There's a moment when your book goes out into the world and you realize that someone who doesn't love you will read it. What if they hate it? You will be crushed. What if they love it? You'll be ecstatic until someone else hates it 🙂 This is why I (Joanna) don't read my reviews. I even have my assistant pull out the good ones for website copy. In today's article, Sam Hooker discusses why this may be a healthy attitude to have.
Once your book has made its way past the editor, the typesetter, the cover artist, and perhaps your publisher and/or publicist, it goes out into the world. Then something wonderful happens: people read it.
Then something nerve-wracking happens: people review it.
It makes sense that you would want to pay attention to your reviews. They play a crucial role in the success of your book, and they’re a quick source of anonymous feedback about your writing. But the most sensible thing may be to ignore them altogether.
1. Opinions are subjective.
When readers open your book, they read it through the lens of their world view. Everything they’ve experienced in their life has contributed to the way they see and understand what happens around them.
No two people are alike, and many people will be vastly different from you. That means readers won’t always understand your writing as you’d intended, and that can lead to some unanticipated results.
Let’s say your reader’s favorite thing in the world is cartoons about giant robots. She may give your book 2 stars because she liked it, but she thought it would have more robot fights in space (even if you don’t write science fiction). Another may give it 1 star because it wasn’t Treasure Island, and that’s the only book he’s ever really liked.
Remember: A review will often say more about the reader than the book.
Furthermore, there’s no consistency among reviewers. Even the way that people assign stars to books can have huge variations.
You may get a 5-star review that says your book was “pretty good.” The next one may be a 2-star review calling it “the best thing I’ve ever read.”
Reviewers may give 5 stars to every book they like, or swear that they’ll only bestow that honor once in their life. This inconsistency is never going to change, so save yourself the frustration of trying to make sense of it.
Remember: There’s no right or wrong way to express an opinion.
2. They aren’t your reviews.
Always keep in mind that readers are reviewing your work, not you as a person. It’s often hard to separate the two, especially when a reviewer writes something negative about the author.
Here’s the thing: reviewers don’t know you. At best, they know your book – assuming they bothered to read the whole thing, which people won’t always do if they dislike a book. Reviewers often conflate authors with their books, but authors don’t have to make the same mistake.
Remember: A review is a stranger’s opinion of your book, not the truth about you.
3. Reviews are not a good source of validation or critique.
Reading reviews may seem like the surest way to know whether people liked your work. They come with 1-5 stars, and their average gives you a number grade for your work, right?
Don’t fall for it. First of all, you didn’t take a test, you wrote a book. There is no rubric for grading a book. Reviews are opinions, not truths.
Second, readers are just people. Very few of them have formal training in expressing literary opinions. Even if they do, professionals who write reviews for industry publications are still doing what everyone else is doing: expressing an opinion.
Feedback is important to your growth as an author, but you need to get it from the right place. Author critique groups are a great source of targeted feedback, especially if you can find one that focuses on your subject or genre.
Remember: Good feedback comes from trustworthy sources, not the opinions of anonymous strangers.
4. The best reviews don’t come with 5 stars. Seriously.
It’s a great feeling when your book gets 5-star reviews. They boost your confidence and they balance out the inevitable 1-star reviews (which you would see if you were tracking your average, which you aren’t).
But to readers, 5-star reviews can seem suspicious. A review that glows too brightly may be dismissed as having been written by your parents.
Here’s a bit of good news: most readers who are suspicious of 5-star reviews will dismiss 1-star reviews as well, especially when they say nothing more than “don’t waste your time,” or “blah, it sucked.” They understand that reviews are just opinions, and not all of them matter.
Readers who seriously consider reviews when shopping for books are likely to view 2-, 3-, and 4-star reviews with more credibility. If the text of a 3-star review is genuinely complimentary, it may win you a reader – or at least a sale!
Remember: Mid-ranked reviews give your book credibility.
5. You don’t get to respond. Never, ever, ever respond.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “don’t start a fight you can’t win.” Every book review is a professional boxer on steroids with brass knuckles under their gloves.
It would feel so good to tell 1-star reviewers off, wouldn’t it? Especially the ones who “don’t usually read this sort of thing.” So, why did they pick your book to start? If it “just wasn’t their taste,” why not not review it?
Here’s the problem: you can’t stop a reviewer from posting their opinion, and you can’t prove an opinion wrong. The fact is that they didn’t like your book, and there’s no way to respond that won’t come off as petty or insecure.
Telling off a reader may even make you look like a bully, and that’s not the sort of reputation you want.
As frustrating as it is, your only option is the high road. You don’t get to defend yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to complain! You just don’t get to complain to your readers. If you need to vent about bad feedback, consider asking your critique group to meet you at the bar. They’ll have their own bad reviews to share, I promise.
Remember: You won’t be tempted to respond to anonymous opinions if you haven’t read them.
The key is finding your readers.
The most important factor to your book’s success–and to your success as an author–is connecting with your audience. The people who are going to like your work are already out there. You’re not going to change the minds of anyone else because you can’t prove their opinions wrong.
