Monday, February 22, 2016

What's in a review? How readers and authors interact,

Ahoy lovely readers!

It's a rainy Monday here down South, which is the perfect atmosphere for some bloggin'. I had a Fiction Feature cancel on me, so I've decided to do something you don't really see on my blog: actual blog posts about writing and stuff. I'll make a conscious effort to do more of these from now on, as this one was fun to write.

So, first writing topic of 2016 will be: Book Reviews!

If you're friends with any author on social media, you've probably read the "book reviews are authors' gold" sort of thing. I'd love to be able to spurn these self-promoting authors...actually, no, I don't. Being an indie author is tough work, and it takes a lot of guts and dignity hiding to shamelessly promote one's work all hours of the day. And, sadly, those authors are right: book reviews are everything for authors.

But it's a lot more than a rankings boost, Reviews establish the relationship an author will have with its readers. It gives other readers insight on more than just whether or not the book will be worth a read. Oftentimes, it gives the readers insight on how the book starts, what the tone is like, and how the pacing is throughout the book. Potential readers can see how the book feels without giving away any spoilers (usually.) Reviews used to be the reader's voice and take on a book with no insight or explanation from the author.

Then reviews on the Internet came about. For the most part, authors are still good with not responding to online reviews, save the few "Thank you so much!" kinds of comments. Those kinds of responses are fine, but when it starts turning into an explanation from the author, it needs to be shut down. Even the comments from authors that are like "Well, I delayed the plot at this point because...." Nope. That review section ain't a creative writing workshop.

"But why, Fred? What's wrong with an author explaining his/her reasons for doing something?"

Good question, dear reader, and I have your answer. It's a slippery slope with those kinds of things. Writing is a very personal profession. Authors have these stories that came from the recesses of our imaginations. A bit of our soul resides in each character, and there's probably very few things we care about more than our stories. Querying for publishers and agents is nerve-wracking enough, but actually publishing the book for the masses to read is a true act of humility.

And that brings about a defensive side for most authors. Not gonna lie, when I saw my first one-star Review on Goodreads, I got really sad. Someone out there didn't like my book? How could they, when I spent years on that story?! Do they not realize how much heart and soul went into my story? But, instead of telling the reader all of this, I reread what they had to say. For funsies, I'll go ahead and post what they put:

"Wanted to like it, but couldn't finish it. Characters didn't feel real and events were choppy."

I started by looking at the positives in the comment. The reader wanted to like my story. That's good, right? My synopsis was strong enough for this person to purchase and read my novel. Great!

Then I read into the criticism. I didn't find the remarks insulting or uncalled for. My characters didn't feel real. That's a valid point, honestly. I knew I published Lucid a little too quickly and should have had more time to revise. If anything, this comment and my own realization caused me to be more careful with Reverie and develop my characters better for the sequel.

With the part about having choppy events, I frowned a bit, I won't even lie. Most of my first book takes place in a dream journal, which usually do read choppily. I wanted the first half of the book to emulate that while having Devon slowly delve into the dream world. But the first half of the book should rope a reader in from the beginning, and I clearly failed on that aspect. Again, I used that bit of information to make my sequel run a little more smoothly this time around.

The best thing I did was look up a famous author's reviews on Goodreads. I chose The Lightning Thief from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and guess what I saw? A whole slew of one-star ratings for that beautiful book! If Uncle Rick gets one-star reviews, then it must be a rite of passage for authors to get some negative feedback. And that's OK! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Well, every one-star rating for your first book will help you get more 5-star ratings for your next! Progress, y'all~

Me writing Lucid 

My personal story of battling with reviews is just one of the millions of authors who probably did the same thing. I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't respond to negative reviews, and I even applaud the people who take the time to thank readers for the positive ones. My recommended course of action is to smile at the good ones and learn from the bad ones.

A wonderful lesson on what not to do comes in a form of the comments war about a Goodreads book from the Tales of Onora series. The comments have since been deleted, but this lovely blog writer immortalized the situation on her own site. You can check out the full story here:

Now that I've given authors a good talkin to on how to handle negative reviews, I'll turn to the readers for a bit. I, too, am a reader (gasp!) and I sometimes come across books I really despise. It might be a wonderful book for others, but for me, it's just not my cup of tea. When reviewing said books, I always try to remain civil. Refrain from personal attacks on the author who did put in lots of time and love to write this story. Keep it civil, constructive, and think about how you'd respond if someone said the same thing about your line of work. That way, the author-reader relationship can remain a happy and progressive one, even during the Age of Trolling on the Internet :)

So, keep on reading and reviewing! Authors love feedback, and want it in all shapes and sizes!

And until next time, keep readin' and dreamin'!



  1. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading that. I can so identify with the horrible feeling of a bad review. I think the ones that bother me more are not bad reviews from strangers but less than great reviews from friends. But I never respond badly because that's their own feeling and I can't judge. There are certain books I read which just don't do it for me yet other people love them. I loved the way you took the bad review on your first book to heart. That took great courage and humility!

    1. thanks! the not-so-stellar reviews from friends are definitely the worst!