They Said WHAT About My Book?

angrydotmanI once came across an author/reviewer “disagreement” over the reviewer’s assessment of the author’s book. It appeared the author did not agree with the reviewer’s comments about the book, and decided to post on the reviewer’s website her opinion of his review. What followed was an epic thread that quickly went viral (in reading and writing circles), as people posted and reposted the link, and more people added their own two-cents worth regarding the author’s attitude. Seeing the piling on that was going on, the author grew frustrated and hurt, and allowed herself to express her feelings rather forcefully.

Interestingly enough, the overall review of the story itself was very positive. The issue the reviewer had was with numerous grammatical errors, typos, and sentence structures that kept throwing him out of the flow of the story. The author, for her part, felt there were no problems with her writing and made sure the reviewer, as well as other commenters, knew it. When I found the thread, a year had passed, so I decided to check out the author’s blog to see what she had to say about it afterwards. She later apologized for her reaction and put the whole issue down to a misunderstanding. To her credit, she was in the process of finding a proofreader.

Unfortunately, even though she eventually came to her senses, I’m afraid a lot of damage had already been done. Numerous posters stated they would never read one of her books because of her attitude toward the reviewer, and, from what I understand, at least one of the commenters was an editor for one of the Big Six publishing firms. And yes, Virginia, editors do talk to each other. (By the way, the author’s name isn’t Virginia, in case you were going to Google it.)

So, now to the advice for new authors, especially anyone who is going to self-publish:

If you’re going to be an author, grow a thick, thick skin. (Oh, by the way, make sure it’s thick.) Never, EVER, respond to a negative review in a hostile or defensive manner.

There are several reasons for this:

The reviewer might be right.

As authors, we tend to see our creations almost like parents looking at their children. It’s difficult to see someone criticize something we’ve poured hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years of effort into. What you have to realize is that, as imperfect beings—and if you think you’re perfect, you have other issues to address—we are going to put forth imperfect creations. There are going to be mistakes. Usually mistakes that we, knowing exactly what we intended to say (even if it didn’t come out that way), aren’t going to see.

When I finished my first book, From a Far Land, I was very proud of it. However, I did have a couple of very sharp-eyed friends reading it for me, helping me to spot grammar and punctuation errors, along with anything else they could see. After I finished making their changes, I went through it again, and again, and again, and…well you get the idea.  Besides all of the going back and checking things as I wrote it, after it was finished, I went through it SIX times looking for mistakes. Guess what. I found mistakes every single time. Yes, I should have hired an editor, but I was paycheck-to-paycheck at the time and simply couldn’t afford anything more pricey than a couple of domestic beers for my beta readers.

The last time, I went through it sentence by sentence, reading each sentence by itself. When I was finally satisfied, I published it. But you know what? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a reader were to tell me they’d found another mistake or two. Annoyed, possibly, but not surprised.

Don’t think you’re perfect, and don’t think your manuscript is perfect. If a reviewer lets you know they spotted some errors, they did you a favor. Accept it in that spirit and thank them for their sharp eyes. DON’T attack them for pointing out errors you missed.

Everyone has different tastes

The Jaben’s Rift trilogy has races in it that are fusions between humans and animals. When one reviewer I sent it to saw that description, she emailed me telling me she wasn’t into “furry fiction.” For any who may not know, furry fiction is where a story has talking animals in it. I emailed back and told her that all of the races in FFL were humanoid, but had been fused with animals and was therefore not technically furry fiction. It was an amicable exchange, but she still didn’t review it. And that’s fine. We communicated and went our separate ways.

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to like what we write. We could hope that those who don’t like our style won’t post reviews, but that’s not always how it works. My worst Amazon review for FFL is from a lady who isn’t “into far out magical things.” My initial reaction was, since it mentions magic in the description, why did you read it in the first place? But, that’s just the way it goes. Again, don’t get bent out of shape just because your story isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you reply at all, simply thank them for taking the time to review it and move on. DON’T say: “Well why did you review it then if you don’t even like those kinds of stories?” That sounds defensive and childish and will not do you any favors in the eyes of anyone else who reads the review and your response.

It’s not personal

They’re reviewers, not secret agents hired by competing authors to sabotage your career. Any reviewer worth his or her salt will focus their review on what they’ve read.  Not on your ability as a writer, not what you might write in the future, but only on what was right in front of them. As long as they keep their review to that level, DON’T take it personally. Read what they say, consider it carefully, and see if they made some valid observations.

Quick aside here: Any reviewer who attacks you or your ability personally (e.g. Sid Schmiddlehopper couldn’t write a decent sentence if it kicked him in the teeth.) isn’t a very good reviewer, and you should completely ignore their opinion. Good reviewers do not attack the author. They only talk about the writing and the story at hand.

Ability can be improved. Mistakes can be corrected. Good reviewers know this. The bad ones think one taste of an author’s work tells them everything they need to know about the author himself and anything he will ever write in his life. Ignore them. Again, DON’T attack them, even if you’re right and they’re a lousy reviewer. It just makes you look bad, and most people can spot a poorly written review anyway without it being pointed out to them.

Getting bad reviews hurts, but so does getting stitches or going to the dentist. The end result, though, is usually a better product, as long as we listen to what we’re told and act on it accordingly.

And like Mother always told us: If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Write on!

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