Reviewing Matters

As a writer, I don’t necessarily like to hear that someone doesn’t enjoy my work. After all, it IS work and I give my work (probably a lot more than) its due attention. But I understand that not everyone is going to enjoy my work and I don’t take it personally.

What really hurts is when I don’t hear anything at all about my work. Not good, not bad, not middle-of-the-road. And I’ll tell you why:

Reviews help authors as a barometer of what they’re doing that’s working and not. One review that isn’t glowing probably doesn’t mean much; get four or five of the same comment, and it’s time to listen up.  Authors rely on reviews to help us sell our work, and so naturally , we hope for great reviews every time. Life in the real world doesn’t work that way, and most of us get that.

Back before Twilight became the megalithic monstrosity it is today, when you could walk down the street without seeing the likenesses of Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner brooding at you every three point seven inches, it started out as a book like any other. And like any other author, Stephenie Meyer relied on book reviews and word of mouth to get the word out about her work.

Now, I’m not weighing the relative merit (or lack thereof) of Twilight. Whether you’re a Twihard, a Twi-hater, or simply wish the last movie would drop so we can stop being bludgeoned with watered-down, overly angsty versions of vampires and werewolves, the fact remains that someone read the books. A LOT of someones. And those someones talked about it. They blogged it, Facebooked it, Tweeted it.

People tell people things. If I tell one person X, and they tell two people, and each of those two people tells two people . . . before long, you have a phenomenon. This is what authors count on when they publish their work: That word of mouth will attract new readers and hence more revenue, which in turn leads directly to the ability to write more work.

Reviewers and readers are the most powerful force in a writer’s universe.  Moreso than editors, beta readers, or even publishers. I say that because there’s only so much a writer can do. Or an editor. Or a publisher. Once the publisher rolls out “The Secret Lives Of Fruit Of The Looms” or whatever the next book is, it’s up to the author to push it and attract interest. But what keeps a good book rolling or dooms it to obscurity?

That’s right. Readers. And not just readers: readers who take the time to tell the author what they think about their work. People who tell others, either through word of mouth, on a blog post, or on a recognized review site, “Buy this book” or “don’t waste your time.”

You hear horror stories about authors who get into flame wars or outright pissing contests with reviewers when they don’t like what the reviewer has to say. In my experience, this is rare. Most writers, when confronted with a bad review, will either thank the reviewer politely for their honesty or say nothing at all.

At least, not publicly. Oh, sure, I may cry in my beer with a friend or two if it’s really THAT bad, but once I’m done, the only thing I’m likely to say in public is, “Thank you for taking the time to review XXX. I’m sorry it didn’t meet your standards, but I appreciate your honesty.” If I want to freak out, tear my hair, question the reviewer’s parentage, intelligence, humanity, or accuse them of having unnatural carnal relations with goats, I will. But I’ll do it privately, where NO ONE will hear about it.

So, with all that said: Readers, please. If you enjoy a story, take five minutes and let the author, and other readers, know. It takes only a few minutes out of your day to leave a comment on the author’s blog, a blurb on Amazon or the publisher’s website . . . hey, even a Tweet beats nothing! It’ll help make a writer’s day if nothing else, and you never know what might come of you sharing your thoughts about someone’s work.

And writers: Seriously. If you’re flaming reviewers because they had the audacity not to recognize that you really are the reincarnated greatness of Dickens, Hemingway, and Hammett all in one package . . . grow the hell up. Have a drink, have a pity party, do what you’re gonna do. But stop giving your fellow authors a bad name and making reviewers gun-shy about speaking their minds!

Just my own personal, folks. That and five bucks MIGHT get you coffee at Starbucks.

