Oh those reviews!

by Ellie Ferguson

(Let’s give a warm welcome to Ellie this morning. Her current book, Wedding Bell Blues, is available through Amazon. Her next book — and, sigh, we can’t agree on a title yet — will be available through NRP’s webstore, Amazon, BN and other outlets next month. — Amanda)

Good morning! When the Mad Geniuses asked if I wanted to blog today to help promote my new book, I jumped at the chance. After all, I’m a writer. Doing a blog should be easy, right? Of course, I oh-so-conveniently forgot two things: first, I’m a lousy blogger. That’s why I don’t have a blog no matter how much Amanda tells me I need one. The second thing is that I hate doing promotions. That’s why I always laugh when I read Sarah talking about how she hates doing it. It’s as if she’d read my mind. What I wouldn’t give for my own pet publicist. Unfortunately, my cat just won’t cooperate. Even if she agreed, I’m not sure I could afford all the special  cat food she’d demand in return. Knowing her, she’d want fresh caught tuna as well as caviar, all served in a gold dish. Did I say my cat’s a bit spoiled. Oh, wait, she’s a house cat. Spoiled is a given.

Anyway…I was all set to promote my next book. It’s not exactly a sequel to Wedding Bell Blues, but it is another romantic suspense.  Nothing heavy, just a fun book with characters you like — I hope.

That caveat is added because, no matter what we do as writers, there will always be someone who doesn’t like or doesn’t understand what we’ve written. All you have to do is look at the reviews of most books to see I’m right. It’s up to us not to let the reviews get to us.

That’s a trap I fell into early on. After Wedding Bell Blues came out, Naked Reader Press published a couple of my short stories. One Amazon review had me scrambling for the phone to call Amanda to find out what I’d done wrong. One star. My heart fell and I felt sick to my stomach. A reader hated me because he hated my story. It didn’t matter that the reviewer clearly hadn’t read the description of the story. Heck, I’m not sure he even read the story. But he hated my baby. I’d done something wrong.

I obsessed and quit writing because I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. The folks at Naked Reader kept at me, offering me bribes of chocolate and coffees and even treats for the cat — who still hasn’t forgiven me for turning the latter down. Sigh. Do you know how dangerous it is to live with a cat who has been denied a bribe she really want? — to get back to the computer. Finally, they resulted to the big guns. They sicced Sarah on me (Hi, Sarah!) who quickly told me to quit reading reviews and just write.

Now, this isn’t a “woe is me” post. In fact, it isn’t even one telling you not to read your reviews. They do have their place. What it is is a post telling you not to take them so much to heart that they paralyze you. What you have to remember is no two people will get the same thing out of your book and you can never tell who will review it, especially on sites like Amazon and Good Reads, to name two.

If you don’t believe me, read the reviews for Wedding Bell Blues. They range from 5 stars to 1 star. There are complaints because there’s not enough sex and complaints because the sex is too explicit (that one had me in hysterics. If you had any idea how hard it is for me to write sex, you’d understand. I like my sex like my violence, alluded to, nice build ups and then behind closed doors. Guess I’ll never make a good voyeur.) One person hates the fact there is so much cussing in the book. A couple I’m not sure they read the book I wrote.

My favorite review is from someone who doesn’t read romantic suspense. It’s a three star review. But he enjoyed the book. More importantly, his criticisms were valid and things I’ve kept in mind on subsequent work. It was a thoughtful and well thought out review. Hey, let’s face it, if I can get a guy who doesn’t read this sort of book to read it all the way through and not want to kill me at the end, I’m doing good, right?

I printed out that review and have it hanging near my computer, reminding me not to take the bad reviews to heart but also reminding me that my writing isn’t perfect and there are things I need to work on.

The good reviews are wonderful ego boosters. The bad reviews sometimes leave me shaking my head. But they also give me a good laugh because, after a few minutes of asking myself if they have a good point, I know there isn’t anything I can do. Some people just aren’t going to like the sort of book Wedding is. It’s romantic suspense with comedy mixed in. The characters aren’t perfect, but each one is based on someone I know. It’s a novel without any aspirations of being the Next Great Novel.

I guess what I’m saying is to make your own choice as to what you are going to do about your reviews. Read them or don’t. But never, ever let them keep you from writing.

8 comments

  1. There are really two aspects to reviews: their effect on (other) prospective buyers, and what the writer gets out of them. The first you have no control over whether they’re encouraging or discouraging, so it’s best to put it out of your mind, or at most grimace a bit when somebody gives the book only one star.

    For the writer, all reviews and critique are or can be useful if you start with the assumption that the reviewer is honestly expressing his or her views. That is the impact you made on that particular reader, for good or ill, and it should be taken into account based on what you intended to do. From that point of view, whether a review is glowing or scathing is irrelevant. A reviewer offering fulsome compliments on your space battles who remarks approvingly that the romance is kept in the background is negative feedback — if what you intended was that the interactions between LT Hunk and Ensign Sweetcheeks be the focus of the story. A bitterly scathing review of the same story, complaining that the “luv” detracted from the battles, is confirmation that you accomplished what you intended in the writing.

