Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why You Should Appreciate a Bad Review . . .

Whenever I’m considering spending big money (when I say big money, I mean more than five dollars; let’s face it, in this new and glorious world of ebooks and indie authors, I’ve become a little spoiled with the lower prices for novels) on a book that looks interesting, I always do a few things first.  Right off the bat, I check out the tags to see if the novel contains the elements I am looking for in a good story.  If it does, then I read the synopsis (if it is offered).  Finally, I check out some of the reviews - the worst ones and the best ones.  I’m sure all of us read at least one bad review, because we want to know what was so awful about the book.
I was lucky.  My first bad review (one star) wasn’t really all that bad at all.  It was only a few sentences long, and the only negative thing the reader had to say was that my story was more for a ‘very young teen’.  They were absolutely right.  My first book is definitely geared more towards the middle-grade demographic. 
Often, the ‘bad’ review points out something I myself wouldn’t enjoy.  But sometimes the reviewer didn’t like a certain character trait and maybe that is just what I’m looking for in a character.  More often than not, I’ll steer clear of books with too many one or two star reviews, but occasionally I’ll keep coming back if the other elements prove tantalizing.  In fact, this happened with a book series I now consider one of my favorites.  I had read the bad reviews, telling myself in the back of my head that the book would be terrible and I would regret buying it.  But I looked over the reviews again and realized that what this particular reviewer considered horrendous was really no big deal to me.  Boy am I glad I went ahead and read the books!
So, if you are a writer, here are a few things to consider when those one and two star reviews pop up (and I’m sure you’ve heard some of this before, but it never hurts to hear it again):
1. Don’t panic!  Yeah, it stinks to get a bad review, but not everyone is going to love your books.  If you do a search of your favorite books, you will find at least one person who absolutely loathed them.  When you get that dreadful review, carefully read what that person had to say and decide if it is something you can use to your advantage in your next book projects.
2.  I know this is going to sound crazy, but: be grateful!  What I try to do when I get those negative reactions to my books is to thank the person (if possible) for giving my book a try.  It’s not always easy to write a negative review because you know some feelings might get hurt, so try to keep an open mind (after the sting passes, of course).
3. Move on.  Don’t dwell on the negative review and convince yourself you cannot write (and I know I fall victim to this all the time, just on my own).  If your story comes from your heart, and it is where you want it to be, don’t let the naysayers get you down.  Push on and get to the next book that is waiting to be written.  We are writers, and for most of us, we cannot exist without writing, whether our stories make us millionaires, bring us fame or become the next great American novels.  We write because we must, and we will not let someone else’s opinion influence us otherwise.
Now, if you are a reader, here are some reasons why you should not consider a one or two star review necessarily bad:
1.  A review is the reflection of another person’s opinion.  Just because I think mushrooms taste awful, doesn’t make it true (though I’m pretty sure I’m right here . . .).  Maybe you think mushrooms are the most delicious food ever (ewww . . .).  Well, I think you get my point ;).  Just because someone else thought a book was the worst piece of literature ever written, doesn’t mean you will feel the same way.
2.  One person’s trash is another’s treasure . . .  Like I said before, negative reviews can be packed full of tidbits that might actually appeal to you.  Maybe they didn’t like the book because the characters were too wordy (hey, I love dialogue!) or the female protagonist was too independent (I love strong female characters!) or that they relied too much on magic to defeat the antagonist (magic is okay by me) . . . I’ve found quite a few good books this way: by reading the negative reviews and recognizing the elements that I liked.
3.  Effort.  Yes, effort.  I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve browsed through the negative review section of a book, only to have my brain trip every time I spotted a grammatical error in someone’s review.  And I’m by no means a grammatical genius.  I make spelling errors and the like just as much as everyone else.  However, when someone writes a review and it is absolutely riddled with missing punctuation and spelling errors, I reconsider their worth as a legitimate reviewer. 
Also, I’ve read reviews where the reviewer simply goes on a tirade about how terrible the book is, dropping insult after insult about the author.  In my opinion, that is just rude and uncalled for.  It is perfectly possible to write a negative review without attacking the author’s character (their characters maybe, but not their character).  I’m a big believer in common courtesy, even in the written world, and reviews that show none at all get ignored in my book.
 Hopefully this brings some encouragement to my fellow indie authors, and perhaps the readers out there will give those negative reviews a second glance.  In conclusion: writers, keep on writing no matter what is said about your books and readers, keep on reading and don’t let those one star reviews make up your mind for you.   

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you. I also read the one star reviews, and sometimes it's just the nudge I need to buy the book, because the reviewer complains about a plot element that is just up my alley. Like the Empire books by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts. I read a review complaining about the lack of action and the heavy amount of politics, and that was just the thing to have me say 'this is a book that *I'm* interested in.'