Until next time,

Best,

J.S. Wayne

 

45 thoughts on “Reviewing Matters”

  1. Aw, hell, JS. I still need to post my reviews of your books. I have them on my list (that’s the closest I get to actual organization) but that sure doesn’t help you much, does it? =c(

    1. ((((Sarah))))
      Don’t take it like THAT! I get you’re insanely busy, same as the rest of us. I’m talking more about readers and DEDICATED reviewers who don’t write and read as a profession already. :) I know you’ll get to it when you can. In fact…um…I kinda think you just did. Sorta. ;)
      Have a biscuit?

    1. I don’t think people really appreciate just how important reviews can be. Even if it’s not a stellar review, it may brighten a writer’s day . . . and that book you love today may be the next Twilight tomorrow! :)

      1. It has dominated my twitter feed all day and for the author ( a YA author at that) to go off the deep end and then delete the post and do it two or three more times and delete those posts as well is something that disturbs me. I like most things I read and I will tell everyone about it. Sometimes, I have to really nitpick to find something wrong, but a totally glowing review is not quite fair to authors either. I had a book i reviewed that kind of confused me in the setting but the story was solid. Most would have probably snarked their way through or not even mention the issue at all. I did say something about the set up but I still rated it four stars bc it was a solid story. I don’t like hurting feelings, but in order to be a reviewer, I need to be honest. If an author had an issue with my review, please contact me BEFORE you go off the deep end. At the end of the day, it is how we react that matters.

      2. I couldn’t agree more. Not only is it unprofessional, but it also leaves reviewers afraid to speak their minds. Which is of NO benefit to the author or the reader, and leads to questions about the reviewer’s integrity into the bargain. However, I wasn’t speaking on anyone in particular, but the overall trend. :)

      3. I know you weren’t being specific. I was specific because this has blown up and apparently it wasn’t the first of the week. I find this trend disturbing. There is no excuse for bad behavior from ANYONE on either side of the book. This is what I get for taking a break. LOL

  2. This is my biggest frustration as a writer. People will often post it on my facebook wall that they loved it and that thrills me, but I feel so awkward asking them to run on over to amazon or somewhere else and say the same thing. The very best way to read more of a favorite new author is to tell other people who might like the writing so that author will be able to keep writing. Thanks for bringing up this subject! I’m passing it on!

    1. Thank YOU for coming by, Kay! I honestly believe that if reviewers and readers really understood just how important their voices are in encouraging their favorite authors, authors would be better paid and create better stories as a consequence. It is awkward to have that conversation (GOD, is it awkward!!!) but people need to know their opinions really DO count.
      Thanks again for stopping over!

    1. Thank you, Scribbles! Talk about your tough critics…you teach middle-schoolers! *Shakes head* I’ll take my worst review EVER over that, but God bless you for it! :)
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. All too true, esp. for up and coming writers. An honest review is far more beneficial to me than the generic ‘great work’ version as well. I like to know what the reader likes, and I’m greatly interested in what they don’t like. The more you know…

    1. Exactly, Bard! The newer you are, the more it matters. After a certain point (Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher, I’m looking at YOU!) I doubt the word-of-mouth matters quite as much.
      Thanks for coming by!

  4. Checking back and saw your question, JS.
    Yes, Thank you! I’m very excited about “The Zombie with Flowers in Her Hair,” a comedic and heart touching adventure set in 1969 coming out Jan 16th from Noble Romance. How’s that for a cheap and obvious pug?

  5. Brilliant post! I’m a writer and I’m going to spread this post around. I couldn’t have said it better myself — some big admission from a writer! Anyway, I hope people listen because you summed up our working lives perfectly. Thank you. Best of luck with your writing.

    1. Thank you so much, Jean!
      I’ve often explained writing as a fun job, but a job nonetheless. What some readers don’t realize is that by not telling people about books they enjoy, it makes it harder for authors to look like they’re DOING their job! :)
      Thanks for dropping in, and I’ll be checking out your backlist directly! :D

  6. An interesting post.
    Part of a reviewer’s responsibility when including less than positive comments in a review is how they present it, and where.
    Yes, position matters.
    A glowing review that ends on a negative, however slight will be passed over by many authors, who will -fatalistically- latch on to that one ,even slightly, negative comment.
    Sandwich that ‘negative’ comment in the middle, and the recipient can come away with a final positive.
    imho – No reviewer has the right to ‘attack’ a writer. If they hate the book that much, remain silent, publically at least. But, there is a difference between a ‘negative comment’ and an ‘attack.’

