Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Reviews

As a writer, your novels become your children.  You’re blind to their faults, but you know they’re there.  It’s okay if you notice the imperfections and make an effort to correct them, but when others shine a light on them, you become protective, defensive, possibly even a little agitated.  It’s somewhat natural for writers to feel this way.  After spending months, or even years, crafting your novel and exposing your innermost thoughts and imagination, you become proud of the total work.  The characters become real. The story, even if fiction, begins to border on reality. So, when a review is posted highlighting your misuse of tense in chapter 9, you begin to wonder why you expose yourself to such rigorous inspection.   
       Here’s why.  As much as you disdain nitpicky criticism, you need it to improve.  Just as runners strive for faster times and climbers pursue higher peaks, writers seek approval that can only come from constantly improving their product.  There is a unique difference for writers, though.  Runners face their time, and climbers face the terrain above them, but writers face the opinions of hundreds, hopefully thousands, of readers.   For writers, it’s a numbers game.  You will never please everyone, but for some reason, writers will always try.   You may have dozens of five-star ratings on Amazon, but it’s the few two-star ratings that will have you reading and re-reading their comments, analyzing their credibility and accuracy. 
       In the end, there’s only one thing worse than getting a bad review -- it’s getting too few.  We need the feedback.  We want to know that readers care about what we write.  We log on every day to Amazon and goodreads to see how many and what kind of reviews we’ve received.  When we get an especially good one, we wave it triumphantly like a flag on our Facebook page for all to see.
       Still, our novels are our children.  We bring them to life.  We direct their future.  It’s up to us to determine how and if we use the feedback to continue shaping them.  We only hope readers will continue to share their thoughts and give us that chance.        


  1. Every writer despairs about reviews - I think our only hope is to admit that they are for readers, not for writers. Unless persistent reviews point up faults in our writing (which our publishers and editors should really have picked up before publication), then there's not a lot we can learn from them. I try to see them as more of a guide to other readers who might enjoy, or, conversely, be enraged beyond mortal understanding by, our work.

  2. I agree with your overall subject that reviews are something we "love, hate, need", though I'm coming from a somewhat inexperienced place and not one that I can complain about. I published my debut poetry collection last month and I currently have two reviews - 4 & 5 star, yeah! - but I have done more reviews myself. I feel poetry is an especially tricky subject to review because of its subjective nature.

    As a new author myself I especially need reviews but I would have to say in large part for the readers as Jane commented. I know myself when you look up a book it helps, even if you don't read the reviews themselves, to see that SOMEONE has reviewed the book at all because that is your proof that it's being read. It's the same for me with products. I'll feel better if I'm looking for a dishwasher and see that 368 people left reviews than no one.

    But then again with writing reviews are so subjective without knowing about the person who left it you kind of take a chance when you listen to a review. I think that's the usefulness of being able to rate reviews as useful or not. It would be nice to know if a book has a bad review because it's really slow and uninteresting despite what its synopsis says or if it got a bad review because of improper use of tense, for example.

    Also, I don't always pay attention to reviews. If I read a fiction synopsis that appeals to me then I'll probably pick up the book, especially if it's an e-book (cheaper). When it comes to non-fiction however I may pay a little more attention; they can also help with poetry if the synopsis doesn't give a clear picture of what kind of poetry they wrote, then again samples clear that up.

    All-in-all anything to do with people's opinions gets messy really quickly! Maybe you get a bad review because people don't like your character's name or just don't like your subject. And even if you don't agree with the review, or they don't happen to do anything for you, I think it's nice to get feedback and hear what impact your writing is having. Very rewarding!

    author of "That Which Lives Within"

  3. As a reader, I post reviews as a way of reminding me of what I liked and didn't like about a book. I lose track after a month or two goes by and it helps me determine if I'd read this author again. If the author or other readers benefit from my comments, all the better. But, I doubt Grisham is hanging on my every word :)