Anonymous Question Submission: On Reviews

Jordan Dane

Paraphrasing the question submitted to TKZ anonymously: What do you think of “online bullies” who post mean-spirited book reviews to discredit the author when they don’t even read the novel.
If someone has clearly not read a novel yet writes a review, why should I pay attention to that at all? (I’ve spent too much time already talking about this, so I will move on to my thoughts on reviews, in general.)
Recently I heard an actor talk about paying attention to reviews and how it could affect his performance—whether the reviews were good or bad. I find words of wisdom and encouragement in the creative arts–like filmmakers, actors, musicians—because they know what it takes to create something from nothing with passion. So when I heard this actor speak, I could relate his words to my own thoughts. He believed reviews, whether good or bad, detracted from the work in the moment or for the next performance. If a reviewer believed the actor’s performance was emotional and touching in a particular scene, those words would stay in the actor’s head the next time he did his job, when maybe the scene (on page) didn’t call for the same emotion. Negative reviews can act in the same way and cultivate self-doubt (which none of us need).
In applying what he said to writing, a good review can sway an author to manipulate the writing to “fit” what the reviewer wrote about the work. It could affect every book in the future in the same manner. Bad reviews can make an author overly sensitive to whatever harsh criticism was written, whether deserved or not. The author could overcompensate and alter their growth. Chasing after reviews, whether good or bad, can detract from a writer’s instincts on storytelling. They can make an author doubt the story telling talent that got them published in the first place.
I also heard it said, long ago in my energy industry career, that if you don’t value (or know anything about) the credibility of the person giving their opinion of your work, why should you care what they think or say? Easier said than done for some, but I’ve embraced this sentiment.

As an author, I tend to value Publishers Weekly to give me a sense of a book, but it doesn’t stop me from buying it if the book gets a marginal PW review. If the story interests me, I make my own decision. Any reading experience is subjective for everyone. Because I understand how difficult it is to tell a story on page, I am much more appreciative of an author’s style or voice or plot structure. I love reading many types of books and I try to find “gem takeaways” in an author’s writing, rather than me bristling for the opportunity to reject their work and show how brilliant I can be at “snark.”
As a new author, I paid attention to reviews. I don’t anymore and haven’t for a long time. It’s my choice and it’s freed my time so I can spend more hours on writing and honing my craft.  Like the actor I mentioned, I don’t want to be swayed by opinions whether the reviews are good or bad. It’s human nature to sift through many good reviews, but become totally obsessed over a negative one. Snarky reviewers are the worst. They tend to “believe their own hype” and love having the reputation for overly harsh reviews they think are clever. Their reviews tend not to be about recommending good books or encouraging literacy, they become about how unkind the review can be in degrading the work. Fortunately not all reviewers are like this. Most are not.
If someone wants to be critical of a writer’s work, I issue a challenge. Write your own book. Cut open a vein and bleed on the page with an honest story and deal with the critics (or note) afterwards. Authors must be willing to tell their stories, without fear. There will always be negative opinions, but my focus has been on my own growth and striving to tell my stories, my way. I want to be the best Jordan Dane I can be and I keep writing.
As for sites where readers congregate (like Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, Just Romantic Suspense, Amazon, B&N, and many other review sites), I appreciate their value for readers to talk about books. That’s great. Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, and Just Romantic Suspense in particular are reader communities that promote literacy and they encourage reading (in general) by giving followers a place to focus their interest in books. A lovely thing.
I have a profile presence on some of these sites. I RSS feed my blog posts to my author profile, respond to comments, and do giveaways to raise awareness of my projects. Other than that, I don’t sift through reviews, whether they are good or bad. It’s a detractor of time I could spend writing. There will always be one-star reviews, even on noteworthy critically acclaimed books.
For discussion:
Readers: How much attention do you pay toward reviews? Do reviews sway you to buy or avoid a novel? Have you ever read really bad reviews on a book you liked? If so, did it change how you look at reviews?
Writers: How do you deal with reviews (good or bad) on your work?

33 thoughts on “Anonymous Question Submission: On Reviews

  1. I read reviews on objects. Cars, dishwashers, couches. I pay no attention to reviews on art. Books, movies, music.

    My book is due out in June (which, I just noticed, is an exact year since TKZ reviewed my first page. June 6. Huh). Promotion blogs and articles encourage me to seek reviews. The more reviews, the more people will find out about my book. I guess if someone says they liked my book I could ask them to post a review on Amazon. Otherwise, I hope I’m strong enough not to check them out.

    Then there’s the questions I have about blogging vs. newsletters. And my street crew, or whatever they’re called. Friends? Other writers? Complete strangers?

