Listen to Your Critics

free-lemonsWait, what? No I didn’t typo the title of this blog.  I really do plan to talk about reasons you should listen to your critics.  Sure there are countless blogs posts about all the reasons you should ignore your critics.  I have even written one (or two).  There are lots of great posts on how bad reviews and the critics of your work should be ignored.  You can’t please everyone and you can’t win them all.  But, after careful consideration, I am not sure that is really the best tip to provide authors, or any artist for that matter.

Working in the art industry, and we can’t forget that writing is an art, attracts all kinds of people.  You have the people who love just about everything.  You have the people who hate just about everything.  Then you have the people who really don’t know what they like or hate.  And finally you have the ones who know what they like and why they like it (and they usually know why they don’t like something too).  One might argue that you can also attract the jealous artist.  The one who wants to do what you do (and probably could) but they never bothered to really work at it.

In the past two years I have written a ton of book reviews.  I realized that reviewing a book on Amazon and Goodreads really helped authors.  Soon I was writing them for Plasma Frequency, and now I am writing them for my own blog.  And in all those reviews, I used to feel guilty when I wrote something critical about a book.  I felt like maybe I was being a jerk.  And I knew how critical reviews bothered me sometimes.  But I’ve realized that I am only sharing my opinion.  Other readers, and the author, can take it or leave it.  It is just my opinion, and I am but one reader.

But over the past few weeks, especially after all the inspiration I got from WorldCon, I have realized that perhaps I am thinking about reviews the wrong way.  That ignoring the bad ones, and basking in the good ones, was not necessarily the best method.

First, we should get this out of the way.  There is one review that you can always ignore.  That is the review that just bashes your book to bash it.  There is no logic to the reviews.  That would be the “This book sucks because I said it sucks but I won’t tell you why it sucks” kind of review.  Any blog reviewer worth your time won’t publish a review like that.  But on Amazon and Goodreads you will see those from time to time.  When I say you should ignore those reviews, I mean just that.  Don’t bother with it.  Don’t waste your time getting it removed or asking all your friends to vote the review as being not helpful.  I just mean ignore it.  It isn’t worth the time you put into it.

Recently I have seen an explosion in sales and reviews for Dissolution of Peace.  I was lucky to sell five copies each month in the past six months.  And I thought five was a great month.  I also seemed stuck at 12 reviews for a long time.  But now, I find myself looking at my 18th review on Amazon.  And 28 text reviews on Goodreads, which is great in my opinion.  I’ve also sold an average of 1.75 books per day (not counting my free promotion earlier this month).

So things are going well right?  Yes, and no.  There are some critical elements in these reviews.

I’m consistently seeing reviewers that love the story line of my book.  There has been a sprinkle or two suggesting better character development, and another sprinkle or two that love the characters.  There have been a few that hate the ending.  There have been a few that love the ending.  But one critical comment has been consistent.  They don’t like the grammar and spelling.  They seem to find errors that I didn’t catch.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am very self conciseness when it comes to grammar.  So my first step in dealing with this was to follow the advise we see across the blogging world.  I simply ignored it.  In fact, anything critical, I ignored.  Anything that people loved I relished in, I noted it for the sequel.  I even bragged about it.

But that is a disservice.  Not just to the reviewer, who took time to review the book (which we know many readers do not do), but it is also a disservice to yourself.

Every artist can grow.  And listening to your readers is a great way to learn where you might want to focus your growth.  It also tells you what you can fix to increase your sales.  For example, I’ve hired a new editor to review and fix the mistakes in Dissolution of Peace that I simply can’t catch.  Once she fixes those, I’ll update the book with a new version.

But grammar isn’t the only critique I have got.  I am looking into how I develop my characters and the way I end my novels.  I am looking into what it is that people really enjoy about the way I write stories.  I’m listening to my readers, even the critics.  Because that is how I will grow as a writer.  That is how I will become better.  And once you think you can’t get any better, you’ve become to arrogant and your readers will eventually notice there is no progression in your work and you will fade out.

So while critics are everywhere, they are also extremely helpful to the arts.  You, as the artists, may not take all their tips.  I am not saying you have to.  But I am saying you should at least listen.  You will benefit from that. If the majority of readers have a consistent complaint, I would suggest correcting that aspect of your writing.  Either in your current book, or in future works in progress.  For those more 50-50 splits, the choice is yours as an artist.  It could be something to change, or it could be that your style is not their style.

But if you want reviewers, you have to listen to them.  You can’t bash them and ignore them.  You can’t accept only the good.  You have to listen to your critics.

Should Authors Write Book Reviews?