    In my own case, I got several reviews bitterly denouncing the abruptness of the ending. I didn’t like that that resulted in one or two stars rather than five, but the reviews made me smile because that’s exactly how I’d intended to structure the book — as a long, slow buildup to a sudden denouement. I did it on purpose, for reasons of my own, and the insults were confirmation that I’d done exactly what I wanted to.

    Tone and attitude can affect your application of that principle, but in reviews as in real life it’s worth remembering that some people aren’t very nice, and that the anonymity of the Internet means nasty people can let it all hang out with no penalty. Don’t let a*holes control your mental state, hmmm?

    Regards,
    Ric

    1. Ric, how very true, especially your last comment 😉

      I try to remind myself that the reviewer is giving their honest opinion, but when you get comments that are so far out in left field that you wonder if they actually read the short story or novel, it’s hard.

  2. Hi Ellie,
    I can’t read my reviews, period. As much as I hate to sound like a fragile flower, I AM one. A bad review, no matter how insane, gets me blocked for months, for the same reason I feel embarrassed and vaguely guilty when I get a gift from someone that doesn’t fit me in any way. I’ll sit there going “What did I do or say that made so and so think I wanted snail forks for my birthday?” However, when these are pushed in my face, my favorites are the ones, good and bad, that invent whole new characters. “I hated this book. Her talking cat is just annoying” is as good as “I loved this book. The haunted fork is the best character ever.” I’ll sit there scratching my head and going “I don’t know what you were smoking when you read my book, but sister why didn’t you share?” (And usually the rest of the description makes it clear they read the book. Just possibly under the influence.) Then there is, as Ric mentions, the ones who like your book for all the wrong reasons. Weirdly, I don’t get many of those. Usually the people who like or hate my books do it for the best of reasons.
    Then there are, sometimes, people who hate my books because they fastened onto one aspect of it like bulldogs. There are any number of people who hate the fact Thena swears. Fine then. A lot of romance readers hate the fact there is no explicit sex. The idea of having Kit and Thena perform in public makes both of them threaten to kill me, and you know those two. Even if they’re theoretically imaginary, I wouldn’t tempt fate. And any number of people think Thena is a brat and hate her. They clearly missed the character buildup, etc. Fine. Nothing I can do about it.
    Alma Alexander, at a con, said that each book you write will be someone’s favorite and someone’s pet hatred, and it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. I try to remember that.
    Oh, and my cats won’t promote for me, either. I’ve tried. Slinky McEvil (aka D’Artagnan) has offered to be my agent, but I smacked his nose with the rolled up newspaper. There should be limits to evil, after all. 🙂

  3. Sarah was talking about wreckers last week or so. That’s the same sort of thing as many “reviews” isn’t it? They seem to come in two sorts… the ones I see sometimes that are basically “this is stupid and anyone who wastes their time on it proves that our whole society is falling apart, not like it used to be when people didn’t like such garbage”. And that’s essentially a different way of saying “Hey you! I’m smart and cultured! Look how smart and cultured I am!” It can go for anything… books, movies, tv shows or music.

    The other sort sounds legitimate because it sounds thoughtful, like they really know what they’re talking about. But anyone could do it for anything, no matter how well done. I certainly could. Instead of being honest about objections being a matter of taste it’s all so analytical that it catches a person off guard. Once way back when usenet news was the whole internet I read someone tearing apart one of Lois Bujold’s Miles books. This might have been on misc.writing, before misc.rec.sf.composition even existed. Everything was analyzed and found lacking; prose, plot, descriptions; but in the end it was just another “look at me and how cultured I am” excuse for disparaging a particular sub-genre. (Sci-fi was still in the midst of a self-image crisis at the time, where I’d never have dared to use the term “sci-fi”… perhaps others recall.)

    If someone can do that to Bujold, they can do it to you. And they can make it sound like they really know what they’re talking about.

    1. Oh, yes.

      The essence of bullying is that the bully can’t create, and uses destruction as a way to assert ownership (and superiority) over the creative. From kicking over sand castles to the sort of pseudointellectual exercise you describe, it’s all bullying.

      Regards,
      Ric

    2. Synova, what a wonderful example. You’re so right, too. That is exactly how so many reviews, and not just the ones for my stuff, strike me. But it doesn’t make those reviews any less toxic. In fact, the latter ones are often the hardest to get past because they do, at least on the surface, sound valid.

  4. 😀 The first review of mine that I read was marvelous. I printed it out, stuck it on the wall and have used it as an antidote for the bad ones, ever since. Well, until the last move-of-office, when it got lost. So I may have to find a new good one.

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