I’ve always enjoyed the review process and giving and received constructive criticism. Over the years it’s helped me hone my craft and given me insight into other points of view and opinions.
Within the author community though, it’s always been a very shocking part of the process.
The advent of POD services has opened Pandora’s Box and no amount of whining about it is going to close it up again. This is quite possibly the best time in history to be a writer because of these technological innovations. eBooks have further opened up the talents of unknown authors to the masses eager to read new and unique perspectives.
There is of course a price for this new found liberty and that is a flood of writers that should perhaps learn how to weave a story. While grammar and spelling become an annoyance at times (myself included), a terrible story is a travesty.
This, of course, leads me to reviews. Over the past couple of years I’ve gone through highs and lows on how I feel about critics today. Far from being Jaime Kennedy in “Heckler”, I enjoy a bad review because it gives me the chance to review my own perception of my skill and investigate ways to improve it. Because of this, I spent a lot of time trying to find writers groups that don’t invest all of their time in self-deprecation or complaining.
One thing has become clear about reviews to me and here are my new rules for new (and old) writers.
#1 – If you get 1,2 or 5 star reviews…don’t bother reading them.
I know this seems harsh because we all have fans that genuinely love our work and believe me; I love them for supporting me. But even a 5 star review has very little information in it that will help you. It will, perhaps, encourage others to read your work, but it will do very little for you beyond inflating your ego. This might not seem like a bad thing…until you get the dreaded 1 star review.
“…it’s like a car wreck you can’t look away from.”
These kinds of reviews often baffle me, especially when followed up with;
“I’ve been trying to write a novel for 20 years and haven’t come close yet, so I greatly admire your accomplishment.”
Now, before I get into the obvious conclusion here, I do want to actually address this. This is something I do hear quite a lot from writers, even ones with healthy egos. 1 & 2 star reviews for something you like is akin to a slap in the face, which is fine if the work drove you to physical anger. But if the reviewer has admitted anywhere in the review that they enjoyed ANYTHING about the work, the rating becomes a personal attack based solely on bitterness.
So, to review; pay no attention to 1,2 and 5 star reviews and they just don’t help. Sometimes they’re even a cry for attention at your expense.
#2 – Pay close attention to 3 & 4 star reviews.
This may sound a little self-serving and trite, but it’s been my experience and an actual review at these star levels include positives and negatives, actual criticism and insight into how to improve your next effort. Obviously you can’t please everyone all of the time, but as you find your voice and find your niche, these reviews become a cornerstone of how to create better stories or more compelling characters. Not everyone has family and friends honest enough to give them ‘tough love’ criticism. So even those 3 star reviews that you wish you never received can be full of valuable insight.
#3 – Pay less attention to your “star rating” and more attention to your audience.
Not everyone takes the time to even click a star rating and while we have a wonderful community here to encourage that, people just don’t want or feel the need to review every little thing they pick-up. Create a facebook fan page, or a website if you have the talent or a designer friend. Give your audience every chance to interact with you and be welcome to the opinions they share with you. In radio they say that for every 1,000 listeners…1 person calls in. This is true across all media including novels. The internet may have created a more anonymous place to share your opinion, but some people are still cowed by the exposure that communicating with even a fledgling author may give them.
#4 – Don’t let reviews affect your mood
Great and terrible reviews can really set you on big highs and lows. As a writer, you’re going to be at least a little in touch with your feelings. While it’s easier to say than to do, try to read reviews as an impartial observer. It becomes less about your feelings and more about improving the work and future efforts. I’ve heard far too many writers call it quits because something they poured their heart and soul into was called garbage. That’s an opinion and the only power it has is the power you give it.
Just a final note to summarize and clarify; I want writers to have their voices heard and while we can’t control what people say about how that voice takes form, we can control how we react to it.
If you’re a self-published author, do everything you can within the confines of your time and budget to produce the best product you can. Amazon’s acquisition of createspace.com, kindle integration and their recent purchase of goodreads.com has all turned writing into the wild west. Your work will find an audience, it’s just a matter of getting them to find you.
Establishing a fan base isn’t nearly as terrifying a prospect as it used to be. Use social media, forums, blogs and free newspapers to get your name out there. In the process, understand that there’s also a new saying to go along with this new frontier; “haters are gonna hate”. Try to keep that in mind and remember that a bad review is still a review and still encourages people to read your work…especially when that reviewer has given a negative one about an author they already love.