I have followed Kristen Lamb for a long time. She is well versed in the history of Amazon’s rise and the mistakes made by Barnes & Noble. The following link is an excellent blog that gives insight into the possible future of indie publishing.
Let me get straight to the point. I don’t like it when we term a book review “bad.” I think of it as someone speaking their honest opinion. I know we don’t like it when someone says the book is horrible. It doesn’t feel nice, that’s for sure. But we discount the person who was at least willing to leave a review.
I am more apt to leave a negative review than I am a positive review of something I like. It seems to be human nature to be critical. You have probably encountered a boss like that. Never compliments what you do well; only points out your faults.
Well, this isn’t Unicorn land. We wrote a book. Not everyone is going to like it period.
Now granted, there are those who seem to enjoy being mean, but that is their problem. We all can spot those reviews on products. They are pissed off at the world, and you just made them madder. But then we have an honest review. I love honest reviews.
Just as there are good writers and poor ones, so you have reviewers. Some know the right words to use, and others don’t. But that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. If you eat dessert all the time, and nothing else, you won’t be healthy for long. If you eat dirt all the time, the same thing goes. A balanced diet is healthy and allows you to grow.
An honest review states what a reader did and did not like. Remember, in this day and age of consumerism; the reviewer looks at your story as a product. It must meet their view of what that product should be. And it is a chance for you the author, just one chance, to make a change. It shows where you might be able to do better. Granted, you can’t please all the people all the time as I said before. And you still must consider the percentages on your reviews. For instance, if you have five good ones (and they are all family) and ten negative ones (who aren’t family and friends), there is a problem. But an honest review gives you direction.
You, as an author, know when it’s an honest review because it reveals a spot where you were unsure of like in plot or advertising. I recently had a review that showed me what I feared; I am promoting my story in the wrong genre. It gave clarity to where I need to list it and how to advertise it. I did this by overlooking the general dislikes the reviewer stated, to understanding this person was saying they had bought a product that didn’t fulfill their needs as a reader. It was not as the advertising lead them to believe. It was only one little review, but they nailed it. I want more reviewers like that. They aren’t good or bad; they are honest.
I am not afraid of hearing you don’t like my story; it grows me as a writer. That is why I send my book to copious amounts of beta readers. Then drag it through edit after edit. I want the best I can produce for those readers who are looking for this particular genre. I’m the same way about my cooking. Why waste my time and food if it’s not going to be palatable?
And yet, hell yes I’m into praise. We all are! I love the “likes” and the “wonderful job” comments. Who doesn’t like a tasty dessert? But I can’t be healthy on that diet. I need honest reviews: honest beta readers, honest editors, and honest customers.
If for you, it’s only about the dessert, the kudos, the Atta girl, find something else to do. It is tough to compete in the book field. Writing is personal, but to become a great author, you need the criticism, just as an athlete needs a good coach. Always try to take the bad and find something useful. None of us are perfect. I’m a fair writer, but I want to be the best writer I can be. I have read other people’s writings and wonder why I even try. There is real talent out there. I recognized that in my teens when I dreamed of becoming a concert piano player, it never was going to happen because I didn’t have the talent. I also feared I’d never make a living as an author, so I worked jobs that honed the skill everyone told me I had for writing. And while I may never have a best seller, that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying. And without honest reviews, I will never succeed.
So please readers, friends, family, editors, and customers don’t be afraid. Tell me the worst. I appreciate it. Thank you!
Feel free to leave a comment. Have you ever learned anything from an honest review? I would enjoy hearing your opinion. 🙂
As a child, I wrote on walls to learn the art of creating a word. Later I wrote because words were fun. In the teenage years, I wrote in secret to express the mountain of emotions roiling inside of me. Then, as an adult, I wrote because a job demanded it. But there was always the reason I loved to write, and that was for the pure joy of it. When I retired, I finally could chase my dream of writing a book.
I discovered the new frontier of self-publishing and all those who blogged about making money selling their books. So, I learned to blog. I followed all the lemmings into the sea of self-publishing, and then something changed. It wasn’t about writing anymore. I perfected my writing style. Learned to kill off my darlings that were ineffectual to a story, doubled down on the grammar, began to figure out what made a good story, hired an editor and cover artist, then published. Before I just gleefully pounded out words to create scenes, imaginary characters, and involved plot structure. But along the way, I lost the joy of writing and became driven to seek the Holy Grail of Authors, book reviews.
I wanted the reader to enjoy the story, and I craved feedback for my effort. My family was great at this. Friends as well, but something was lacking. I wanted the accreditation of the Reader, a stranger who didn’t know me or want to feed my struggling ego. I needed the Reader to give me an honest opinion to prove I wasn’t wasting my time. When creating books, this had been the carrot at the end of the stick for all those nights of tapping away at the computer, researching infinite details, getting every sentence right.
I gave away a zillion copies in hopes of a review. I bought high-powered write-ups through accredited sources like Clarion and Kirkus, but to no avail. I spent hours learning about how to promote, advertise, and edit again. Tried keeping up with Amazon as they changed program after program on me, trying to grasp the secret language of the algorithm. I became obsessed with needing to check sales reports, seek out new contacts, to create mailing lists, and have a million ‘friends’ on places like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
No matter how good the book was, no matter how hard I tried to advertise, no matter all the elusive leads that I chased to find the Holy Grail, I failed — leaving me to ponder where the joy had gone.
But there is a happy ending.
