There are many reasons writers write. Some because they are driven to – they cannot help themselves – it’s part of them as much as their need to eat or breathe. There are others who do so passionately; it may be equally for personal enjoyment and satisfaction as to share their stories with readers in hopes that they enjoy reading them. Others may recognize they have some ability and see writing as a way to make money, support their family, or a way to create an at home business.
In the first two camps you have a few subgroups . . . writers that labor years and years over their one storyline in order to create the great American (or insert your home country here) novel, and there are those that are more prolific and churn out one bestseller after another. There are also those that focus on only one genre – say sci-fi or mysteries — because maybe that’s the one genre that they enjoy reading, or that is the way their mind works — and there are those that feel comfortable approaching several genres because they have different types of stories in their heads all crying to get out. Stylistically, some enjoy writing with a tremendous amount of detail and a large cast of characters because they want to draw you into their world and paint clear pictures of what they are seeing while others write beautiful narratives that illustrate the environment and character traits. There are also writers who keep their writing tight and crisp and the focus on a small set of characters. And there is, of course, everything in between.
For all the different types of writers out there, there are equally as many types of readers. This, dear reader and fellow writers, is where the issue of reviews can get a little sticky. Especially so for self-published authors. Readers may not have a pre-conceived New York Times bestseller notion of the writers style, and may pick up a book based on the description, book cover, how it is categorized, or for any number of reasons, and be happily surprised or . . . disappointed. That disappointment may lead to a bad review. A bad review can be okay if done in a balanced way, with constructive feedback for the author. But others can be downright nasty attacks. And writers, who feel these stories are part of themselves, akin to sending their children out into the playground of the reading public, can feel their child is being bullied. Not all writers – some rise above all this or have had the experience earlier in their careers and find it easier to turn a blind eye — but a bad review still stings. It just does.
As a writer, I have had a few bad reviews. Sometimes I wonder how one person’s conclusion can be so different from anothers perspective of the same book. The answer is quite simple: we all have different tastes. What got me started on this blog today was just that idea and it occurred to me after seeing a 1 star Goodreads rating. I had found upon further checking the reviewers bookshelf that Cursed sat next to a 1 star rating of the classic Wuthering Heights. It made me feel a little better . . . I’m just not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
I have had bloggers and readers in all different parts of the country assign 4 and 5 star reviews after reading Cursed, yet I had other readers that did not like it at all. One reader stated “this book just sucks” yet gave it 2 stars on Goodreads (I would have guessed sucks equated to 1 star so I was pleased to see 2), another who said: “I was hoping for an urban fantasy, action / adventure, comedic, quick read book” (not categorized as such, but that’s okay) and gave it 3 stars but then offered “which in all honesty may be a little less than it deserves” (but left the 3 star rating). Another reviewer offered 2 stars on Amazon thought, “Fortunately it was a quick read but it was really quite silly, even for a made subject like the supernatural.”
Another thing I’ve noticed in reading reviews – not just mine but others – was how some reviewers may be predisposed to a certain theme or focused on one minor element of the book more so than what the author may have intended.
In The Dating Intervention, I had a mix of good and bad reviews – luckily more 4 and 5 star reviews than the 1 and 2 stars that drag down the average. There were again some lines within the reviews that I found surprising. For example: “This is a very lack-luster book along with closed-minded and mildly racist. The friends and family of the main character not only judge the main character’s boyfriend because he is from the Middle East but they are flat out racist.” (the main concern of the friends had been the boyfriend being much younger, the drive culturally from his own family to want to marry within his culture and have children, and that he planned to move back overseas all pointing towards leaving his girlfriend, their friend, whom they loved and wanted to protect- this was not intended to be racist but a set of conflicts that people do indeed deal with and showing how friends may get too involved in the relationship with their own views). Another reviewer quoted “the REAL dealbreaker for me was the ridiculousness of Vanessa’s art success” (hmmm, jealous?) and the last one from the 2 star parade, “The story is too predictable.” (it IS a romance novel . . . they are built on happy endings).
So, why am I exposing my bad reviews and where does this all leave us? Well, I believe we all need to carry some of the responsibility within the community. Authors should listen to readers when they offer constructive criticism. A review with a balanced approach can be quite helpful. If you notice a common thread amongst the reviews then make changes – change the cover, change the category, or blurb on back if people’s expectations aren’t being properly set. If there are editing issues – fix them! It will all make for happier readers later. I also believe readers need to think about the reviews they write and realize they should approach as being helpful, not hurtful.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, many writers write because they enjoy writing. They have a story to tell and want others to enjoy their stories as much as they enjoyed writing them. Authors LOVE to read good reviews and good reviews drive authors to continue writing and perfecting their craft. But if the reviewer doesn’t offer the review constructively, seems mean-spirited, becomes hung up on one small piece of the story that they don’t happen to like, or take things too personally instead of realizing its just a story – just remember the quote commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln:
“You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”