Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Praise of People Who Leave Reviews

Every author has a love-hate relationship with reviews, both from professional sources and from regular readers. Whenever an author sees that a new review has been left there is this sort of mixed feeling until we look to see whether it is positive or negative. I know writers who refuse to even look at their reviews. They have a friend monitor reviews for them and let them know if a good one has been left. I participate in several online authors forums and writers are forever agonizing over bad reviews or longing for good ones.

I have been in the position of receiving four or five reviews in one day of which 4 were positive and 1 was negative and I've spent the rest of the day sulking about that one negative one. We writers are strange folks.

When most writers are new to the game they really take reviews personally. Most of us, as time goes by, get over that. When I am stressing about negative reviews I go to the book sale page for a book I absolutely love and read the negative reviews. It reassures me that, even works that I consider to be of utter brilliance, get torn apart by some readers. I have also learned to make a distinction between substantive reviews and non-substantive ones. If a 1-star review does a good job of saying what they disliked about that book, well, I hope I learn from that. But if it just says, “This book was lame, not even worth getting it free” I'm less inclined to be upset by it. Some reviews tell more about the reviewer than about the work being reviewed.

All that being said, let me say once again how very much most writers appreciate the readers who take the time to write a review – even if it isn't a long one. What a lot of readers don't know is that there are book promotion sites which will not feature a book until it has x-number of reviews. If you read a book, especially an indie or small pub house book, and like it, taking the time to write a quick review is a real gift to the author. It is always appreciated.

There is a lot of controversy in the indy writer community about responding to reviews. Some writers do, some do not. There was a famous incident about a year ago when an indy writer responded to a negative review of her book on a blog with a blistering attack and the whole thing escalated until she looked like a genuine lunatic. This is not something any writer should get involved in. But what about thanking reviewers for a good review? Some writers think it is only polite, others say don't do it.

In the past few weeks I've received some awfully nice reviews and also emails, especially for The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall series. I love the reviews and often repost them to my Facebook and to Twitter. I always respond to emails and here on my blog and on Facebook but do not on book sites like Amazon, B&N or Goodreads. It's too easy to start an unintended flame war that makes everyone look bad.

But I'm grateful for those who take the time to post a review. Even negative reviews that have substance can be educational. Because I am not only a writer but an avid reader, I try to leave reviews for books that I finish. I rarely leave anything less than 3 stars for the simple reason that I don't write reviews for books I do not finish and if a book is that bad, I don't finish it.

One of the things I've always been amazed at when reading reviews both for my books an for books I've read is what an individual experience reading is. People read and get things out of the experience that are totally unique to them. I've especially noticed this with a few of my psychological horror novelettes. One person will say “that was so boring, there was nothing scary about it” and the next one will say “I was absolutely horrified – I couldn't get to sleep.” People definitely have different capacities for horror!

So, as a writer, I have to say, thank you for leaving a review, and as a reader I have to say, thank you for writing something worth reviewing.

Thanks for reading.

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