Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reviews are not for authors

By Steve Weddle

OK. Look. You don't need me to tell you what to do. You don't need me to spew out a list of nine things you need to do in order to be a writer. Or three ways to deal with bad press. You're kinda awesome, and you should probably be reading some Roxanne Gay or William Boyle or writing something yourself instead of reading another silly, generic list on a blog.

What you shouldn't be doing, of course, is reading your own reviews.

Recently, with all of the Authors Behaving Badly news, the stalking, the attack on Vine reviewers, etc, you people have kinda gotten out of control. You authors, I mean. You're weird.

So I'm supposed to give you a bunch of reasons you shouldn't respond to bad reviews? Well, I'm torn on that one because you should respond to criticism of your work, but you probably shouldn't be reading reviews -- good, bad, lavender.

Let's go with responding to reviews and work our way back.

Once you put your book out there, you've lost control. Most authors will tell you that. What do you hope to gain by responding to a "bad" review. I mean, having someone dislike a thing you wrote? That's not a bad review. That's normal. The world doesn't exist to make you happy, pumpkin.
I was fortunate to get some great press and some great reviews early on for Country Hardball. And I read the reviews that first week or so. I read reviews in the papers. I read reviews at Goodreads. I mean, I'd worked for a long time on this book. What would The World think of it, you know?
But, if someone in a one-star says, "I've lived in Arizona my whole life and this isn't any Arizona I know. The author has clearly never even been here" -- am I obligated to comment, "Thanks for reading, but the stories take place in Arkansas, not Arizona. Those state abbreviations can get confusing. Cheers."?

Or if someone complains that they gave up on page three, should I comment that things really start picking up on page five?

Or if they say that they hate the book because it says the Fauxville tornado hit in 1931 and they know damn well that it hit in 1932 because that's when Grandpa Hezzie lost his leg, should I post links to news article proving they're wrong?

If you're reading reviews of your own book, what is the problem you're trying to solve? You need to know what people listened to in 1948 Chicago, so you do some research. You want a better word for "transcend," so you grab a thesaurus. What is it that you need to get from reading reviews on Amazon or Goodreads?

Do you need to know that people like your book? Didn't your 13 beta readers like it? Your agent? Your editor? People at Green Gulch Publishing, a division of Simon House? Copy editors? Those people who interviewed you? The nice lady who invited you to her book club? The other nice lady who invited you to read at Ye Olde Booke Shoppe? The guy at Books by the Brook? All those people liked your book, yeah? So you need to make sure everyone liked it? Pumpkin, we've been over this. You could donate eight gagillion dollars to cure cancer in orphans and people would still say, "Hunh. Must be nice to have that kind of money." You ain't gonna be loved by everybody. Hell, there's probably people out there who don't like ME! (I know, right?)

So why are you reading reviews? Are you looking for bad ones? Are you waiting for Them to find out that you're a fraud? Come on, you're supposed to handle those fears in your dreams, not out here.

People like your book. Not everyone, of course. But some folks are assholes, you know? What are you gonna do?

I'm thinking reading "good" reviews are just as problematic.

Someone likes this thing you did? That's great. So there you are, reading along, and the Goodreads review says the reader liked the way you handled Nadia's accent. Hunh. That's weird. You hadn't really thought she'd had an accent. Maybe you should go back and read that part again. Or this nice reader over here said she was hoping for a Marcus spinoff and maybe some more on the backstory of the manicorns. Well, yeah. That's not what you're writing now, but maybe you should set this aside to write that. Or, wait, here's another review that says you're the next Delilah S. Dawson. Well, that's cool. You hadn't thought of this book in those terms. Wonder what the reader meant by that. The worldbuilding? The character building?

Why, in the name of Walt Frickin Whitman, are you doing this to yourself?

Why aren't you writing the next book? The next novel? Why are you reading your Amazon reviews?

I think it's super cool and nice if someone takes the trouble to blog up a review of something I've written. If it seems like a good idea, maybe I shoot that person a quick email of thanks. Some authors post a "thanks" in them comments, which seems a little stalkery to me, though I don't know why. It just kinda has that "I'm watching you" vibe. I dunno. Whatever you do it cool. You don't need me to tell you that.

And some authors troll the internet and set up alerts so that they can RT links to every single nice thing anyone has ever said about their books. Your Twitter followers and FB pals probably already know you wrote a book and maybe they've read it. So I'm not sure what the point is to this preaching-to-the-choir thing. Maybe so they'll RT your RT of a positive review? I dunno.

