Today we have a guest post from J.S Wayne who is here to talk to us about reviews and why they matter.
Why Reviews Matter
By J.S. Wayne
A lot of writers tend to be very polarized on the subject of reviews, reviewing, and reviewers. The views seem to fall in a continuum of “I love reviewers because they help me get my work out in the public eye” or “I hate reviewers because they never have anything nice to say.” Regardless of your personal thoughts about critics and reviewers, they really do serve an important and necessary function for the modern writer.
Reviewers are a writer’s best friend and worst enemy. When a writer scores a great review, especially from an established review site or publication, the benefits are worth their weight in gold. When a reviewer pans a book, a writer is confronted with the awkward problem of having someone call your brain child ugly. This is the point where things can get outright nasty very, very quickly.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about authors behaving badly when it came to dealing with negative reviews. Some reading this may actually have contributed to these urban legends. Some reviewers, in all fairness, do seem to take a wholly unreasonable amount of delight in being as nasty as possible about anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow paradigm of what a good book should be. Be that as it may, even a bad review can attract attention, but there’s no value added in getting into a shouting match with a reviewer just because you disagree.
A good review, or even a bad one from a reviewer with a reputation for fairness and balanced reviews, can be a boon to a writer. A good review, first and foremost, is an honest one! A sycophantic “I loved absolutely everything about this book” comes off as disingenuous, even if it’s absolutely true. Reviewers don’t pick up a book looking for something to hate, but they do take their task seriously. Having been on both sides of that particular pen, I can attest that being a reviewer is serious business. The reviewer is putting their reputation on the line with their readers every time they recommend a book, so they’ve got to be as honest as they possibly can.
You can tell a good review because of the way it’s phrased. There are a hundred ways to say “I didn’t much care for this” without being a jerk about it. Some people seem to enjoy finding the thousand ways there are to say the same thing without troubling to be nice about it or talk about the book’s saving graces. They didn’t like it and goddamnit, they want to make sure no one else buys this piece of shit!
A good review gives real, honest information that the author can use to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and most importantly WHY! Why does this character fall flat, while that character charms and beguiles? What makes this character laugh-out-loud funny while that character can’t manage a funny line to save their immortal soul? A bad review will become clear pretty quickly because it’s all snark and venom.
Honestly, if a book is that bad, I won’t review it publicly. I will email the author privately and tell them my issues. Then at the very least, I haven’t publicly mauled the author and created a possibly tetchy situation that demands some kind of reprisal. If they don’t like what I have to say, they can flame my inbox rather than my blog, a site on which I’m doing a guest review, and my private comments stay private.
Now, of course, there are those authors who can’t see anything below four stars without breathing deeply into a paper bag and demanding the reviewer’s head on a pike. To these authors, I say: You better toughen the fuck up, Buttercup. If you can’t deal with a one-star review at this stage of the game, how are you going to cope when the literary reviewers you’re dealing with become bigger, and nastier, and have absolutely nothing to lose by eviscerating your work in front of God and the entire immediate universe? There are reviewers who people read just to see who the latest author on the spit is. If your ego is so fragile you can’t deal, then you probably should investigate other possible ways of making a living. Giving enemas to rabid chimpanzees would be marginally safer, and probably pays a lot better on balance, too!
With that said, I can speak with authority on the subject because I’ve had my meltdowns over one-star reviews. I’ve been on the side of the pen that GAVE a one-star review! One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re getting more fours and fives than ones and twos, or most damning of all the dreaded three, then you’re probably in pretty good shape. If you’re not, now is the time to seek out some serious advice from a friend who knows the craft and cares enough about you not to bullshit or pussyfoot around what’s wrong with what you’re doing. If you’ve got the extra money, hiring a professional editor and LISTENING TO THEM is also a good way to get around the land mines.
Reviewers generally aren’t inherently bad people. Quite the opposite, in fact. But it should always be remembered that they ARE people, and when they give their honest opinion of your work, they’re trying to do you and the reading public a service. Going toe to toe doesn’t help, but a polite “Thanks for the review” will mark you with the reviewer and the general public as someone who can deal with these situations tactfully and gracefully. Reviews matter because they give you pointers on what a reader is seeing in your work…and not. You should never let them chase you away from your dream, but you SHOULD always remember that what they say is one person’s opinion.
If all else fails and you can’t say anything nice, walk away and rant and rave where Jack and Jill Reader can’t see you.
Until next time,