirely different things, and you will have readers who don't "get" it, just as you'll have readers who love you to death and will buy everything you ever write. Because humans are all so different, and we see things through different lenses, your books will be very attractive to some readers and not so much to others.

Our job then, as authors, is to seek out those readers who are in our target audience. It would be awesome to find ways to reach those who previously didn't get where we were coming from, but let's be honest - we might never be able to reach them because our wavelengths might be too different. If they mention a fixable concern in their review, such as misspellings, plot problems, flat characters, and the like, we can and should, certainly, work on strengthening those areas. Beyond that, we can just let the bad reviews go and move on. We continue to market to those readers who enjoy what we write, all the while seeking to improve our craft, and above all, not letting the negativity get to us. Sometimes a bad review is meant to help us improve, and we can take the lesson and grow from it, without internalizing any hurt feelings involved. That's really the only productive way to deal with it.

I have to say, I'm glad we don't live in a world of 100% perfect book reviews. How would we ever learn from our mistakes if we were never told we'd made any? Take it all in stride. And if you find that your reviews are getting to you, don't read them. It's perfectly all right to ignore them altogether.


Karen Gowen said...

Been there-- and I could have written this post! I think a new author starts to see the reality of the review cycle when you read one from someone who absolutely loves your book, and another from someone who...let's just say...doesn't! At first you're upset, but then you start to think about what it all means.

I agree with you completely--the best way to handle it is to realize not everyone is going to "get" your work. It doesn't mean you are a bad writer, or that your book has no merit when you come across one of those downer responses. You put it so well. Thanks for this post!

L.T. Elliot said...

Great advice, Tristi. I never thought about it like that before. =]

Kimberly said...

I was actually just on Goodreads today and glanced at the reviews on a book by a friend of mine I'd recently read and really, sincerely, enjoyed. I was shocked by the range of opinions, and found myself reading many of the negative reviews (out of a sense of morbid fascination, I believe). There was a definite trend in them. It was clear that the readers were not in the author's target audience.

I love what you've said here, and I think there are many egos out there which could be nursed back to health as it were if they could read and accept your words of wisdom.

Pendragon said...

thanks tristi.
i definitely needed this post TODAY. more than you can imagine. though, it doesn't make it hurt any less. :\

Heather B. Moore said...

I don't mind getting "negative" reviews as long as they are constructive. They can help me grow and become a better writer. Comments such as "the writing isn't mature" don't help. It tells me that the reader is not my target audience, but that's about it. When I do get a review that gets under my skin, I promptly notify several friends and let them console me. LOL.

Keith Fisher said...

You are such a good person . . . Taking the high road on everything.

I would be plotting revenge (as You know) but I'm working on that. I might make it someday because I have you as a great example.

Seriously, I mean it. thanks for the uplift.

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