Mainly, though, shouldn't you be writing?

You should FOR MOST SURE CERTAINLY respond to criticism. To me, though, it makes sense to do this before your book comes out. If a beta reader doesn't like this part or that part, maybe look at that part. If your agent or editor thinks you should work on a Marcus spinoff, maybe think about that.

But trolling around on the internet after your book is out? I mean, what can you do about it then except make yourself sick over it? Turn the internet off and get back to writing the next book, yeah? I mean, after you post a comment here, of course.

A book review is meant to tell people whether they should read the book. Will they like it? Does it have too much humpy-time or thin characters? Is it superballz awesome? Reviews are for people who might read your book. Reviews are not for authors -- they're for readers. Good reviews. Bad reviews. Doesn't matter. For an author, they're all bad reviews because they're not for you.

Anyway, hugs and all. And stop being a dumbass, pumpkin. You're better than that.


Kristi said...

everything you said is spot on - you're totally, 100 percent right. but I still don't know HOW to stop reading my reviews. It sucks. I hate it. But I can't stop reading them. At least not yet. I even appointed my husband as "troll buster" -- he is supposed to read my reviews and pass good ones on to me. And yet. I still read them. It's a sickness, I know. : )

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks. I totally get that, too. I guess I just got to a point reading a GR review where I thought, "hunh, why am i doing this to myself? it isn't making me happy."
The first week I was just kinda stoked that people were reading the book. After that I ran into a couple reviews that sorta showed me that maybe reading reviews wasn't going to do me any good, you know, because I'm not the audience.
I read tons of reviews, just of books that I might read, not of books that I've written. Life is weird.

Kristopher said...

All great points Steve - and well-written to boot. ;)

Reviews really are intended for readers. When I write a review on my blog, I am always conscious of the fact that I am trying to let people know enough about the book so they can decide if it is right for them. As such, I always try to avoid spoilers - what would be the point of reading the book if I tell you all the important stuff?

But in the end, it is just one person's opinion. As a reader, I don't read Amazon or GR reviews, because it is not helpful to me if I don't "know" the person doing the review. I don't know that they are not going to "spoil" the book or complain about the Kindle price.

I always suggest readers explore some blogs, newspaper reviews, etc. Once you find someone who seems to have similar interests as you, trust that reviewer. Sure, I hope that reviewer might be me, but I also know that my reviews are not right for everyone. My tastes are eclectic to say the least, but they still will not match up with everyone's.

I know my review is only my opinion. That is what a review is. I also know that I don't like to write negative things, so I chose only to talk about the books I do like. That's just who I am. Most authors know that, so they know if I wrote a review, it was because I enjoyed the book. I often get notes of thanks or comments about the review. I appreciate that but don't expect it. The review was really for other readers.

Alan Orloff said...

Good points, all. I have an idea. I'll read your reviews and you can read mine. I just want to know that nobody is going to come after me and my family with a machete.

Nigel Bird said...

Adding this to my favourites bar, Pumpkin, just to remind myself.

Steve Weddle said...

Finding reviewers you trust is a great point. Maybe someday we should talk about finding those trusted reviews.

Yeah. Keep your head down.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

I have long said find the reviewers you think know what they are talking about and ignore the fact they are on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Some of us on Amazon and Goodreads and elsewhere actually use our own names making it easier for readers to consider our body of work.

And as a reviewer that gets over 100 queries on a slow week, do not write em and tell me you are offering me an opportunity to help promote your book. It isn't my job to promote your book.

(who should be working on his own fiction instead of reading books, interesting blogs like this, etc)

Fred Zackel said...

Thanks, Steve, for some true wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Are we talking about "published" reviews (Kirkus, Book List)or Amazon/Good Reads reviews? There's a difference, yeah?

What about self-published authors who use the "published" reviews as means of self-promotion? Is it not a good idea to tweet out a link to a good review? (the aforementioned self-published author probably wouldn't send out a blast if the review was bad, right?)

Perhaps the review might give that author's readers and non-readers and people who never read and casual friends and acquaintances and trolls and people the self-published author has never met an objective perspective about the book, no? Couldn't a link to the review help the self-published author lend a third-party opinion in lieu of constantly drilling everyone with tweets about how awesome his or her book is???

There are certainly many other means of self-promotion, but I think, if done sparingly and tastefully enough, it's not such a bad idea for the self-published (or any published) author to send out a tweet or let the good people of FB know that there's a reviewer out there who thinks kindly of their story/book...