Friday, July 02, 2010

Why a Writer Should Never Take Too Much Notice of Reviews

.
This is a post written particularly for newly published or about to be published authors.

Don't get me wrong. I love reviews.
And I read them all. I have Google Alerts and Blog Pulse look for them every day and send them to my inbox ...

In some ways that makes me a bit of an oddity, because a great many writers won't read their own reviews at all, especially not random reader ones from places like Amazon (as opposed to review sites and professional reviews). Why not? Because they start to obsess about them and they get too upset by the bad ones.


I view it differently.

Good or bad, they are a connection to readers, and I really appreciate that. Writing is a lonely business and we authors should connect to those who buy our books, who take the time to read our stories. Reading their reviews is one way to make that connection.

For me, well, the good ones give me a nice ego boost (and we all like that, right?). The highly critical ones - if they say something thoughtful or wise, it's a learning experience I can benefit from. I can use what is said to make the next book better.

The reason for not obsessing about a review:

There's no point. It is totally unrealistic to assume that all readers will like your work, any more than you like every book you read. So why get upset when someone says your characters are flat, your plot boring and your world poorly depicted? They give their honest opinion and for them it is true. It won't be true for the next reader.

Believe me, you newly published writers out there: not everyone is going to like your baby, that lovely child you slaved over for years.
Some will miss the dimples and home in on the pimples instead, and yeah, your book will have pimples. No book is perfect.
Some readers just like a different kind of story entirely.
Some readers will hate the way you look at life, which will come through in your writing.
Some readers are just don't get what you've written - it may be their failing, or yours.
Some will hate your writing style.

And that is true of everyone's work. It doesn't matter if your name is Ursula le Guin or Tolkien or Neil Gaiman, some will hate your story, others will find it boring.

So read reviews, but don't obsess. You can even get a laugh out of the silly ones. For example, this complaint - and it was a complaint - about The Last Stormlord (which is book 1 of a trilogy):
"
by the end of book one, you feel like you're only a third of the way through the novel."
Yep, mate. Exactly right.

And here's the proof that obsessing is ridiculous:

As you read these excerpts, remember that each one of these is a comment about the same book, The Last Stormlord.

Characters
"The characters were cardboard." (Good Reads reviewer)
"full of interesting characters and the central characters are likable..." (Amazon reviewer)
"the characters are predictably clich├ęd, the villain more so than the heroes, and the supporting cast worst of all." (Amazon reviewer)
"Larke calibrates conflicts and tensions between characters remarkably well and with subtlety." (Online Review site)
"A lovely job is done here in showing him (Shale) growing up..." (another Online Review site)

Pacing
and Plot
"A nice tight story line with no inconsistencies" (Amazon reviewer)
"With this novel she moves into the realm of sheer virtuosity" (Newspaper review)
"This is a GREAT book" (Magazine review)
"The plot is predictable
" (Good Reads reviewer)
"It is an engrossing book.
" (Same good Good Reads reviewer as comment immediately above)
"This book was long and difficult to follow." (Amazon reviewer)
"an extremely entertaining book." (Amazon reviewer)
"Emotion zilch. Meh." (Good Reads reviewer)
"I ended up staying up all night reading it once I started" (Amazon reviewer)
"Couldn't get into it. Didn't care about the characters or the problems."(Good Reads reviewer)
"...even in 600 pages – no long, dull stretches of exposition. This book keeps moving and tumbling from one fantastic set-piece to another. " (Online reviewer)
" Wonderful setting, wonderful world building, incredible imagination and all in all a good tale."(Good Reads reviewer)

World Building
"has created a great world here with different cultures and characters" (Amazon reviewer)
"The stuff with the water was inventive and original." (Good Reads reviewer)
"The premise is still dumb."(Same good Good Reads reviewer as comment immediately above)
"a great setting with an interesting magic and belief system." (Amazon review)
"world-building is a great strength of the story"(Another newspaper review)
"I’ve visited an arid and frightening and wholly convincing land… and I’ve loved very minute of it. " (Online Review site)
"I just couldn't buy an entire civilization that refused to seek out new horizons, explore beyond the status quo of barely enough water to survive in a desert..." (Good Reads reviewer)

And here's one more comment I just have to include. I don't have a clue what it means, but it struck me as very funny:
"When I finished with the book, I honestly feared she might be more-talented version of Christopher Paolini." (Amazon reviewer)

So, which comments am I going to obsess about, the good ones or the bad ones? Which ones am I going to believe?

My philosophy is: read them all, learn what you can, appreciate them -- and don't take any of them too seriously. Not even the good ones. More importantly, write the best novel you can, and then try to make the next one even better.
.

10 comments:

Trent Jamieson said...

Excellent advice. I know I do tend to hone in on the bad ones!

Nyssa said...

As a reviewer, I agree!

