The Ups and Downs of Reviews

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Feb 25, 2015
At anchor, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Last night set me thinking when I received this feedback:

Over all not a bad story, the first third of the book deals with the background/back story of the main players, maybe a little too much detail. The story picked up after that, it moved along till this last bit, now its slowed down again. I may finish reading it, but right now I could stop, and start a new book. For me it just didn't hold my attention, could be the writing style

I felt a bit down after that - it referred to one of my earlier books.

Then tonight I got this feedback for the same book:

Mr Marinero , a lot of character development. Will we be seeing these characters again in future books? Great story plot.

You can't please all the customers all the time!

How do they affect your mood? Do you read the reviews that readers write?
I think you just have to accept that no one book will please everybody. In that context, bad reviews are inevitable. Sometimes it rains when you're doing the gardening; sometimes you get bad reviews. Tant pis. Regarding feedback, it's always a judgement call as to whether you have got it wrong as an author or whether the reader just isn't on the same wavelength as you. Absent a trusted editor/agent to work with, you just have to go with gut feel, I think. Not all readers are your readers.
Unless you're seeing a consistent pattern in reviews - different people picking up on the same issues - it's safe to ignore the lone outlier. Reviews are nothing but opinions, after all. Books, like all art, are subjective. Our tastes vary as human beings. There are scores of "best selling" books I think are utter crap, and just as many that haven't sold well, but that I think are treasures. Same with paintings, movies, etc. It's all SUBJECTIVE. And that is the most difficult concept for an author to wrap their head around because while it is subjective to the person reading it, we are its creator, and it means everything to us. So when someone is "meh" or "this is crap" in a review, it cuts us to the core.

The trick is to grow enough of a thick skin in order to take anything useful from the reviews, so that we can improve our craft. How does one do that? No freaking clue. :) My last two releases are doing better than anything I've had published in six and a half years. So far, I have one 3-star review on Amazon and the rest are all 5 stars. While that 3-star review "legitimizes" the rest in the eyes of rabid Amazon review watchers, the reader (who read both books in the series but only reviewed the second one), didn't like my heroine. She gave a genuine, well thought-out reason why in the review. Did it sting? You betcha. But it also helped me put the way I'd written that heroine into perspective. I knew I'd written her that way. I had a perfectly reasonable (in my mind, anyway) explanation for writing her that way. But not all readers will see it that way, and that review helped me realize the point.

Will that one review change my writing style? Of course not. But it will help me remember that sometimes you do have to spell it out for them. Sometimes the subtleties that are obvious to you, as the author, and are obvious to my editor who knows me so well by now, are not obvious to all our dear readers. And let's face it. Some readers are simply dense people. They won't get subtleties, and they do need everything spelled out for them.

Hope this helps. :)
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