The best way to ensure good reviews is to find your readers and connect with them. You don’t want to connect with all readers, just your readers. Their reviews are the ones that count, and you know that they’ll be good–so why spend time reading them?
Do you read your book reviews? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Sam Hooker is a darkly humorous fantasy novelist. Learn more about his Terribly Serious Darkness series and other works at his website or follow him on Twitter.
Murees Dupé says
I used to read my reviews. I was even the person on social media politely asking for reviews. It was so stressful. I made myself sick about why nobody reviewed my book, and if they did, that it shouldnt be a bad one. I read more and more that you should just take a step back, and not make them the end of the world. And this post just confirmed it. Simply don’t read them. Like you mentioned, its not about you. Its about the book. Its not worth all the anxiety.
Hannah Ross says
Spot on! You need skin like rhino hide to survive in this business. Reading reviews either sets you up for insecurity or inflates your head.
Braylee Parkinson says
Great article! You’ve listed all the reasons why I’ve stopped reading my reviews. Not everyone is going to like my book, and that’s okay. I need to focus on finding the people that will love my book, and writing the next novel in my series.
Diane Tibert says
I love this best : Remember: A review will often say more about the reader than the book.
Yes, it does. Thank you.
Cathryn Cade says
Great article! I stopped reading my reviews a couple of years ago.
I do, however, love the comments that pop up on my FB ads. They’re generally from happy series readers, and make me smile.
Janice J. Richardson says
Great article and spot on. I agree with Diane on the quote “A review will often say more about the reader than the book.” I also agree with the “never, ever, ever respond” part.
Yes, I read my reviews. I appreciate the good ones and understand that the bad ones are opinions too. If I see a pattern in the reviews about something in the plot, or writing style, I see that as a gift, something to consider changing or adding in the next book.
Alex Ander says
I read my reviews, too, Janice. I’ve discovered the key to not getting bummed out, or an inflated ego, is to view them objectively.
For me, I’ve used the…less than favorable reviews…to learn what I could do better (as you said, plotting, writing style). And, from the five-star reviewers, I’ve gleaned keywords for book blurbs, or how to better describe a series. My happy readers are helping me reach potential new ones.
Maggie Lynch says
Fortunately, I learned early in my career to not read my reviews because they would mess with my head and my productivity. Now, I only check that I have reviews–particularly because I give out review copies and I want to make sure people are actually posting reviews. Depending on the day, and how busy I am, I may or may not read them. I’ve never had a one star review (knock on wood) but I have had reviews that are as you describe, a reflection of expectations unmet.
In an SF book someone wanted everything to be off earth. Um, not the story I wrote.
In a contemporary romance, one person wanted less sex and another wanted more. Again, not the book I wrote.
The thing that most helped me understand review craziness is to look at the reviews of any very popular author, NYT bestseller. Once you do that and see that their average tends to be a little higher than 3 stars it gives you a sense of how variable they are and how the total stars has nothing to do with sales or popularity.
I’m sharing this with lots of writers. Thanks for good advice for any author.
I was the first time on this website to read this review from India and trust me this is really appreciating
S. J. Pajonas says
I’ve been saying this FOR YEARS. Don’t read your reviews and don’t take criticism from anonymous people on the internet. I stopped reading mine a few years ago. I glance at the number of reviews and I skim down the length of the page to make sure there are no glaring complaints like wrong files being delivered. That’s it. Critiques come from trusted sources only. That’s the way it should be.
Frank Franco says
I’m a newbe, just published my first book so of course I’m reading my reviews. I just got my first one star review and I think it helped me. The reviewer pointed out some areas of my story that were a bit long and difficult to get through. I checked and agreed with his assessment which I believe has helped me with my second book. I think that if you’re able to distinguish a thoughtful reviewer from a flippant one, reviews can be helpful regardless if they’re one star or five star. Yes, I reached out to my one star reviewer and thanked him for not only reading my book, but also for his insight.
Charles Pendelton says
I’m with you. Frank. The only way to live is to learn by our mistakes, and the most valuable judges of our work are the readers who will be scouring Amazon or Goodreads for something to read. Sure a professional review is good, but it doesn’t come cheap. Yes, I read every review that comes in, and from those reviews, I always hold the reader of my work in high esteem. Only because they gave of their time to provide an honest and unbiased review. I would have it no other way.
Susan Parry says
Thank you for the advice – I read your blog after getting a little “down” from reading some reviews on Goodreads of an early book of mine. It’s silly I know but we are only human and I do like a pat on the head! I did have one experience on Amazon Kindle (with the same book, as it happens) due to a typo that one reader suggested proved I didn’t know what I was talking about. I did comment – I thanked the reader profusely for pointing out the silly typo and corrected it. Lo and behold, the comment disappeared afterwards!
Like another reader reported, I take solace in looking at reviews for well-known authors and their star ratings; as you say, they are 3-4, which gives me comfort. In future I will try not to look!