And just wanted to also add: never, ever whinge about a bad review online and publically - it makes the writer look like a whingey brat. It's really unprofessional.

Although the one time it is okay to respond to a review is if the reviewer has misunderstood something. One of my reviewers was emailed by Kevin J Anderson himself, when he got a bit confused over the Dune timeline. Another reviewer had written that something was self-published, when it wasn't. But that was through private email, not complaining on your blog to the world :P

I do hope you read my reviews though, Glenda ;) Loooooooooove the Watergivers series!

Trudi Canavan said...

My publisher sent me a review once that was bad, but hilarious for all the errors. The funniest was the criticism that the main character only wanted to get married (opposite was true) and was torn between her teacher (who she suspect her mother wanted her to marry, but felt nothing for) and her female maid!

After some puzzling over this, I figured out the reviewer must have read the first and last page of each chapter. It was the only way I could see anyone getting these plot points so wildly wrong.

Jo said...

Only a third way through the book hunh? I wonder why he felt that way .

By the way, I just voted in a poll about The Last Stormlord on Goodreads. I voted you a 10 of course, whatever anyone else might say, I think your books are great. As do a couple of my friends I might say.

Peter said...

Has there ever been a book of fiction written that was unanimously praised worldwide?

Don't think so.

All readers have peferences, religous baggage, peer pressure, bulletin boards, internet reviews, favourite genre authors etc which all contribute to colour their reading experience.

Glenda Larke said...

Sorry, haven't been online much...so only just getting around to looking at the comments.

Trent, from what I see you won't be getting too many bad reviews! But, as Peter says above, there will be some. There always is.

Nyssa, I seem to miss your review of Stormlord Rising. Hmm, dunno how that happened. I shall blame Blogpulse for not picking it up. Many thanks! I shall do a post.

You are right, usually it's a disaster to reply to a review because you don't like the fact that someone didn't like your baby...

The only review of The Last Stormlord that disturbed me was the one that said the world was not believable because people (even apparently poor, illiterate, downtrodden people in deserts where rain became more and more rare as time went by) would never have put up with the situation. They would have turned on the people who dominated them by supplying them with water. The would have DONE something. I felt like writing a scathing reply, but didn't.

It upset me not because he didn't like my book - that's fair enough - but because it showed such a skewed view of our world. e.g. Dafur is the fault of the poor villagers. Why don't they, the villagers, DO something? The Australian indigenous people were not clever for evolving water-saving strategies, they should have built dams instead, or SOMETHING.
What or how, with limited resources, I have no idea...so that review to me was deeply disturbing. It reduced poverty and oppression down to the fault of the poor and the oppressed.

Trudi, I seem to have a vague memory of Voyager at one time or another putting up a teaser of our books that did just that - beginnings and endings of chapters? Or am I misremembering?

Double hilarious that anyone would even consider reviewing a book on the basis of that!!

Good on you Jo! I notice that Good Reads reviews are a breed apart - they are usually written by real book lovers, and are very critical and very personal. i.e. they don't try to write a review for the general public of the kind "if you liked X you will like this book" type. It's more a "this is my personal reaction to this book and I'm going to be very honest" review.

Blog reviewers tend to take a broader view, as they try to tell their readers whether THEY will like/not like the book.

On Amazon you can get anything at all. Even folk who will give you one star because it's not available yet!

Jo said...

I'm not sure how anyone can presume to say whether anyone else will like a particular book. Same with movies, Matt watches what the critics say, I take no notice and decide if I like the sound of a movie before I watch it.

glenda larke said...

Well, a good reviewer can give you an inkling by saying stuff like "This is a book for readers who like action and lots of battles" or "a read that will be appreciated by all fans of authors XY and AB." Or even by saying things like: "The character-driven plot starts slowly and builds with subtlety, with many twists and turns that leave you wondering who the real villain is..." and so on.

Whereas a more personal review says things like "I hated (or loved) the way the writer did such and such..."

Eeleen Lee said...

great post. I don't read my reviews unless I'm feeling masochistic

Nyssa said...

"It upset me not because he didn't like my book - that's fair enough - but because it showed such a skewed view of our world. e.g. Dafur is the fault of the poor villagers. Why don't they, the villagers, DO something?"

That reminds a few weeks ago on ABC2, a show called Blood, Sweat and Tshirts, in which they sent some English people who love fashion to the slums in India and learn how their high end clothes are actually made.
One of the guys kept pushing "Anyone can leave a bad situation" but within about two episodes, he finally realised that for some people, there was NO escape.

Many places don't have opportunities like the 'first world' countries do, so in Watergivers, it wasn't that far from the truth. Having depended on the Rainlords, Stormlords and Cloudmaster for so long, the villagers wouldn't just wake up and have a magical idea for a dam that would save them if ever a Cloud master was to die without an appropriately talented heir. Now that is unbelievable!

I could have probably just said I agree with you instead of ranting, but it's just so much fun! :P