What did I do? I went back to my first love, writing. I started blogging again and created more books. Most importantly, I reviewed other people’s books. Yup, I found the Holy Grail of Authors. Not for my books, but for others who are creating even better stories than me. I found peace in giving reviews, striving to help others find that validation I sought. I wrote words of encouragement, honesty, and gave back to people who provided me many hours of enjoyment in reading. I don’t do this on Amazon because I’m an author and can’t review other author’s books. But, on sites like Authors Den, Smashwords, Bookrix, Goodreads, and a myriad of other places where I find books for my enjoyment, I respond to people who ask for advice, input or a review.
How can we expect something from a self-consuming, greedy world, unless we, ourselves, are willing to give it? I have not seen reviews of my books magically appear because it is not about that. It’s the satisfaction in creating art from words. I find comfort in the words of support, direction and validation I give to others.
Of course, I still want the Holy Grail, but it’s not the focus of this journey anymore. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway, being here for each other?
I remember during the edit of my first book, Windswept Hearts, the editor commented that one chapter should be two chapters and it needed more back story. I was upset because I hate writing joiners. Those sections you need that continue the flow of the story but to you seem boring. How do you spice them up? It also meant another 1200 words and there would be an uneven number of chapters. All creative types have their idiosyncrasies. My quirk is wanting my books to end on an even number of chapters. Ugh.
I was mad at my editor but too passive to say anything. So, I decided my heroine would wake up grumpy, then the coffee maker goes out, and her love interest irritates her. I relished writing this scene and I put all my frustration into it. My editor is no dummy. She figured out my angst and added salt to the wound by telling me it was the best scene in the book. We have laughed many times over it.
My point? We all know, as writers where our weaknesses lie. Whether it’s writing a scene ten times and not getting it right or merely skipping something we don’t want to work out. We know when our writing doesn’t make the grade and we worry the reader is going to notice. Every author knows you get tired at the end of writing, editing and re-writing the story. There are scene changes that don’t go smoothly, those plot holes that take a dump trunk of words to fill in and all your skill to cover. Then you are finished, and you send your project out into the reader pool hoping it won’t get torn to shreds by public opinion or worse yet, left to die a slow, dusty death on a bookshelf.
I also worry about how a reader is going to react to the social setting of the time. I find writing historical fiction gives me more leeway to be creative but keeps my feet to the fire because I still have boundaries I must work within. The period I chose, Viking history, is a little rough around the edges for our present time. They weren’t called barbarians for no reason. They eked out an existence in the harshest of lands, fought like demons, loved wildly, had a sophisticated social setting and were independent to a fault. They did not live by our current societal rules. I knew I would have to be accurate about their lifestyle yet I knew this would be offensive to some. I was concerned about my heroine’s age. Typically, in the period I was in, young girls were married off by the age of fifteen. I have felt the parents may have been smarter then. (I raised three teenage daughters) At that age a girls’ hormones are raging, she wants to do things her way. Could those parents have decided, “let’s just marry her off and let the husband handle it?”
However, in our day and age girls are considered underaged until 18. I knew where the hard spots were, and worried how they would be perceived. Take for instance the rape of hostages or woman of a conquered village. This was the norm. Also, a woman didn’t have much choice or say in whom they may have to marry. They were used as bargaining chips for peace or alliances, or for improving the family wealth. They could even be sold into slavery. On top of that, they were held to high standards, such as being a virgin when they married.
Nowadays men are expected to treat women equally, fairly and respectfully. Women have rights and freedoms that didn’t exist back then. I knew Viking men in the 800’s were a rough crowd and conditions harsh. Though Viking women had more rights than most of that time, men still held most of the power. Historical fiction can be hard to read through the lens of our modern society.
The bottom line, when a reviewer comes along, it’s easy to become defensive, angry or filled with self-pity if they don’t like something. If you are honest with yourself though, you know when they are spot on and have ferreted out your weaknesses. So, what do you do?
Everyone handles it differently. All I can tell you is how I did it. On my recent book, Norse Hearts, I sent out and paid for three professional reviews. The first two reviews, Kirkus and Foreward Reviews, came back with glowing comments. I was ecstatic. Then the Blue Ink review came in. I was surprised, but I stepped back and analyzed it.
The reviewer hit on every one of my fears. Did that make her wrong? Did that make my book a piece of crap? Did that mean I should never write again? Nope. It said that I was an average writer, and the reviewer was one of the one-third of people who would not like the book and not necessarily for the same reasons.
I have to say I liked her style. She gave respect where respect was due, recognizing my hard work and research. However, it socially did not fit with what she wanted to read. When Blue Ink contacted me about releasing the review, I said go ahead. They seemed surprised. I explained that I needed this review. I wanted those who might hesitate about reading such material, to be able to make an educated decision on whether this was the story for them.
I want my readers to enjoy the material I write. If it is not a subject they care for, I’m okay with that. I have read books I disagreed with, or I didn’t enjoy the writers’ style. But, I respected their effort. I respected this reviewer’s honesty, and it will help others who have her same view to avoid an unenjoyable read.
I also looked at the percentage. If I had gotten two negatives out of three, maybe the book needed another rewrite. Instead, I was overjoyed; my rate is two out of three on the positive. I have done my best, and that is all any of us can do. I can say I am okay with what I have accomplished, and this negative review has given me insight and ideas for another book!
If you would like to read any of those reviews, please click on my site page, headed “Books by Robynn Gabel.”
If you would like to comment on any experiences you have had, please feel free to do so below! Have a Happy Writing Day!