Reviews can be a necessary evil for authors. They’re great for getting the news out about your story but they can have their drawbacks. On the one hand, you want to know what people are thinking about your story, but on the other hand (especially if your ego is very fragile) it can be painful to hear that someone didn’t like your precious manuscript.
Admittedly, we live in a very unfiltered society, and some people don’t mind being deliberately rude or unkind, but I still think that there is something to be garnered from most reviews. It is easy to ignore one or two that have a negative comment, especially since it seems that some folks don’t hesitate to ask friends or hire people to try to post negative reviews to sabotage an author (something that makes me glad that I believe in karma, lol) but…what if there is a slew of complaints about the same issue?
There is a difference between being confident in your work and happy with what you have produced because you feel you have worked at polishing it and being deliberately blind to its faults. Don’t fall into a decline and refuse to ever touch a keyboard again…take a deep breath and look at the comments objectively. Is your heroine whiny? Is the hero deliberately obtuse and unwilling to budge on anything? Do you have 150 uses of the same word? We can’t improve unless we know that we need to, i.e. we are best at learning when we are receptive to instruction.
Ok, enough preaching. Why write a review? Who can write a review? Why should an author write a review and what are the drawbacks to doing so?
Reviews are to help other people find out something about a particular item. Unfortunately, many of us are only prompted to write a review when we have a complaint about something, so merchants (and authors) are really appreciative of those who write a positive review.
Anybody CAN write a review, but relatively few people do so, for many reasons. Sometimes it is as simple as being unable to log into a site, or forgetting to come back and do so once the title goes live or once one has finished reading the book. Other times it is the sensitivity that others will judge you…your spelling, grammar, syntax, etc….or your choice of product (e.g. genres that are edgy, products that don’t fit the image you are trying to project, etc.).
I was astounded the first time someone gave me a negative vote on a review. After all, it was MY OPINION! I wanted so badly to contact that person and ask what the issue was. Then I started seeing that there was a group of folks who regularly picked on one of the top reviewers of that particular site…as far as I can tell, it was just because they figured it was impossible for that many items to have been truly evaluated.
Sometimes there are folks who just think it is their mission in life to vote down other people’s comments, and other times it is somebody who just doesn’t agree with what has been said. Now, I have learned to just shrug and not worry about it, but I am a little wary…which is why I don’t post reviews for a work I have edited, because I don’t want to trigger the trolls—who have nothing to do but spread negativity.
As an author, you have to be just as careful—if you receive a negative review, you can thank the reviewer for his/her opinion but you should be very careful to not start a flaming war by reacting harshly and defensively. If there is truly a misunderstanding, by all means calmly and logically explain things, but be careful not to get sucked into a heated discussion or going back and forth with a commenter.
If you are willing to write reviews, make sure you remember that your words will be out there forever. If you have arranged to exchange reviews with a colleague…follow through. If you expect someone else to take his or her time to read your book and write a review, you should do that for him or her as well. If the story turns out to be not to your taste or you think it is very poorly written, I think the best thing to do is to contact the other person privately and diplomatically explain that you aren’t comfortable writing a review.
I am always uncomfortable when this happens and I treat it differently if I have been approached privately as opposed to having committed to review it for a review site. If the story has been submitted to a site for review, I feel that it is my responsibility to write my opinion, although those reviews take me far longer to write, as I try to be diplomatic while explaining why the story didn’t resonate with me. If the story is given directly to me by the author, I explain that I don’t feel that I can give a glowing review. I am always willing to explain why, but very few authors want to hear what I didn’t like.
When writing a review please try to remember that you are writing an opinion on why the story did or did not work for you….you are NOT retelling the story. If you recount everything that went on, what is the point of someone else reading it? Think of how annoyed you are when someone tells you how the movie is going to end before you watch it, or how the suspense is gone when someone tells you who won the prize while you are watching the contest!
The site I primarily write for likes the reviewer to recap the story. If you do that, do not tell spoilers but give enough to whet the reader’s appetite for the story. Does that sound familiar? Like practice for writing the blurb for your book, perhaps?
Then, there’s the review itself. Did you like the writing? What about it appealed to you? Did you enjoy the characters? Were they folks you could picture? Would you recognize them on the street or are they just a nebulous picture in your mind? Did they have particular habits/pets/styles of dress or any other identifying characteristics? Did the action flow smoothly? Did you have to stop and take a break or were you enthralled enough that you lost sleep or burned dinner (oops, did I say that?) or missed an appointment? Did the conclusion seem logical?
Analyze why you did or did not like the story…and then…apply that to your own writing. If you were reviewing your own story, would you have trouble distilling the elements into a logical progression? Would your characters be memorable? Would you be racing to find out what happened or would it be easy to take a break at points throughout the book?
It might be useful to read and analyze a story that isn’t in your genre. I bet you’ll find elements that can be applied to your own story and you will find styles that can be adapted to enhance your delivery.
So…I bet you think you can’t write a review for a story because you have no spare time. Yet, I frequently hear authors complaining that they can’t get reviews. Consider that a reviewer probably has to spend anywhere from 1-4 (or more) hours reading a book, then it probably takes 30 minutes or longer to write a review.
Think of the sheer number of books being released every day…and you will realize that reviewers are buried. I keep hoping that a system can be established where a fund can be started so the reviewer can get a small stipend for writing a carefully prepared review. There are sites that are offering a point system for quality reviews. Some blog tours offer a prize that can be won by the small group of people who are hosting and writing reviews.
If each of you reaches out to one or two colleagues and offers to exchange a review and possibly a spotlight on a personal blog or on Facebook, that can get the ball rolling. There are also several Yahoo loops that have postings for guest spots sometimes.
Now, I think Amazon is a pill about letting authors post reviews of other authors’ works, but there are other venues, and I think that as long as you are posting a genuine review, there shouldn’t be an issue, because you were all avid readers long before you became authors.
Those of you who have newsletters or blogs or Facebook followers can also set up a system to choose a certain number of folks and offer ARCs (advance review copies) to a limited number in exchange for a fair and honest review. Ask the readers to contact you if they have issues with the story so that you can discuss it, but DON’T try to tell them what to post. If you are contacting a blogger or other review site, please take the time to read the submission requirements and send a personalized letter…not a generic review request. Remember that you are asking somebody to commit a block of precious time to read and review your work. Remembering to go back and thank the reviewer also will often set you apart, and if they really liked your book, it would be advisable to make note of that person to contact for future reviews.
You have to decide for yourself whether you want the same folks writing reviews for every title or whether you want to cycle through a list, because you want your true fans to buy a title occasionally, right?
Please remember to inform your reader/reviewer that the title is provided ONLY to them, they are not to share or distribute it…and you might want to keep an eye on Goodreads or a similar site to see if you are getting reviews before the release date, and whether you are familiar with the person posting the review.
I hope this gives you a perspective on how reviews can be helpful for you in several ways and prompts you to help out a fellow author occasionally!