Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reviews

        ...We all get them.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Always helpful, whether good or bad.
        Reviews are what you get when a reader is nice enough to give feedback and a rating on something he or she purchased and took the time to read.  They are difficult to formulate, since the reviewer is trying to distill his impressions and reactions into word that express clearly just what they are.
        A good review is very nice.  But I've found that the critical reviews are a lot more helpful, highlighting what might be 'off' to the reader, what might need to be changed, what might be perceived as a weakness.

The way to deal with a review is to look it over, think about it carefully, and draw conclusions.
        If it's a good review, is it a genuinely good one?  If someone gushes over something that you think doesn't deserve the gush, you can shrug, smile and move on.  (Why you would publish something that isn't perfect in your eyes is a little troublesome, I must say...) 
        Critical reviews are handled differently.  What is the reviewer saying?  Pacing is off for him or her?  Description?  Weakness in development?  Just didn't like?
        Once you understand what has been said and have thought things through, you have a few options:
1.  Conclude that the criticism is objectively valid and highlights something that needs to be addressed in future work.  (This can be hard to do properly: most people have to take a deep breath before they take criticism.) It is a good idea to check other reactions: if a number of critics point to the same issue, then it is necessary to address the problem.
2.  Conclude that the criticism is subjective and does not pertain to an actual weakness in the work.  Wishful thinking is very dangerous here.  No one writes a perfect story; you need to keep an open mind.
3.  Take the criticism under advisement and solicit feedback from others whose judgment you trust.
4.  Conclude that the reviewer would not or could not give any basis for the unfavorable review.  At this point, all you can do is shrug, move on, and dismiss the whole thing from your mind, even if you found the review insulting or hurtful. 
        One thing that an author absolutely must not do is to argue with the reviewer or whine about the review online.   Most authors, myself included, follow the steps above and move on. 

When you write a review, it is important to express clearly what it was that you liked or did not like, and make certain that those items actually have some bearing on the writing. 
        As an example, the fact that a printed book with the standard format of full-justified margins has some extra spaces between the words is not really an issue pertaining to the writing and probably should not be in the review. Specific pros and cons are appropriate: 'I just couldn't get into it' is valid, but it is a good idea to expand on why you could not 'get into it'.   'It just did not seem to be about anything' is another nebulous comment that needs clarification to be valid. If the story supposedly concerns organized crime, ghosts, and the death of the main character, it would seem that a lot should be going on. Why does the reader have a sense of nothing?  Was it a flaw in the writing?  Or simply a case of indigestion?
        If a book is described as being in one category - erotica, let us say - and you read it and decide that it fits more properly into the cozy mystery category, is that a basis to downgrade the story?  It may be poor erotica ("None of the characters so much as winked at the others!") but is it a poor Cozy Mystery?  And what if the book claims more than one category?  One of my books has  the following tags in an online listing: historical fiction, adventure, mystery, good vs evil, mystical, supernatural.  It fits all of them, being set in an extensively researched era, involving some mysticism, with supernatural overtones, with the hero fighting evil.  Should it be marked down for having one or another of these features?  It is something to think through when you are reviewing.
        Finally, honesty demands that the rating accurately reflect the reviewer's assessment of the work being reviewed. Giving a very poor verbal review a higher star rating (and telling the author privately that this is being done, as though it is some sort of favor), and finishing the review with the statement that the reader should not pay attention to the review, but give the work a try since they just might end up loving it, is simply sloppy work.
        For those who have reviewed my books honestly: thank you very much!   Bad or good, I promise I won't gush or attack.  I never do.

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