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As any avid reader knows, picking your next read is often a crap shoot unless you know an author’s work, either from personal experience or the recommendation of a friend. Beyond that, you have no choice but to search among the veritable endless supply of books available, hoping you chose well and spent wisely. Because I hate finding out that what little my money I can afford to spend on books was wasted on one not to my tastes, I tend to be pretty picky about choosing what I’m going to read, and approach my hunt with a system of sorts.
For me, it begins with a cover that appeals to me, followed by a description that intrigues me. But, even with an appealing cover and an intriguing description, there is no guarantee it will be a good read, so I often find myself turning to the number of positive reviews, the quality of those reviews, and the balance of good versus bad reviews.
And this is where my rant begins…
A review is a subjective thing – it is based on a reader’s experience with a book. That experience is a composite of the plot’s ability to fascinate them, the character’s ability to gain the reader’s empathy and loyalty, and the writer’s style being able to draw the reader into their world. No two readers will experience a book exactly the same way. Each reader will engage with the story and character’s differently, and, as such, will come away from the experience of that story with a different opinion.
Those opinions are what a writer lives for – the feedback from a reader that tells them if they succeeded in telling a good story and giving a reader an enjoyable experience.
In an ideal world, no author ever gets a bad review. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, it goes without saying that bad reviews happen. Every author dreads seeing them, but they are also not so naive as to not expect them. It’s part and parcel of the creative world they live in. You write it, you put it out there, and you hope like hell that most people enjoy it. When you come across those who didn’t enjoy it, you thank them for taking the time to read it, and move on.
What you do – not – do is flame the readers who did not enjoy your work.
Flaming a reader for leaving a bad review is author suicide. Why? Because it is arrogant to assume you, out of all other authors, don’t deserve negative reviews. Because it is unprofessional to attack your consumer base for not liking your product. Because it is egotistical to think that you have the right to tell someone else that they cannot express their opinion. And, finally, because in the end, your future customer base will be forming a negative opinion of YOU the author based on how you treat your readers, even those who didn’t enjoy your work, and that will most definitely impact your sales.
Look, I understand that it is hard to read someone saying negative things about something you slaved over. I understand that if someone assassinates your work with harsh criticism, calling is crap, that it hurts your feelings and your pride, but that is their opinion and they are entitled to it. Could they have been kinder in the way they stated it? Of course they could have. Could they have chosen not to post a review at all, since it would have been negative? Sure – but consider how unbalanced it looks if they don’t.
Remember earlier, when I said I look at the number of reviews, the quality of those reviews, and the balance of good versus bad reviews? There is a reason those factors play a roll in how I, the reader, choose my next book.
When I see a large number of reviews have been submitted for a book, especially a fairly recently published book, it tells me people are talking about it. Something about that book, that experience, motivated a need to express their feelings about that experience. In my opinion, that’s good. Seeing that makes me want to see what they are saying and find out what caused it. Was it a controversial subject? Is one of the characters very unique? Is the story line, setting, or style unique? Something has all those people buzzing and posting, and I will look deeper to learn why.
When I look through the reviews and see a healthy mixture of review styles, I consider that a positive as well, because it tells me that those people actually read the book (as opposed to fake review posting by people being paid or rewarded for review-count-stuffing). A healthy mixture of short, simple reviews with longer, in depth reviews, tells me that the book is being read, by a wide variety of people, which is a positive to me.
And when I see a balanced mixture of positive and negative reviews, it tells me that the author is not afraid to take criticism. It shows me that they have the backbone to let their work stand on its own two feet, for good or bad. It also tells me that the author is smart enough to realize that not every reader is going to like their story, their style, their characters, and that they can deal with it.
But, there is another factor that helps me determine if I will read a book or not – the author’s response to bad reviews.
I can honestly say that when I see an author flame a reviewer for leaving a bad review, it is a massive turn off. I don’t have a problem with an author responding to someone attacking them personally – that’s different – but if the reviewer kept their opinions, negative or not, to the story and their experience with it, then they are within their right as a consumer of that product to express that opinion and not fear public humiliation, harassment, insults, or being tarred and feathered by the producer (the author). If I see an author verbally attack a reader who left a negative review, I will not – ever – buy their work, because I feel that they just inadvertently bullied one of their readers – and I can’t support someone who does that.
I know my opinion may not go over well with some, and I understand if anyone who reads this (reader and author alike) disagrees with me. I don’t ask for approval or applause for my opinion, I simply state it because I felt strongly about the subject and needed to rant to the cosmos at large about the topic. So, if I offend anyone, I apologize in advance for the unintentional affront. But, beyond that, I won’t apologize.
I am not only an avid reader, I am a writer, so I appreciate the value of a review and the power it holds over an author’s ability to sell their book. When I write a review, I am mindful of the need to be specific in stating my opinion, to ensure that whoever may read my review gets an honest, unbiased view of my experience with that particular work. I purposely sum up the basics of the story, without giving spoilers, to give a better view of what type of story it will be. I make a concerted effort to detail both the positives and the negatives of my experience with that story, and I take the time, even if it means dozens of edits and rewrites, to use language that is neither attacking nor insulting (in the case of negatives). I want my review to be an honest statement of my experience, be it a good experience or a bad one.
All that being said, in the end, it is still just someone’s opinion of their experience with a book.
I don’t think expressing that opinion is worthy of being verbally attacked, harassed, embarrassed, humiliated, or bullied by an author.
And any author who *does* feel that a reader expressing an honest opinion of their work is reason to go on the attack needs to do a reality check – you are not Stephen King – and even if you *were*, you would still not be perfect.
Get over it and act like the professional you’re supposed to be.
You’re an author.
Act like one and don’t embarrass the rest of us.
~ G ~