Friday, November 14, 2008

Getting a negative review and living to tell about it

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All right. Let’s talk about reviews.

Specifically, bad reviews.

Good reviews are a piece of cake. Starred ones leave you, well, starry-eyed. A good review, especially a starred one, gives the author validation that his/her book is worth reading. Actually, even better - worth buying!

But bad ones? They hurt. There is just no way around it, unfortunately. As a book release approaches, an author is trying to figure out ways to get the word out. Marketing is probably occupying the brain about 75% of the time two months before a release. The hope, I think, is that some reviews will come in that get people talking. Because that’s what you want, right? A buzz. A buzz that it is so persistent, people just can’t ignore it and so they go to the bookstore and buy the book.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins is a book that had so much buzz around it I just HAD to go and get the book. And I wasn’t disappointed, believe me.

But how often does a buzz like that really happen? It seems to me, not very often. So is it realistic for us to think that any review might even come close to doing this for us? Probably not.
So what if a review comes in for your book, and it’s not what you were hoping for? In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what you were hoping for. Is it the end for your book? Like, is it over before it even began?

No. Not at all. First I think you have to ask the question, who is going to read the review journal? In the kidlit world, it’s primarily librarians and teachers. Most or all of the reviews will also end up on Amazon and B&N, but I wonder, in the end, how important those reviews are to regular readers? I think readers often put more weight into what other readers have to say versus professional publications, but that’s just a guess on my part.

Negative reviews remind me a lot of a harsh critique. At first, it stings. At first, you want to argue with everything negative being said. But eventually, after some time has passed, your brain begins to ponder the comments, and you might even begin to think, yeah, maybe that is something I need to work on.

One of my reviews for I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME talked about how, beyond Ava, my characters were only “shallowly realized.” I can tell you that those words stuck with me, and as I wrote my next book, I found myself paying more attention to the character development.

As they say, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I’m Pubbed


Emily Marshall said...

Lisa, I think it's great for you to learn something from negative reviews. That's a wonderfully positive attitude about it. Bravo to you.

But I do stick by my one statement that reviews are probably much harsher to the author then the person reading it. And that reviewers often throw bad stuff in there, because of some obligation they feel to remain unbiased. I'd say 9 out of 10 reviews I've read have some-sort of negative comment. So I think you have to look at the review as a whole, instead of one or two sentences.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Em - I think that would be a great post for you to do some day. To hear about reviews from your side of the fence as a librarian. How you use reviews in your purchasing decisions, etc.

Abby said...

This is a great post because, as a reviewer, it's nice to see how a negative review affects a writer. I strive to be constructive when I have criticism of a book (and I think I'm getting better at it).

I also have to say I agree with Emily that as a librarian one negative comment or criticism doesn't make me skip over a book. I know that librarians and professional reviewers read A LOT and what might stick out to a professional reviewer as a flaw is not always something that your average reader might notice. As a reader a negative comment doesn't always make me skip a book either. Sometimes it makes me even more intrigued to read the book just to see if I would agree with the criticism.

Liza said...

I really like this post.

I've recently started reviewing books on Amazon, and I really enjoy it.

I have to say, that while I may post a negative review I do try to find a positive to go along with it. I think reviews simply bashing the author helps no one.

As far as how reviews affect readers, in my experience this is how I've used reviews be it in publications or on Amazon.

1) If I'm reading a book and I am starting to dislike it I search for the negative reviews on Amazon to see if anyone else had the same complaint.

2) Sometimes out of curiosity I might search for book reviews.

3) The only time where a review may affect my purchase is if I'm not 100% convinced I want the book in question.

In my experience negative reviews rarely affected my decision to buy a book. For instance, even after the backlash with Breaking Dawn, I still want to buy the book. If you really want a book, you will buy it whether the reviews are negative or not.

DeenaML said...

It seems like books that get "bad professional reviews" aren't known about at all. So it's not like a bad review will spread like the buzz of a great review. I agree that individual readers who either love or hate a book spread that more than the pro reviews.

Unknown said...

I think, too, there's a difference between a constructively critical review and a negative review. Like others have said, trashing the book without reason or trashing the author instead is so not good karma. Constructively critical reviews, on the other hand, can be learned from, as you've discovered. I know, too, that I personally strive to write honest reviews, because I would feel inauthentic otherwise.

Interesting topic, Lisa. Thanks for bringing it up!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Wow, thanks for chiming in, all you reviewers! I've loved reading what you have to say on the topic.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Oh, thank you for sharing this, Lisa. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be soon, and I wince just thinking about reviews.

It's funny how professional critics seem to be "out of the loop" so often. Panic is not an option. :)

They pick at things the readers will most likely never notice, but we, as writers, can take that as a challenge to grow with.