    1. Hi, Sherry!
      For my own part, I don’t much care how a reviewer formats their review. I know there are certain “best practices,” but the casual reader talking about a writer’s work on Amazon.com isn’t going to know those. I make it a point to let my readers know that I welcome their feedback, whether in emails or other media, so I know what my readers want to see more of and what they could care less about. Good, bad, or so-so, I like to know what my readers think.
      At the same time, you’re right: Too many reviewers take the notion of reviewing to extremes. I’ve seen reviews that were nothing more than thinly-disguised attacks on a given author. Reading between the lines in those reviews, you can see it’s personal and nothing to do with the quality of the writing per se. I agree with you entirely: If you can’t say ANYTHING nice, don’t say anything at all. There’s a fine line between a review and a hatchet job.
      Thank you so much for weighing in!

    1. Hi, Kimber!
      I couldn’t agree more. When authors do a good job of entertaining a given reader, they rely ON the reader to let others know about it. Of course, some writers can’t deal with criticism, and those have to be dealt with on a case-by=case basis. But…if they can’t handle a review, how’d they make it through the editing grind?
      Something to think on, anyway.
      Thanks so much for coming by!

  7. Hi Darlin’,

    Great post. I would love to see more readers do reviews. However, I do have a few worry points.

    I’ve known readers, who when asked their views of a book, start to get critical just to sound professional. Perfect example was at a conference. This woman gushed about this crime novel one of the speakers gave out on day one of the conference. She’d read it over night and in our circle, she couldn’t say enough. On her blog, she gave the book three and a half stars (she doesn’t use stars on her blog, but some other object that would out her if I said it. LOL) and harped on character development. Out of curiousity, I sent her a note touching base and asked after her review. “You loved that book at the conference, did you read it again with a critical eye?” And her response was…”My readers expect me to be tough, it sounds more authentic if I have a complaint.”

    I haven’t spoken to her since…mainly because I wanted to stay off her radar. LOL

    I talk to a lot of people at doctors offices, waiting in line at the grocery store, bookstore coffee shops, (because I’m a babbler as you can see) and the general concensus is–most readers are more inclined to believe negative reviews than they are positive. Almost all admitted to “nit-picking” if they did reviews. I’m guessing again, people are trying to sound authentic.

    I also worry about series reviews. Readers seem to be more harsh when a series deviates from what they feel should have happened. Maybe because they’ve had time to think about how the conclusion would come about? I don’t know. The most recent example of series hatred I can think of, is the YA P.C. Cast series, House of Night. The latest book came out, and I waited to buy it (too busy to read) and by the time I was ready, the star review was at a 2.5 out of 5. OUCH. I almost didn’t buy it. I flipped through the reviews and the biggest complaint was the series wasn’t moving fast enough. People wanted more to happen, they’re tired of the series and want the big finish. etc. I agreed on some level, but not enough to score the book a 1 or a 2 out of anger. The writing was there, the characters well developed and it ended with me anxious for the next book. That’s what’s SUPPOSED to happen. Yet, high emotions brought the book low on the star count.

    Another reviewer received my book as a free read. It’s my biggest seller and she gave it 1 or 2 stars on good reads ( I can’t remember). I was floored, but what annoyed me the most, is that I asked her to review it…and all she did was give it a star rating without saying what she disliked so much about it–in my opinion, that’s the biggest tragedy. If she hated the erotic theme, or descriptive words, then that’s something a reader could say “Oh, that doesn’t bother me” and buy my book anyway despite the low star…but in just giving me a low star without reason, the reviewer stripped layers of my chances away.

