By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I’ve learned not to talk to my family about reviews. I’ve seen them flinch in the past when I’ve mentioned some of the negative things said about my books. I realize that they haven’t developed that ability to be detached about it yet. To them, a negative review is as hurtful as if someone publicly said something negative about me.
For me, it’s not like that. Not unless, maybe, it’s been a bad, bad day and the review is the final straw. Or if I’ve lost a reader. That’s probably the single most hurtful thing I can read from a reviewer—something along the lines of: “I’ve read all her other books but after this one I won’t be buying any more.” That does have the power to really mess up my afternoon…if I let it.
My most-reviewed book has 578 reviews. I haven’t read all of them, but enough to get a snapshot or big picture of what the readers thought. And, in general, I do find reader reviews to be helpful.
Reviews give me a picture of my readers. I can frequently tell their age (readers often state it on the reviews), their education level, and where they’re from. It’s easy market research.
Reviews give me direction. Readers talk about what they like and don’t like in my books. If enough of them talk about an aspect they don’t like…you can bet that I’m going to be making adjustments to my general game plan in the next book. As a commercial writer, I’m writing for them, after all.
Customer reviews can offer valuable insight to other readers–and can give us more visibility on Amazon. I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time researching even minor purchases. We broke our filtered water pitcher here and needed to replace it. I wanted a full picture of what I would be buying. So I looked at Consumer Reports (which was reviewing the pitcher in terms of filtration ability, flow rate, and clogging), but then I expressly clicked over to Amazon to see what customers would say. I wanted both types of reviews—the critical review done in a lab under special conditions, and the customer reviewer saying, “This thing wouldn’t fit in my fridge.”
As a reader, though, I don’t read customer reviews before buying a book on Amazon…I’d rather read a book blogger’s review or a Publishers Weekly review (if there is one). That’s mainly because customer reviews have a scary number of spoilers in them.
So we have different types of reviews in the publishing world right now. We have critical reviews from trained journalists and well-read and practiced book bloggers…and then we have reader reviews.
Actual criticism never seeks to tell users what to do. Instead it takes the work at hand and analyzes it in terms of what its creator(s) intended to do. What did this author mean to achieve? Did he or she achieve it?—how? how not? how well? The user of criticism is then left to decide whether the analysis makes the work worth looking into. And he or she then decides whether the work is “good” or otherwise. Criticism asks you to think for yourself, not be told to “read this” or “don’t read that.”
But are most readers reading book blogger reviews or reviews in publications like Kirkus or PW? Or are they paying more attention to reader reviews? Judging from what I’ve seen in my own books’ reviews, readers chat with each other in the reviews. Some reviews get comments. Readers certainly seem to be reading them and discussing them. So they’re important.
Reader reviews also seem to figure into Amazon’s mysterious algorithm that determines visibility on the retailer’s site. The more reviews you have, the better.
And, this is something most every writer already knows….I never respond to reviews. Not glowing reviews, not mediocre reviews, not scathing reviews. Not even reviews that seem unfair or incorrect. I disengage…the reviews are written by readers for readers. They’re not written for me.
What are your thoughts about reader reviews? Are they helpful or hurtful? Are you able to find something constructive out of even some of the worst ones?