Friday, November 15, 2013

Staying Positive About Negative Reviews

This came up earlier in the week and prompted a conversation of sorts on my Facebook page, and I thought it also might serve to get something going over here.
Long story short: I received an e-Mail from a reader of one of my books, who had taken the time to write so that they could tell me how very much they were disliking said book. The note was very formal and polite, and offered a few backhanded compliments before diving into the meat of the matter, which is that the reader just wasn’t enjoying the book. They hadn’t yet abandoned the effort of reading the rest of the story, but it was proving to be a chore for them. The reader then closed out the note by apologizing for its bluntness and thanked me for my time.
Now, I’ve read my share of reviews—good, bad, or indifferent—on Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s websites or on message boards or Goodreads or whatever. Still, receiving an e-Mail like this is a bit different. It’s a more personal form of communication, with the individual on the other end of the correspondence attempting a direct dialogue, in this case to tell me how much they didn’t like something I did. I’ve never really understood what motivates people to do that sort of thing. Are they hoping to elicit some kind of defensive reaction? Could be, but I’ve already babbled before how a writer looking to engage a reader in response to a negative review, generally speaking, is a monumentally bad idea.
Normally, such reviews don’t bother me. As a writer, you learn (or, if you haven’t you should) that not everything you write is going to rub everyone the same way. Indeed, my e-Mailer even told me that they had enjoyed other books of mine, but this one just wasn’t doing it for them. Such is the way it goes, sometimes.
Bad reviews come with the territory, and at least this one had the virtue of being thoughtful and courteous. While I might experience a momentary sting, I usually don’t dwell on such things. In truth, I tend not to get too excited one way or another with reviews, be they good or bad. What fascinates me about reviews in general, and negative reviews in particular, is how one person can find little to like in a book I’ve written, and another person will tell me it was a rollicking read. Review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads can be all over the map. Much to my amusement, I’ve been called a bleeding heart liberal and a rightwing warmonger from different people reading the same book. Who’s right?
The answer, of course, is that they all are, in their own way. So be it.
Though I spent a few moments longer than normal pondering the e-Mail review I’d received, I finally snapped back and reacquainted myself with my standing self-imposed policy of not letting reviews distract me. I certainly can’t let the bad ones get me down, just as I can’t let the good ones go to my head. All a writer can do is shrug off such things, and get back to work.
What about you? Do you fret over reviews, totally ignore them, or do you fall somewhere in between?


Karen said...

I must admit a good review gives me a nice warm glow, and a not so good one stings a little, but I'd never respond to a bad one, or lose sleep over it. I'd rather spend my energy on my writing. Personally, I only ever review books I've enjoyed, and can't see the point of writing anything negative - if I can't get into a book I leave it and move on to another, anyway. Unless, as you say, people do it to provoke a defensive response, or because they're spoiling for a fight!

G. B. Miller said...

I'm not sure. The last review I got was roughly four months ago and it was a decent 4 star review. Then again, I think people find it tough to leave a review of a book that is not quite erotica but is classed that way because of the amount of sex in it.

I've gotten crucified over my writing (chat rooms mostly) so I've long ago developed a thick skin to them.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't really have a thick skin, but I do tend to take most negative comments on my stuff with the understanding that people bring certain things to your work that are not part of the work itself. Negative comments hurt me a bit for sure but I think most times its coming from the reviewer's own biases. The war mongerer versus bleeding heart liberal is a good example.

Jack Badelaire said...

I tend to believe there's two kinds of bad reviews. The first, and more ignorable, are from those readers who basically bought and read your book by mistake - i.e., they aren't the folks you're writing for. For example, I write WW2 action-adventure pulp fiction, and wouldn't expect someone who only likes highly realistic historical fiction to enjoy them, so when such folks read and give less than glowing reviews, it doesn't really bother me (the only annoyance is that if they took the time to read the description and the good reviews, it would be plain what they're getting into).

The other kind of negative reviews are those that essentially tell you how you're doing it all wrong. This can be anything from stylistic problems to your writing style to how they felt the characters weren't realistic to a thousand other nitpicks. The biggest problem with these sorts of reviews is that you can't always just dump one into the previous category, because you never know if they've got a point, and you find yourself second-guessing every aspect of the book.

Anonymous said...

^ I'm sorry, but you had me at "WW2 action-adventure pulp fiction."


Skylar Burris said...

I feel your pain! I've been there, although not with a personalized e-mail. I'm surprised someone would take the time to write an author to say he or she did NOT like a book. As you say, I try not to dwell on reviews, good or bad, and when you have a fair mix of good and bad, I actually think it makes a reader more inclined to want to buy your book than if you had all good reviews (that's a little suspicious sometimes, because, as you say, people have diverse tastes).