Reviews Mean Nothing to a Writer (or they shouldn’t)

I suppose one of the hardest things for me to get across to writers has been that they should not read the reviews on their books–for so many reasons. The main reason, how, comes down to my post I wrote called They’re Not For You! In this post, I talk about how book reviews are written from the consumer perspective to other consumers, and the only way their reviews can be written is the same way your book gets written: with bias based on personal experiences.

How do I know? Well, how about, one of my books that was written based off a real-life experience, in which a reviewer said, “No man would ever do that….” and I have to laugh, ’cause I know two men who did it! Or another who said a line of dialogue that was actually spoken in real life was unrealistic. But then I turn around and in a review two days later, someone says that my story was completely believable and that what she loved the most was how the dialogue was so much like real life conversations.

One person said I used the word ‘giggle’ too frequently, to the point that she said if the main character giggled one more time, she was going to throw the book or something… I searched the entire novella, over 70 completed page, and the word ‘giggle’ (or any derivative or conjugation thereof) appears exactly 7 times in the entire manuscript. Nice, huh?

Or when another person tells me that the story is completely unrealistic and could never happen when another reader sends me a private message AND a review, both thanking me for showing those types of relationships in a ‘normal’ and ‘realistic’ light.

Or when one person on Stephen King’s latest novel says it’s one-stay worthy and that it is the worst thing King has ever written to date; versus the other person who gave him a 5-star review that says it’s the absolute best book King has ever written, like, ever.

They’ll come at your story with their own life experiences, their own likes and dislikes, their own preconceptions and misconceptions. Just like every woman falls in love with a different type of man, and some don’t fall in love with men at all, every reader too will not fall in love with the same type of book. Each writer will click with a different reader, and while those writers might click with a large number of readers, they won’t be for everyone. There isn’t one single popular author on Facebook who doesn’t have at least a handful of one-star reviews on Amazon.com. If even the world’s most popular authors are getting one-star reviews, don’t you think your getting one is expected when your book finally makes it outside of your circle of influence?

It doesn’t have to mean you’re a bad writer. Now, if fewer reviewers give you good reviews than bad ones, maybe you can look at that and realize perhaps you need to improve. But short of situations like that, where you’re not selling books and you check the reviews for a clue as to why, it’s best to ignore the reviews completely and keep writing, editing and writing some more. The more you write, the better you’ll get, and the better your writing will be for your readers.

So you can take the reviews and you can read them–and I used to do that too–and you can then go about changing your writing and your characters based off what your readers say. You can sit down at the computer to write out your story and the only voices you’ll hear talking to you won’t be from your characters. They’ll be the voices of the reviewers whispering in your ear while you try to figure out why the characters won’t talk to you any more. And the reason they won’t talk to you any more is because they know you’re not being true to your character’s stories. You’re writing to please the audience, to get good reviews, whatever.

But when you start doing that, when you stop writing for yourself, when you stop writing for the sake of the story, when you start pandering to everyone who reads the story instead of the people who are living the story, then you have failed as a writer.

It’s one thing to give the audience more of what they love to read. It’s another thing to compromise the integrity of the story for the sake of a good review.

And yes, when you only have a handful of reviews, that one bad one sure does sting badly…. but here’s the thing, if you ignore the reviews completely, you won’t even know how many stars you have so it can’t bother you. And then, you can just get big enough and famous enough and popular enough that you have so many reviews that it would just be unrealistic to even try to read them all.

And that’s where you need to be as a writer. Writing for the sake of the story. Not for the sake of the reader. Not for the sake of the money or the publisher or even the editor. You write for the sake of the story and the people living in it, and if anyone, even an editor, asks you to change the integrity of the story, you’d better think long and hard about it before you do.

There’s making choices and then there’s compromising the story… selling out. One of those you can do. Don’t do the other one. Choose wisely when the time comes, and quit reading the darned reviews! They’re not FOR you!

Love and stuff,

Michy

 

PS: This post wasn’t for you either. It was for me. But if it helps you, so much the better.

 

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One comment to Reviews Mean Nothing to a Writer (or they shouldn’t)

  • Farah  says:

    100% truth. This should be read by those authors who argue with reviewers even. Doesn’t get any worst than that.

    At the end of the day, I will only put up the story I want to tell. Whether folks want to read that is just a bargain I’ll have to take.

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