Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reviews Stink

There is no doubt, authors have a love-hate relationship with reviews. Unless you're mega-successful and no longer read reviews, they will slowly, but surely, drive you insane.

Just got the first review for my newly released Regency romantic mystery, The Bricklayer's Helper.

Loves Romances and More Review

It wasn't exactly a stinker, but it was one of those damned with faint praise type reviews. It was enough to make me dread getting any more reviews. For some reason, this book was especially close to my heart (romantic comedy-esque though it is) and since it's been a while since my previous book, I Bid One American, was released, I've grown a little thin-skinned.

Now most authors deal with this with a variety of coping mechanisms including:

  • No one pays attentions to reviews
  • Any publicity is good publicity
  • It's just one person's opinion
  • Reviews are so subjective

You name the strategy and someone is using it to avoid going postal, or worse, slitting their own wrists—which is clearly non-productive since it's really, really hard to type with all that blood gushing over the keyboard.

I try to cope by using it as a learning experience in the, uh, vein of "what could I do differently in my next book to make it even better?" That usually doesn't work too well, but at least it sounds constructive.

Because I know that readers do pay attention to reviews, no matter what we say about it. Although I suspect my use of reviews to find stuff to read may be odd at best, I can't assume others are oblivious to the number of hearts, stars, or happy faces next to a book's title.

While I never bother to sort for only those books that have the best reviews (I have almost never liked books that got top marks from all other readers) I do make book selections in a process that goes like this:

  • Cover: That's the first thing that catches my eye. Does it have an interesting cover? I tend to like humorous ones or scary ones. Or things like a lovely English landscape for mysteries.
  • Blurb:
    Does it entice me with one of my favorite themes or setups? I can't resist books that include any of the following…
    • An old mystery that needs to be solved
    • A haunted house
    • A masquerade/hidden identity
    • Humor, especially wittiness
    • Murder (I'm a huge fan of murder mysteries) most English
  • Reviews: I don't care about the number of stars (or whatever) so much as what the reviewers say. I've got no problem with heroines who are "too stupid to live" so I ignore those comments. Who among us hasn't done incredibly stupid things in real life? Give me even a feeble reason for the heroine to go into the decrepit, haunted house, and I'm good with it. I'm pretty easy when it comes to plot holes, too. As long as it holds my interest and at least makes some sense, it's okay with me.

    No, what I'm looking for are mentions of things I know I can't stand: a lot of meaningless and overly descriptive sex scenes; lack of an actual plot; any indication that the story gets second fiddle to fitting in one more explicit love scene; flowery "sensual" language; politics (I'm so sick of Big Government/Big Company bad guys I could puke); use of present tense for more than a few, brief sections (versus the more traditional third person/past tense or first person/past tense). Stuff like that.

    So basically, what I'm looking for as a reader is anything other readers might have mentioned that will clue me in about stuff in the book that might drive me bonkers.

And that's why reviews are meaningful to me and can really make me wince. I keep wondering what ookie thing mentioned is going to turn off a prospective reader. Or if the reviewer has spotted the fact that I can't write my way out of rain puddle.

But in the end, that very thing that turns off one reader may be what decides another to buy the book. So maybe some authors are right when they say: any publicity is good publicity. Forget the angst and just be glad someone bothered to read it, and more importantly, publish their review.

I certainly hope so.

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