One of the things no one – authors, editors, artists, anyone – is ever prepared for when publishing a book are the reviews.
Oh, sure, you might think you’re prepared. This is what you’ve wanted, after all – people are out there reading your book and talking about it! Whether it’s a professional review in a media outlet like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal; a reader review left on Amazon or Goodreads; or a semi-professional review on a book blog you know and love, it’s exciting to see what people think of the world you’ve created and the characters you’ve brought into the world.
But reviews are fraught with emotion. People are out there talking about your book. And they’re not all going to like it. Even an otherwise glowing review might take a writer to task for a moment of flat characterization, or uneven pacing.
Is it any better if people aren’t talking about your book? What if the professional outlets have declined to review the novel? That makes blogger and general-reader reviews count for much more, and the opinions put forth there aren’t always fair and balanced. In fact, a lot of reviews these days seem to bear out the theory that negative, even hostile reviews have become something of a popular bloodsport – many books will enter ThunderDome, and then we’ll cut you until you bleed! Just for the fun of it!
So how’s an author to deal?
It’s different for everyone. Some authors don’t read reviews at all; they leave it to their agent, publicist, or editor to let them know if a particularly great review comes in, but don’t look at their Amazon or Goodreads listings.
Other authors do the exact opposite – they have Google Alerts set up to constantly ping them if anything about them or their book is mentioned, and continually check their book’s listings on various review and sales sites.
Really, the only constant is that authors should never, ever engage directly with a bad review. It’s one thing to go to a book blog and comment on a review – say thanks for reading, perhaps, or engage the blogger on another post and get to know them. That’s wonderful for building an audience and interacting with the book community in general. What you should never do is call out a bad review and grouse about all the reasons it’s wrong. Sure, the reviewer may have somehow read a completely different book from the one you wrote, and based their entire commentary around their low opinion of your world of magic-using steampunk cats when you actually wrote a deep-space science fiction novel about hyperintelligent jellyfish, but you don’t tell them that. You ignore it, scratch your head a bit, and move on.
In short: If you must engage with a review – whether it’s good, bad, or ugly – simply thank the reviewer for taking the time to read your book and for commenting on it. Don’t judge the value or worth of those comments, and certainly don’t start yelling. That’s how you end up with the kind of internet attention you DON’T want, and that doesn’t help build your writing career!
While it’s in your best interest to engage with book bloggers and readers wherever you can, reviews are a tricky spot where you have to find your own way. Do you want to read all the reviews ever, or do you want to maintain some distance? If there’s consistent criticism cropping up in a series of reviews (pointing out certain style quirks, say, or a plot point that was particularly loved or hated), do you address that in your next novel, or keep on keepin’ on?
As long as you’re polite, and you’re consistent, and you remember that for every bad review, there are probably five to ten readers who enjoyed your work, you’re doin’ good.
So – authors! How do you treat reviews? Readers, how much do reviews influence you? And are you influenced by different types of reviews – for instance, professional outlets versus book blogs versus Amazon feedback?