Reviews: The Key to the Reader’s Mind
Reviews are a mixed blessing for me. I admit I get excited when an alert for one pops up in my e-mail, but I also click on it with trepidation. Did they like my book? Did they say nice things? Did they hate it and the review is terrible? I never know and anything can be waiting for me.
Naturally, I wish every review was filled with glowing praise, but a book can’t please every reader. And negative comments in reviews can be useful if you know what to look for. Good or bad, I try to understand why someone felt as they did -- and what I might want to do about that:
Personal Taste Comments
Sometimes a book just doesn’t click for a reader, and that’s okay. We all like different types of books. If a comment is clearly a personal taste comment, like, “I’m not a fan of first person, so…” there’s nothing I could have done to make the book better for that reviewer. (Aside from changing my choice of point of view.) But if the comment makes sense and I agree with it, I’ll take that into consideration on the next book.
These I take very seriously, same as I do in my critique groups. Confusion is bad, and if I’ve lost a reader on something, I pay close attention to clarity on the next book. You can’t always catch these things, (the author knows what everything means, so it’s hard to see where something doesn’t make sense) but you can add a word or detail here and there to help clarify things without banging the reader over the head with it.
These can go either way. How someone feels about a character varies wildly, and I’ve gotten reviews on the same day where one reviewer loved a character and the other disliked them and thought they were flat. I consider these comments on an individual basis. If I agree with what the reviewer has said, or feel they have some merit, I’ll pay attention to that on the next book. If I can’t really pinpoint or understand why they felt this way, there’s not much I can do to fix it.
If a reader doesn’t like or believe my premise, I can’t win them over. Sometimes these are the most frustrating comments of all, especially if a reviewer says, “I wish they’d done more with X.” Doing more is subjective, and I can’t know what someone would have liked to have seen more of. It’s great when they give examples, but a lot of times someone knows something didn’t live up to their expectations but can’t say why. An as author, it’s very difficult to know how to improve based on a comment like that. All I can do it try to dig deeper into my premise next book, think broader, consider more options and ideas, and hope I do more with my story. Sometimes it comes down to just not pushing yourself or your story far enough.
When someone raves about my book and gives details as to why, it’s incredibly helpful to me (and pretty darn gratifying). Then I know what I’m doing right and what my readers are enjoying. I can incorporate those strengths into my next work and build off of what I was successful at. I just need to make sure I don’t go overboard and do too much of what folks loved. Having a triple fudge banana split for dessert might be wonderful, but having one with every meal for a week can make you hate banana splits.
I find reviews of all kinds helpful, and feel they’re a valuable way for me to judge if I’ve accomplished what I set out to do with my book. While I don’t try to satisfy every reader, or try to fix every negative comment (I’d just make a mess of the story if I tried to please everyone) I do look for areas where I can improve as a writer and a storyteller.
Because that’s my ultimate goal. To tell a great story and entertain my readers.
Janice, Thanks so much for the guest post! It's always great to hear what other people, including authors look for when it comes to reviews.
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