Book reviews. Every author wants them. Every author fears them. They can be the shining star used to promote your work, or the one thing holding readers back from deciding to one-click and add to their growing collection. Over the last week, both of my books have received reviews: a 3, a 4 and a 5 Star review, and each has seen the dreaded 1 and 2 Star reviews. Each reviewer has had something different to say and it made me think…
What good can a review do for the author? How can you read through the lines? And when do you ignore them?
The first rule to any book review is: everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Easier said than done sometimes, right?
The fact of the matter is, no matter how well your book is written, no matter how clean you edits are, or how many people sing your books praises, somebody out there is going to hate it.
What’s that old saying, “You can’t please everybody?” No truer words have been spoken.
Above all things you must remember readers have different taste, like different types of storytelling, or crave a certain type of drama, fantasy, or escape from reality. If your book doesn’t hit the mark for them, chances are they will not like it. A good example of this is the romance genre. There are many ‘heat’ levels out there. Everything from Hard core BDSM, to the tame ‘bedroom door shuts in your face’, and where I fall, somewhere in between…not erotica, but definitely erotic. (I recently had a reader tell me my scenes made her blush, lol, and they are in no way close to what makes me blush!)
The flip side to this is if your book is intentionally written to draw on a readers emotions – depending on their personality type – they may dislike your characters because they cannot or do not sympathize with your characters decisions. They get so upset they are personally offended or pissed off and no longer read the full story. They base their opinions on the characters actions and what they feel should have happened, thus the bad review.
As an author, what can you take from this?
For starters, learn to read between the lines. Once the emotional sting is gone and the tears have dried, or you stop using the ‘f’ word, whichever comes first, try to decipher what the reader is trying to say. Did they dislike the character, the plot, or the writing? Was the character unrealistic or did the decisions they make just piss them off? As the author, only you know what motivates your characters and what emotions you want to draw from the reader. So the questions you must ask yourself are:
- Did I do too much or too little?
- Was enough back ground information given?
- Was the scene or reason behind the decisions made explained clearly?
- Were questions/goals asked, defined, and reached?
- Were there enough unanswered questions to keep the reader interested without boring them?
- How well thought out was the plot?
- Are there gaps in the story that leave the plot line open?
- Was a resolution found and satisfying?
- What about the pacing? Too fast, too slow, or just plain boring? (you’ll know the answer to this if a majority of your reviews say the same thing)
- What can I take from this review to make my next project better?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Some characters are meant to piss people off, but you want your main characters to pull the reader in, keep their attention and have them rooting for them to reach their goal. One of the most important things to remember, no matter what genre you write, pleasing the masses (lovers of your genre) is the key, not the people who don’t or won’t agree. In other words, if you write Sci-Fi Erotica, don’t expect a Historical Romance lover to go crazy about your book. That’s not to say readers won’t cross over to different genres, but some are more comfortable with what they know.
- If your book is getting an influx of negative reviews, pay attention to the market your promoting to. If book lovers of your genre continue to say the same thing, you may need to step back, re-evaluate your style of writing, learn more about storyline structure, and find honest beta readers or a writing group to help you find out what went wrong. Revamp, rewrite, try again!
- Like TV shows and movies, there are various book genres that have a different style of pacing. Some readers want the satisfaction of a full ride that has them hanging on from the beginning to the end with no breaks. (Think roller coaster ride, 0-60 in 2 seconds). They want if fast, hard, and with a sudden stop. Other readers like the slow walk on the beach, long conversations, the romance, staring off at the sunset, and a satisfactory ending. And then there’s the in-between reader who likes the road trip. They want to leave the house doing the city speed limit, but when they hit the highway, they cruise with the traffic, enjoying the twists and turns and the fast pace. They like to visit the rest stop and stretch their legs before merging with the flow of traffic again. A well written story has the mixed pace of fast, slow, and cruise control to keep the ride interesting.
What does all of this mean?
As writers, we know what our comfort zone is when it comes to telling our stories. We know what our intentions are and what we want our character to see, think, and feel. We view our work as our babies and it’s often hard to put down the laptop and share it with the world. Will we ever be able to win over the masses? No, because there are too many genres which means readers what different things. If your book doesn’t deliver for them, chances are it’s not your story, but your style of writing or vice versa. Either way, don’t let a bad review get you down. See it as a learning tool. If you can find room for improvement, make it! If it’s more of a personal issue for the reviewer, ignore it and move on! In the end, YOU, the writer, know how much time, effort, and work you put in to make your ideas hit paper. Don’t let the negative stop you! As a good friend and fellow author says, ‘you have to put on your big girl panties and get over it!’ – Carmen DeSousa