Yesterday I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers what they would like me to blog about.  I got only a few responses.  This one, on twitter, caught my eye:

Peter Snede (@Petersnede) wrote: “@Richard_Flores4 I’m interested in a post on authors writing book reviews. Are neg reviews advisable? Do they help them connect w/others?”

I had never really given it much thought.  I’ve written a number of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  I’ve even written a couple of them on here.  But, I never gave much thought  if I was doing a good thing or a bad thing.  I just did it to help out fellow Authors and to help out readers.  So I spent yesterday at work thinking things over on this topic.

We all know that when you get your book ready to sell, you hope to get some reviews.  Whether that be on Amazon, Goodreads, or a blog post.  Generating buzz around your book (positive buzz) will only help you sell more books.  But, what is the benefit in reviewing other author’s books?  Here are some of them:

  • You can hope that the favor is returned.  Perhaps you review their book and they will do the same for you.  If not them directly, then you can hope that your generosity will be rewarded through Karma, fate, good vibes, or whatever you want to call it.
  • Since almost every way you can do a review, you can create a profile that has a link to your site.  You might generate traffic to your website.  If you are reviewing the books on your website or blog, they will find your website when they search for that book.
  • Perhaps your Blog audience enjoys your reviews.  That will certainly help you get more visitors, and get your name out there when you are selling your books.  Chances are if your reviews entertained them, they might take chance on your book.
  • The Author may publicly recognize your review and post it to Twitter, Facebook, or to their own site.  Hopefully that helps you.
  • If you review enough books, name recognition is certainly possible.

The reason I do it is simple:  I enjoyed the book enough that I thought my blog audience would enjoy it as well.  After all a review is my opinion, and for the most part I think my blog audience enjoys my opinion.  I write all these blog posts for my blog audience, not so much for myself.  So, I never gave much thought to all the above benefits as well.  The reason I write reviews on Goodreads and Amazon is to help out fellow authors by increasing their reviews and for the benefit of the buyer who is trying to decide if this book is right for them.

But, Peter asks an important question:  Are negative reviews a good idea?  Well, that was a very tough one for me the first time I had to face a book I didn’t much care for.  When it comes to my blog I only share books I enjoyed.  The reason for that is simple, I want to help my blog audience find the next book they will enjoy.  For me, writing a negative review on my blog serves no purpose to my blog audience, and since my blog is not book review blog anyway, I just don’t do it.

But, when it comes to Amazon or Goodreads, I review books that I don’t like too.  Simply because those are public resources that people come to looking for their next purchase.

But back to the topic:  My moral tough spot.  I had read a book, or rather a collection, that started off horribly.  I even debated putting it down and not reading it anymore.  The problem was, I was given this book for the sole reason of writing an Amazon review.  The even bigger problem was I know the author.  He is a good Author and person.  I talked to my friend and fellow writer about my issue.  He made a good suggestion:  Write the Author and tell them you don’t like it.  Tell them that if you wrote an honest review it would be a bad one.  And explain to them why you don’t like it.  If he insists you still review it, then do so.  If he says well thank you, then you don’t have to review it.

I reviewed it, because it also got a lot better.  I gave it an honest rating and an honest review.  But what if it hadn’t gotten better.  Well, the way I see it that is up to you.  If you are only writing reviews for the benefit of you audience finding books that they will like, then only review books you think are good.  If you run a book review website, you are in a tough spot.  If you are given, and agree to, review a book for your blog.  Then you have to review it.  You could contact the Author and warn them.  Or you could just write the review.

If you are just doing reviews on Goodreads or Amazon you have another option.  If I don’t enjoy a book, I simply rate it.  I don’t write a full review.  I just give it a star rating at leave it at that.

Frankly, unless you are a critic, I don’t think writing a full on bad review does anyone any good.  You won’t change the book, it is already published.  And if you are trying to aspire to be a good Author, then you want to build a positive network of authors.  So, I suggest you follow the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” rule.  Remember a review is way different then the test reading process.  This book has already been published.

Will writing bad reviews end your career?  I don’t think so.  But it won’t boost it either.  However, if you plan to start a blog that reviews books, plan to be an honest book critic (the Siskel & Ebert of books) then you need to take a different approach.  And, I’m not really qualified to give you some guidance on that.

You will notice that I have never once said you should give a false review to a book.  Friend or not, the moment you start writing false reviews you destroy your credibility as an Author and a Reviewer.  Boosting egos won’t work.  If it is a friend, tell them the book is not your style.  If you are not comfortable writing a bad review, don’t do it.  Once of the best things about reviewing is you get to choose what you review.

In summary:  I do recommend that Authors review books.  I don’t think you need to write bad reviews.  And, writing reviews will help you connect with other authors, and with a audience all your own.