As a long-time author, I have received plenty of reviews over the years. Some of them good. Some of them bad. Some of them real head-scratchers. Many of my writer friends say they don’t look at reviews because they don’t mean anything. They’re just personal opinions about what a reader likes or dislikes. You can’t please everyone, and there’s always going to be haters. So why bother reading the comments at all? The book is out there. It’s done. End of story. (Literally.)
Not in my case.
Call me a masochist, but I still read reviews of my novels. Especially the ones with low ratings.
When I read a bad review, I don’t just say “Hmph, that’s ridiculous” and move on. (Well, sometimes I do…) I try to understand that review, no matter how much it makes me scratch my head or swear I’ll never write again. The person took the time to read and comment on my book, and their reaction deserves consideration.
What is the reader trying to say in a bad review? Is there an underlying issue that needs to be addressed? How do I leverage the comment to improve the next book I write or change a current one?
Here are head-scratcher reviews I’ve received, my initial reactions, and then how I chose to leverage the comments.
- Comment: “I would have rated this book a lot higher, but the author left too many things unexplained at the end.”
Rebuttal: “Really? You couldn’t put two and two together?” A writer walks a fine line of “not enough information/too much information”. Too many details can really slow the pace of a book, especially near the ending. In Spellbound, I underestimated how much a reader might want to have the background details explained to them.
How I leveraged the comment: I went back and added more to the ending to make it clearer for readers who like things wrapped up in neat little bows. I kept it brief. But now it’s a better book that will not frustrate readers.
- Comment: “I don’t like books about the paranormal.”
Rebuttal: “Why did you read and review it, then, LOL?” After my initial outburst, I considered the comment for what it was actually saying. Did the reader not know what kind of book it was? Did the cover or the book description fail to mention there was a vampire in the story?
How I leveraged the comment: In books where I am able to direct the cover design and book blurb (which is not always the case for an author), I now make sure it is obvious the book contains paranormal elements. I don’t want people wasting their time and money on a book they won’t enjoy.
- Comment: “I didn’t like the law enforcement officer.”
Rebuttal: “You weren’t supposed to, LOL!” This character will grow throughout the series, until he redeems himself. I’m not sure why readers rate a book by this criterion.
How I leveraged the comment: I considered why the person might have made this comment. Was the character too cardboard? Too over-the-top? Hmm. I didn’t change him, though. I might have if the reader had provided constructive criticism about why they didn’t like him. But again, he was designed to be unlikeable.
- Comment: “Because of the personal twist at the ending, I don’t wish to read the rest of the series.”
Rebuttal: “Whoa. Never expected that!” In Dead Man’s Wine, my heroine announced an unplanned pregnancy at the end of the book. I did this for dramatic purposes, thinking readers would worry about her and want to know what happens in the second book. I had no intention of making my detective a single parent. But the reviewer didn’t know this, and she dinged me. I had no idea surprise pregnancy/single parenthood was such a divisive issue.
How I leveraged the comment: I went back and changed the text while the book was still in pre-order. No way do I want to alienate a reader for an issue that won’t be carried through the rest of the series. Now the book will appeal to a wider audience.
In summary, no review is a bad review. Yes, a nasty comment can crush your spirit. And yes, a lack of stars can destroy your sales. But there is nothing a writer can do about it, except leverage those bad reviews to improve their books.
Because a writer keeps writing, right?