A collector on the Cemetery Dance forum asked: “Do reviews impact/affect you differently between your CD gig and your author gig? Or do you just shrug these off for both?”
I basically have two rules when it comes to reading reviews of my own work:
1) If the review is good, don’t pat yourself on the back; the reviewer was probably just feeling generous.
2) If the review is bad, for the love of God, DO NOT RESPOND unless your response is NOT going to make things worse.
Guess what? When it comes to rule #2, if you’re a writer and you feel the need to “defend” your work, you’re probably just going to make things worse.
But when it comes to reviews and comments about my work or what we do at Cemetery Dance, I try to evaluate what has been said for validity and valuable/useful information because you can always, always get better.
When someone critiques the books we publish at Cemetery Dance, I ask myself:
Is there something we overlooked or could do differently/better on future projects?
Is this note from someone who always complains about everything we do, to the point it seems to be the person’s hobby? (We have a few of those.)
Is this note simply from someone who doesn’t know how the small press works? For example, this was a real email I woke up to the other day: “Why didn’t you have Stephen King sign 10,000 copies!?! then everyone could have one!?!”
For my writing, again, I look at the source and I try to learn anything I can that will make the next story better if there is something to be learned.
If the person says, “There should have been more vampires!” in a story that wasn’t about vampires, you just kind of ignore that.
If the person says, “the middle was a little slow” or “the ending happened too fast” or “I didn’t understand character X’s motivations” — those are notes you can mentally file away for consideration. The reader may not be right, it could just be their personal tastes at play, but if more readers say the same thing, you can keep those points in mind for future projects. (Or even a future revision of the same work, which I’ve heard is all the rage.)
For bad customer reviews on Amazon, I consider whether the review is well-written (“this suxs!” vs a thoughtful dissection of what didn’t work) and I look at what else the person has reviewed. My genre? Different genres? Are they all bad reviews? What does the reader actually like?
Maybe my book just wasn’t a good fit for their reading tastes or maybe I dropped the ball in some fundamental way. You can learn a lot from a well-written one star review. In fact, that’s where I go first when evaluating other books.
You’re never going to please every reader. Books aren’t supposed to please every reader. Everyone has different tastes. Sometimes it’s just a swing and a miss, you know?
So how about you? Do you read your reviews? How do you approach them?
I see most bad reviews coming from readers who weren’t a good fit for the story. There’s nothing more annoying than reading, “well-written, but just not my thing” alongside a one or two star review.
And I NEVER respond to a bad review. That would be like trying to drown a fire with gasoline.
Trying to drown a fire with gasoline is the perfect way to put it. Yet I see so many authors these days doing exactly that…
Having been a performer for 40+ years, I dealt with bad reviews every night. My way of dealing with it was just to say “screw em”. Keep up the good work James, you do have fans out here.
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