    The only promotional tactic I don’t seem to mind is a local book signing. The rest of it makes me sleepy. I’m taking a lot of naps.

  2. As a new author, you may choose to add a summary of reviews on your blog or website as an enticement for readers to try your book. You may not have the same feelings on reviews as I have, but I guarantee your thoughts on them will change in time.

    Thanks for commenting, Amanda. Good luck on your launch. I’m very proud you’ll see your passion to write realized.

  3. I get emails from The Fussy Librarian and Book Bub, and I will glance at the reviews before downloading a book, especially if it appears to be self-published. If the work has errors and appears amateurish, I’ll pass on it. If readers rave about the story, I’ll get it. So as a reader, I am influenced by reviews.

    As a writer, I am hurt by bad reviews. Sometimes you can learn from them. Most of the time, it’s best to take them with a grain of salt and counter them with the good ones.

  4. I almost never read reviews. I have my own trusted sources for reading recommendations.

    As for reviews of my own work, good reviews don’t “sway” me to do anything but continue to trust my instincts. That’s what got the good review, not some plot point or element of craft. As for bad reviews, everyone has their own opinion. If a consensus of reviewers said something was wrong, I’d have to reconsider it. That doesn’t mean I’d change up for the next book–the context may be entirely different–but it’s worth considering,

  5. Reading reviews for me is like riding a rollercoaster – so I try really hard now not to get caught up in it all:) As a reader I’m swayed by the NYT book review – usually only in terms of discovering a new book that sounds intriguing. I rarely take notice of reader reviews on places like Amazon unless there’s a cumulative effect which makes me sense the book isn’t really for me.

  6. On behalf of my best friend, who is a reader not a writer, I will relay her approach. Despite her approach to reviews, she’s still my best friend. (Go figure!)

    She looks at the number of five-star reviews on Amazon…just the number, not who reviewed or whether the reviewer has only reviewed that one book and no others.

    I’m sure there are more readers out there who are like her. Grrr!

  7. My writing (except of my blog) hasn’t seen open light yet. So, I am still to learn how it feels and what thoughts come when I read negative reviews. So far, I get positive reviews with honest critique and very good suggestions to improve my writing.
    As a reader, observed me doing at least sometimes the following: getting intrigued by a book that has a lot of positive reviews (like having 4, something stars) and then reading those 1 and 2 stars. And if those 1 or 2 stars are nonsense or hidden positive reviews, like: “I liked the book so much that I hated it” or “The book was nice but the paper quality very bad.” These kind of reviews convince me to buy the book. 😉
    I was earlier reluctant to read books that caused wave of interest, or even reading epidemics. I still haven’t read Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings only recently. But I am opening up. After reading only one of Jane Austen’s books, I read them all. So, I guess I will read all the Potter books too. I’ll just wait my son to grow and read with him in parallel.
    Sometimes I buy a book without knowing it is or would be a bestseller. And it just catches my eye again and again as I pass by it, whether in the bookstore or at home. Then whatever the reviewers say, I have to read it. And in most of those cases, I simply love the book. So, I guess, as in many other cases: intuition is our best friend. 😉

    • I used to strictly buy books on NYT Bestsellers, but long ago realized there are fantastic books out there that never hit the list. I haven’t looked at the list again as my sole source. I trust my instinct for my reading material. Thx, Victoria.

  8. My first book is not out yet so I don’t know how I will react to a bad review. I think I know, but there is a huge difference between having a theoretical, intellectual reaction and having to deal with someone saying in print, that your work is rubbish.
    Your point, that the status (in your mind) of the reviewer will determine your reaction, is one with which I agree. I think that I will look at negative reviews as a spur to improve. I know my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, so the test will be when someone I respect criticises something which I see as a strength. Do I then downgrade the reviewer, thereby being able to dismiss their comment, or take it on the chin and try and improve. A third choice, that I sit in the corner rocking, is one I will ignore for now, but it may become an attractive option.
    As a reader I did once take note of reviews when choosing books but have too often bought a book with dozens of 5* reviews, only to realise, when I read the book, that these were either from the authors mother/aunt/son or from a blogger they swapped reviews with. Again we come back to the status and credibility of the reviewer.

    • I hear what you’re saying, David. I respect anyone’s right to review my books as they see fit. Freedom of expression. I simply distance myself from every review, bad or good, for the reasons I mentioned, not to be unduly influenced. Thx for your experiences. Good luck with your first book when it’s ready.

  9. My book debuted February 5, and I think I’ve went to Amazon five or six times to look at the reviews early on. Since then I haven’t, figuring I can’t change what’s said so why bother. I don’t buy books on reviews…I do read them but I buy books because I’ve read the first page or two and liked what I read. Great post!