    These things make the review system seem a bit off to me.

    However, having said all that…I don’t fear bad reviews or tiny stars. In fact, my favorite review on amazon for Murder Creek is the one that received the lowest (three) star rating out of the four reviews. The reviewer contacted me to let me know she’d be reading my book to review, and then sent me a link to her blog after she was done. I loved it. I think I showed it around to everyone. She didn’t like it, but the reason she didn’t like it happened to be the feeling I wanted to convey to people. Dark and violent, sexy and honest. The fact she didn’t like those things, meant I’d been successful.

    As a reader, I read a lot of books, and I’m more prone to review a book that was either fantastically great, or fantastically bad. Good reads that fall in the middle, they are the majority, and far less likely to stand out enough to make my cognitive-challenged brain remember to remark on them.

    LOL To finish my babbling, I’m saying that I do love to get reviews, and agree that they are imperative to a writer’s growth. I’m just cautious about how much I take to heart knowing what I know, and I’m a little gunshy about asking for them.

    Thanks for the great post and listening to me carry on. ::grins::

    Best,
    Allure.

    1. Hi, Allure!
      I agree with your concerns. The good news is, the discriminating reader can tell the difference between someone who reviews professionally and someone who’s just giving their thoughts on a story. A case in point: I got a ONE-STAR review on Amazon for “Angels Would Fall.” The reader who reviewed it liked NOTHING about the story. It was too short, the character development was lousy, etc. etc. etc. The funny thing was, a lot of other people liked the character development, said it was short but they wanted to see the next one, etc. etc. etc. For every bad thing that one person said, there were five others who gave “Angels” nothing but praise.
      I don’t think reviews are the be-all, end-all. Far from it. And, like anything else, they should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re a guidepost for what a writer is doing well or poorly, but they should be taken to mind, not to heart.
      Thanks for the great response! Always good to see you!!!
      Say…as long as I’m thinking about it, are you going to do the Awareness Month tour again?

      1. One small comment slightly of topic. I know as a writter we all like to hear from readers. Good or bad. However, some authors do not respond back to their readers. I have had that happen to me. Now I know how busy everyone is and I honestly figured it was lost in the shuffle and sent another email a month later. Well still nothing, so I’m my mind my $6.00 wasn’t appreciated so I havent bothered to purchase book two or anything else from them. I know it sounds silly, however when you get the courage up to contact an author and then are kicked to the curb. Hmmmm well I didn’t waste my time again.

        So my point is To always try to acknowledge your readers. My comment to the author was that I loved her book. So for her to blow me off was unexpected.

        Several authors on this board I have talked with many times and they are wonderful people. :)

        Sharon

      2. You’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, authors CAN’T answer every single email, as much as we’d like to. Most authors have day jobs and families in addition to writing, which means that sometimes other things have to take precedence.
        The best I can say about that is, if you DO email your favorite author and they don’t get back to you, PLEASE don’t take it personally. Authors are people too, and the ones who genuinely care about their craft are probably working on the next story. They do take reader commentary into account, even if it’s not personally acknowledged. I try to answer every email or Tweet I get from a reader, but I can’t catch every single one when my inbox gets between 200 and 1k emails a day from various sources.
        So, for anyone who HASN’T received a personal reply from me, please know that I appreciate you taking the time to buy and read my work. If I didn’t respond, it wasn’t unwillingness or laziness on my part: I was probably juggling the hassles of real life in addition to my writing career and either didn’t see it or didn’t recognize it for what it was.
        Authors are people too, folks. And just like everyone else, we only get so many hours in the day.

  8. Hi JS! Great post considering this has been a HOT topic this week. I’ve learned to take the time to post a review or at least provide feedback via twitter to let authors know I’ve read their books.

    1. Hi, Phuong! Thanks so much for coming by. :)
      Believe me, as an author, I appreciate hearing from my readers. I like knowing what you like and DON’T like about my work, and what I can do to improve. :)

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