Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH???

Attractive Woman with Her Books

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

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15 thoughts on “Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH???

  1. OMG! I received a horrible review today, my first really bad one. I just stared at it for a few moments like, huh? This person said my characters were petty and had sordid little lives, and basically called me a plagiarizer. What can I do? Just be thankful for all the other folks who love the book and are supportive of me. There will always be those hecklers out there no matter what profession you are in so why sweat it? 🙂

    • Exactly! And you can learn something from every review, good or bad. The good reviews will let you know what your doing right to please your audience, which is always a breath of fresh air! 🙂

  2. I know I’ll take a hard review badly. I just hope that I’m able to take your advice and learn from it. Thank you for posting.

    • Your welcome! I can tell you now, now matter how many good ones you get, a bad one never makes your day. But as long as you keep an open mind and ‘read between the lines’, you may even find something to laugh about. Seriously! The worst review I got, I actually cracked up!

  3. LOL! Did I say that??? Yeah, it sounds like me…though I usually keep those remarks behind closed doors. All of what you said is true, MJ. No one can please everyone, and if everyone says they love you, someone is lying. If you want to feel better about your few bad reviews, cruise the top 100 bestsellers. One book I saw had THOUSANDS of one-star reviews. At that point, you have to look at the mass majority. If you have over twenty reviews and you have a four-star average, I think the average reader–the reader we all want–likes your story. Sadly, a mass majority of poor reviews come from other authors. Most readers just want a good story and aren’t looking for faults. Authors can’t help but see them and are usually quick to point them out. I’ve never written a poor review. It’s not that I haven’t read bad books, but if a book is a one-star book, I stop reading it. Life is too short and there are far too many books available to read badly written books. If it’s not a three-star book, I hit DELETE, and I certainly don’t have time to write a review. 🙂

    • Another great post, MJ! Since I first published three years ago, I’ve learned to let reader reviews roll of my back. Fortunately, I have only received a handful of 1-2-star reviews for all of my books combined, but they stung nevertheless. As time goes on, it becomes easier to just ignore the bad ones.

      I’m with Carmen about posting a bad review myself on a book I’ve read. If the book is that bad, I just delete it from my Kindle and move on. I won’t leave a bad review for another author.

  4. Great post! Thank you for sharing this on Facebook where I found it. I’ve been publishing books for 3 years and write mostly YA fantasy. My problem is trying to get reviews for my books… I’ve had all mostly good reviews, but they are few and far between. Do you have any advice for getting reviews from people?

    • Wow, that’s a tough question! One thing you don’t want to do is offer to pay someone to post a review! You want real and honest reviews, even if you don’t like what they have to say. If your on FB are you a part of any YA or Fantasy book clubs? If not join some, become friends with the readers in the group by participating in the discussions when you can. Most groups know authors are busy and don’t have time to hang out and chat all the time, but posting comments, shouting out a few members, or just stopping in to say hi sells yourself as an author to the readers. Doing so will lead to interest in your sales post when you share them, and can lead to sales. Readers are more likely to post a review or connect with you via social networking sites to share their thoughts about your book when they realize you are accessible. When readers PM me on FB or message me on Twitter with their thoughts, I always say thank you and ask them to share their feelings about the book on either Amazon or Goodreads. You’ll be surprised how many will do so when prompted and leave wonderful reviews, then contact you to let you know it’s there. I always go back and say thank you. Another thing I’ve done is hold mini contest at random during the busy time on FB in groups (no more than once every few months) where the winner receives a free digital copy of the book. I happily gift it too them and ask that if they enjoy the read that they please leave a review. Some do, some don’t. My main goal is getting the book into the hand of an anxious reader who will appreciate it and at the very least share it via word of mouth with their friends. If you have a Author page on FB, schedule a time where you host a Meet and Greet/Book Discussion with your readers. Publicize it, you’ll be surprised how many people show up who are curious about you or the book. Again, the opportunity to meet the author and ask questions will encourage readers to buy, promote, and review your work. Hope those tips help!

      • Thank you for the words of wisdom! As a relatively new author, I really appreciate it. I’ll have to try some of the things you mentioned and see how it goes. I guess the first thing to do is for me to find some groups on Facebook.

      • LOL! Your welcome, and yes, that is key! It’s very simple. Go to the top of your screen and do a key word search. Since you write YA, start with that and any variation you can come up with. Any group that matches those settings will pop up. Send a join request and have fun! Good luck!

  5. Authors have to make the distinction between whether a review, even a bad one, is a critique of a book or a personal attack on the author by a troll/s. The trolls have gamed the review process and turned it into a platform from which to attack writers with the desired results to damage the reputations, careers and livelihood of indie writers. If authors respond it is marginalized as a disgruntled author unhappy with a poor review. This is how they get away with endless attacks on indie authors. the very best advice I have for any indie author is to avoid badreads and the Amazon forums like the plague. Once the trolls are on to an author they don’t let up. And badreads and Amazon supports and encourages the trolls by defending them and banning authors who complain of troll attacks. Make no mistake cyber-stalking, bullying and harassment are criminal activities that these troll indulge in constantly. Just as the whole high school stalking bullying and harassment came to light with a few suicides that’s what it’s gonna take to clean out the troll infestation at badreads and Amazon.

    • Well said! Yes, as authors we have to maintain our professionalism, no matter how much we’d like to correct a misconception posted in a review. But your best bet is to let it slide off your back, complain in private, and keep a straight face and smile in public. Replying does no good and can only stir up the hornets next. So what do you do when you see a hornets nest? Do you pick up a stick and poke at it, or do you just back away and head in the opposite direction? If your smart you get the heck out of there! In time, another positive review will come along and knock the bad one out of the water. And you have to believe your readers are smart. They can tell the difference between a review written out of actual dislike vs a review written out of spite. And who knows, some people like controversy enough that they will happily check it out to see what the fuss is about! 🙂

  6. Thanks for this post, M.J. I agree with ‘carmendesousa’. I looked a book up written by one of my favorite writers [the truly brilliant James Lee Burke] and was astounded to see a reviewer say, ‘worst read in 20 years’.

  7. Wonderful post on a sensitive topic. My first book is being read for reviews in a book group as we speak and I’m terrified of the results, but also very excited to hear the opinions of complete strangers. Just another aspect of a writer’s life. The fear, loathing and anticipation. 😀 Thanks again for the post.

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