  10. Jordan–
    The message for me in all this is to underscore the importance of getting reliable feedback before publishing. If a writer believes he/she has finished a project, then it’s time to show it to others–but only to reliable others. Most recently, I paid a novelist/editor to read the manuscript for my next indie novel, Deep North. Ten days later I got an eight-page, single-spaced “reader’s report.” The report expressed (and illustrated) what was strong in the story, and took me to task for elements that were weak. I gave myself time to digest all this, then arranged to go over the report, by phone with the writer/editor (she lives in Ireland). I then reworked the novel. I am now confident Deep North is both solid and tight, definitely ready to publish. If someone later writes a negative review, that will be a matter of taste. But what it won’t be is a matter of much importance to me.

    • Great input, Barry. It’s always the author who must push craft to be the best they can be. We strive to put the best product out there. Book reviews are subjective after that. Thank you & good luck with your launch.

  11. I write a review blog for debut authors. I have had a short story published but I am definitely a beginner. I base my reviews as a reader, because that is why reviews are written, for the readers. I will not tear down an author, period. I don’t believe in snark. I have two policies, that was first, no snark, the the second is that if I do not finish the book, I won’t review it. Therefore, I have never given a one star review. If I think it is that bad, I will contact the author and tell them why I am not reviewing it. I stress that it is only my opinion. Just because it isn’t my cup of tea, it doesn’t mean someone else might not enjoy it. Other reviews really don’t sway me as a reader. One time, it did. The book was out of my normal reading genre, but the description intrigued me because it was historical, which I do like. It had several 5 star reviews, and one 1 star. I read the one star and it was a total attack on the author. I bought the book. I wanted to see for myself. It was then, and continues to be, one of the best debut novels that I’ve read. It was one of the very few 5 stars that I’ve given on a debut book. She wrote such beautiful description, that I could smell the ocean, in the 1500’s. I must admit, as a newbie, I am sure I won’t be able to resist reading the reviews at first, but I understand where you are coming from about it. One thing that will sway my opinion: if the author responds to a bad review. I just see that as bad form. The review is for the readers, and the readers are smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. I leave it with them. Once the work is out for the public to see, it is out of the authors hands. Thanks for the wonderful post. I learn so much from all of you! 🙂

  12. As a reader, reviews do influence my choice to buy a book by an author I don’t know. But I pay as much attention to the blurb and the sample chapter.

    As an author, I always keep in mind what I’ve read on more than one blog: reviews are for readers, not authors, like Rebecca said :). They are for Joe public (and yes, we authors do count as Joe public :)) who wants to know whether a book is going to be a good investment in terms of time and money. And they will always be subjective.

    Do “negative” reviews hurt me emotionally, as an author? I’m still growing my rhino skin (90% there), so yes, they do occasionally sting 😉 I’m only human (well, part rhino and occasional unicorn)

    Do they hurt me financially? They could do, ultimately, if there were many of them. Will having more 4-5 star reviews help sales? Undoubtedly. They make a book more “visible”.

    Can I learn something from “negative” reviews? Most of the time, yes. I do not view 2-3 star reviews that offer constructive criticism as negative. Those reviewers almost always help me improve my craft.

    Spiteful snarky reviews that insult me personally and are inaccurate, i.e., where it’s obvious the reviewer has not actually read the book, well, yeah, those I ignore 🙂

  13. I don’t pay any attention to bad reviews at all. After reading a few good reviews, if I even read those, I’ll get a Kindle sample and check that out. Then I’ll decide whether to go further or not.

    I have chosen to never write a bad review. If I hate a book, I say nothing. Well, except for Gone Girl, but how can anyone contain themselves there, eh?

    If I should get a bad review (oh no, please) once my book is out there, I won’t comment. Just let it go and move on is my best advice. These “characters” are sick puppies trying to pick a fight. Whatever you say, you’ll look like a crybaby. Just fugedaboudit.

  14. I don’t get bad reviews.

    I might get a few sorely mistaken misinterpretations of my work, or disgruntled good for nothings whittling away at greatness…but never an actual bad review.

  15. I’ve read one-star reviews of books I’ve liked .. and agreed with every word.

    I’ve read five-star reviews of books I’ve liked … and wondered if we read the same book.

    As Barry says above, it’s a matter of taste. Those elements the one-star reviewer pointed out as ruining the book didn’t bother me. I’m sure some people could read my reviews (one-star, five-star or in between) and say something similar.

    I do write critical reviews when I haven’t enjoyed a book, but I try hard to show what I didn’t like about the book without being snarky.

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