Publishing Tales: Reviews

The dreaded bad review. It’s going to happen to every author, but the way an author reacts speaks volumes. You see it on social media often, an author posting or venting about a bad review. Every time I see it, I cringe.

See, reviews are for readers, and the prospective buyers, not us authors. But you’ll say next, how can we become better writers without reading reviews? Well, beta readers, critique partners, writing groups, hiring editors, and much more is out there. Reviews are not for us. Aside from the obvious that they are supposed to be for other readers, there are reasons authors should not screen them for feedback. Here’s why:

They probably won’t help your writing: The problem with trying to use reviews to become a better writer is they are subjective and so are you. Some authors will get angry or upset about what is said, particularly if it’s brutal. Second, not all readers know how to constructively critique in a way we can learn from; they are only saying what they liked and disliked—as they are supposed to. They don’t owe us a critique that outlines in literary terms what can help us improve. They are not editors.

They’re not a true spread of readership: Not a lot of readers actually leave reviews. Think about it. When you review a business it’s because you loved or hated your experience with them. The same for books—a satisfied reader might never leave a review, but if you knocked their socks off or you enraged them, you’ll get that review. In the end, you’ll get some middle ground reviews, but the majority is usually the best and worst.

They can change your writing: Sometimes it can help. For example, if a novel with grammatical errors or slow pacing has multiple reviews claiming they’re issues, an author could improve their skills or hire an editor next time. However, more often than not, if we take people’s tastes and alter our writing to suite it, we no longer are writing for ourselves. And is their fun in writing the way people want you to?

Writers reviewing writers: I’ve been conflicted about this for a while and discontinued my reviews. I had a couple authors appreciate my reviews because I give long, constructive feedback that is quite like critiquing with marketing hooks they can use. I’ve gotten bitten back a few times though—nothing terrible because I will let an author opt out of my review if I can’t give it 3 or more stars (if they reached out to me for a review). But I’m stuck wondering when they attack what professional reviewers praised whether they diverged in tastes or it’s payback for my criticisms. Because of this, I stopped. I had wanted to build lasting mutual supportive partnerships, but I think protecting myself from sensitive or competing writers might be more important at this juncture.

The only thing we really should be concerned about: getting reviews. The good, the bad, the in between, reviews help sales and algorithms to be seen. So be thankful for the 1 and 2 stars as much as the 4s and 5s. Each review helps and is not a personal attack on you. Even if you get a troll on Goodreads attacking you, let it lie. They gave you a review and inadvertently helped you. Move on. 

These are people’s opinions. Take or leave them. Personally, I have a hard time resisting if I notice them, but I don’t take them to heart, and I refuse to let them change my writing style intended for a specific type of reader. If they aren’t my readership, that’s fine. If I change my writing for readers, I no longer write for me. It no longer is fun. So I ignore reviews and never post negative ones or attack my readers.