Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I Read My Book's Reviews

I am excited to have recently reached 50 reviews for Destruction! That may seem like small potatoes to some, but it's a big deal to me. And, I'll tell you, I read them all. I have occasionally seen authors advise other authors not to read reviews of their books, and obviously everyone has the right to do what makes sense for them. However, I have chosen to read my reviews...at least for now, maybe one day I'll have too many to read (a girl can dream).

Here's why:

It's like having tons of critique partners and beta readers. Yes, your reviewers may not all be as helpful or considerate as your actual critique partners, but most of them are well-read and knowledgable. I've learned some important things from my reviews.

You learn what your readers want. I believe that you should write the story for your characters, not for your fans, but let's be serious, it's helpful to know what your fans do and don't like to help you shape future books.

You learn who your readers are. You might see trends in the types of people who like your book which can be useful for marketing.

It takes away the fear of the unknown. Every time I see that I have a new review I feel nervous, but the vast majority of the time, I am the most anxious before I read the review. I can't imagine a mountain of unread reviews looming over me all the time.

It prepares you for future criticism. If you wish to continue writing books, you're going to continue getting reviews. The most reviews you read, the easier it gets. You also learn more about your own strengths and weakness, so there will be less surprises to come.

You learn about the nature of reviews. If you read enough reviews, you'll find that the same thing that one person loved, another person hated. Reviews are likely to have common themes, but they will also contradict, which reminds you that they are subjective.

It feels awesome. Okay, obviously not all the time. Sometimes it feels horrible. But, I wouldn't want to miss out on reading those shining 5 star reviews!

Of course, even though reading reviews can be helpful, I understand that it can be painful. In how many professions do your pour your soul out for people to rate on a scale from 1-5? It's enough to drive anyone mad. Here are my suggestions for how to manage negative reviews:
  • Write a good book. I know that's so obvious that it's not very helpful, but it is important. I'm not saying you have to write Pulitzer quality work, but never publish anything that you're not comfortable having thousands of people read and review...I mean, that's the goal right?
  • Be confident. Every author has self-doubts, but the more you have, the harder it will be to read reviews. That's what hurts the most, hearing someone else say what we fear about ourselves. Confidence isn't always easy to obtain, but be proud of your work! Know why it's awesome! Even if you're your biggest critic, make sure you're also your biggest fan.
  • Be self-aware. Confidence isn't just about blindly thinking you're great. Confidence is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and still thinking you're great. Understand what people might not like about your book, as it's easier to handle if you expect it.
  • Have some perspective. I'll be honest, I'm a big picture person. As long as I have a good star rating, an individual review won't get me down too much. I know not everyone is like that...but it helps to try! If a review gets you down, look at those pretty gold stars. 
  • See negative reviews as a good thing. Seriously! They can be a good thing. Negative reviews mean people are taking you seriously as an author. It means people besides your mom and BFF are reading your book. Find one successful author that doesn't have negative reviews, I dare you.
  • Understand that reviewers are people. People are a mess. They're biased by their own experiences. Sometimes they are...dare I say...simply wrong, stupid, or mean. On the whole, reviewers are intelligent people with helpful advice, but keep in mind that even the most helpful, intelligent people may not always be right.
  • Know your own issues. Your reviewers are a mess, and guess what, so are you. Some things reviewers might say could get under your skin for personal reasons, like if you create a character like yourself or someone you love and a reviewer hates that character. For a great example of this, check out Saving Mr. Banks. I don't need to tell you this, but don't turn down a movie contract from Walt Disney because you have daddy issues.
Another interesting thing I noticed about reviews is that people rate books very differently. I can get a five star review that has important notes of criticism, and a three star review that doesn't say anything negative. There is no agreed upon standardized definition of what stars mean, however, as an author here is a basic guide for how to read and react to different star ratings.

5 stars - Hooray! Read on and bask in your awesomeness. However, don't just bask, read carefully. These are your most enthusiastic fans and the ones most likely to buy your future books. Their opinions are very important!

4 stars - Hooray again! 4 star reviews are still considered to be quite favorable, and often these will also be the most useful reads. Clearly this person understands and appreciates your book, so their criticisms are more likely to be accurate than someone who just trashes it. Read these carefully, and take their criticisms seriously.

3 stars - Meh. 3 star reviews are generally considered to be unfavorable, but they didn't hate it. In my opinion, these might be some of the toughest reads. 3 star reviewers didn't hate it so much that they can be dismissed, and they are likely more reasonable people than 1 star reviewers. Their criticism should be considered.

2 stars - These reviews are going to be pretty negative. Read them with caution. They may have some useful points, but they also may be people who just aren't meant to like your book. Not everyone will, no big deal.

1 star - Congratulations! Only serious authors get 1 star reviews. You've had enough people read your book that you finally found someone who truly hated it. Every successful author eventually does. IMHO, unless you have lots of 1 star reviews that show a trend, don't take 1 star reviews seriously. As a consumer, I don't take 1 star reviews seriously unless there are a lot of them. Most of the time I judge the reviewer more than the product. When it comes to books, I marvel at why people actually take the time to read books they know they are going to hate. If I was going to give a book a one star review, I would probably know I hated it by the end of the blurb and first page and would never buy it in the first place. Seriously...who has time to read and review books they hate? In any case, enjoy the fact that you're being taken seriously enough to be hated and then let it go.

On a related note, if you choose to read your reviews, don't just sit at your computer all day refreshing your book's Amazon page (except on your release day...that's normal ;) ), sign up for free Rank Obsession e-mail alerts. That way you get an e-mail when you get a new review on Amazon. It saves me a lot of stress and neurotic page refreshing.


  1. Love this! I agree with pretty much everything you said. After two years I'm just starting to see the one stars pop up, so what you said about 1 star reviews sounds about right. Finally being recognized so now the haters are showing up. I also like to read all reviews, whether good or bad. Reading the one stars is like swallowing nails, but I do it anyway. Great post!

  2. great ideas to see what is going on and give yourself some of your own encouragement!

  3. I used to read my reviews, but I got lucky with my first book and didn't attract too many haters. With my second, however, I had to stop because it was completely destroying my confidence in my writing ability. (Amazon blocking and deleting my 5* reviews and making lower ratings more prominent didn't help!) And then there were a few bad experiences with attacks from other writers...

    I do think reviews can be helpful in figuring out what your readers want, but I find they often seem to be contradictory - one review can say the pacing was too slow, and another can say it was just right. It's impossible to please everyone!

    With that being said, I do admit I've printed my 5* reviews to stick on my wall for encouragement when I'm having a bad day. :)

  4. I read mine. I don't think I could stand knowing people had said stuff about my book and not know what it was. I try not to be objective about them though. It's hard to do sometimes, but I try.

  5. I love your definition of one-star reviews :) All reviews do prepare for criticism, though. It's impossible for everyone to agree on a book. It's definitely important to remember that a bad review does not mean a bad writer.