Sunday, 18 November 2012

Everybody hates me!

Okay, that might seem a bit melodramatic, but that's how it can feel when somebody hates your baby, sorry story.

You've slaved over a hot laptop - in between the dreaded day job, running round after kids, burning the dinner and shoving the dust bunnies further out of sight. You've battled with the plot, argued with the characters, waded through the sticky middle and finally typed The End, and hit send.

Stalking your inbox becomes part of your life for hours, days, months. And then it arrives. Someone likes what you've written - likes it enough to offer you a contract.

So you have a publisher who likes the story, you have an editor who shares your fears and frustrations as you knock it into even better shape, you have confirmation that you can write. And you have publication day!!

Now, instead of stalking your inbox, amazon takes over. Rankings and reviews rule your waking hours. And there are days when life couldn't get better when you go up the rankings, and slow days when you're a bit down because your story has dropped. And there are brilliant, word inspiring days when you read a four or five star review from a complete stranger. Then, there are days when you get a one or two star review and you feel like you might as well give up. So you have a glass (or two) of wine, dig out the secret supply of chocolate .... and then what?

Well, this is (part of) what I have learned from reviews, whether they are scathing, non-committal or non-existent;
1. Nobody hates you. This is not personal, it's about your story not you as a person.
2. Some people just won't like your story, full stop - which is fine. They may not like your 'voice' (in which case they probably won't come back), or they might not like this particular story line, or one of the characters, or the setting (in which case they might still be tempted to read another of your stories).
3. The more copies you sell the greater your chances of independent reviews (i.e. not from your mum, best friend, cp etc.) being posted - good and bad.
4. Free can be tricky. Offering your story free will push it up the rankings, it will make it more visible, it will increase your chance of sales after the free period ends. But, there is a downside. If your story if offered free then you will undoubtedly have  it downloaded by a lot more people, but some of these people download indiscriminately. If people are paying, they will read the blurb, read any warnings, read the free excerpt and decide whether they really want to part with their hard earned cash. If it's free, sadly a lot of people will download because they just like the title, or the cover, or they just saw the word 'free'. I recently read a one star review that had been posted on one story (not mine) which said it was too short and so not worth the money! It was free, the word count was included in the description...
3. Titles can be misleading, blurbs can be misleading. Sometimes what you get and what you expect aren't the same thing. Maybe the reviews aren't about bad writing but expectations not being met, maybe the marketing of your story hasn't quite hit the mark.
4. We all like different things and so you can't please all the people all of the time. Whoever you are. For a quick and easy example look at Fifty Shades - it has been a massive success sales wise, but it has its critics as well as its dedicated followers. Looking at the reviews today, there are just under 5000 in total. Of these, 2k are five star reviews, 1.5k are one star reviews, and the remainder are split pretty evenly between two, three and four star. Does EL James care? Well I don't know the answer to that one, but I don't think she will let those bad reviews stop her writing, do you?
5. All publicity is good publicity. I don't agree one hundred per cent with this, but close. If someone leaves a one star review saying 'this is pants' then it isn't very helpful. But, if they give a reason e.g. 'the hero was too alpha for me', 'this was too raunchy', 'I don't like stories about kittens' - then it might give someone else a reason to buy it!

6. If you get a review, good or bad, it means someone has been willing to read your story and has bothered to write a review. It wasn't your mother, brother, best friend or crit partner - it was a stranger who was interested in your writing.
And lastly 7. Some people just like complaining!

I'd love to say I am one of those people who doesn't even bother to read reviews, but I just have to check up every now and again... But I'm so grateful to every person who has bought one of my stories, I'm thrilled some people have enjoyed them and sorry that I can't please everybody.

I very rarely leave reviews myself, and I'd never leave a scathing review for a story. For a kettle maybe, not for a story. Fiction is subjective, a matter of taste, something very personal - so I can't really see the point in declaring in public 'this didn't work for me'. But I might well contact an author and say 'I loved this story, but I was frustrated by...'

What about you? Would you leave a one star review and advise someone not to give up the day job?!


  1. Very helpful Susie, and something I need to keep in mind! I used to take critiques very seriously, and reviews are no different. You're completely right though. It's your baby, but a review is an opinion of one or two, not them all and there are many reasons why someone would dislike your book.

    I don't leave a lot of reviews, only ones for books that really stuck out for me. It's not because I don't want to leave a bad review (though I don't see the point in doing so) it's just because I read so many I don't have time to review every one. Else I'd get no writing done ;)


    1. I know what you mean! At the moment I'm having enough trouble finding time to finish a book let alone write a review as well. After my current wip goes to my editor I will be locking myself away with my kindle and catching up :-) x

  2. By the way, when I said 'your' I meant anyones! Not yours, mine, 50, them all :)

  3. I think you already know I'm 100% with you on this, Susie. I must say I hold no credence on reviews that don't leave a comment though. I certainly appreciate it, because I'm hoping it means someone read it, unfortunately that's not always the case these days, though I think I'm probably too small fry to warrant sock puppetry or fake reviews. Aimee, I know exactly what you mean about not having time to review everything you read, I don't even have time to read everything I've downloaded! X

    1. Yup, I'm way too small for sock puppetry, though it does amaze me that people will pay to have bad reviews (on other people's books) as well as good reviews written! Sad thing about the whole fake review thing is that Amazon are now pulling any suspect reviews, which mean genuine ones go as well.

      And I'm like you with the reading - I've got a massive backlog of unread books on my kindle, I keep spotting new ones I like the look of and it is so easy to keep buying! x

  4. Nice post, Susie! :)

    I never leave bad reviews. If I really dislike a book, I'll give it a three star review. If I HATE it, I'll think twice before writing about it :) Or I just will not.

    I like to voice my opinion any chance I get, usually. But like you said, fiction is subjective. And unless something REALLY offended me, who am I to tell someone not to quit their day job? I just don't like that kind of bad energy.

    As a writer, I think bad reviews are there to keep us honest and also to remind us sometimes people outside our target audience are reading our material -- which is not a bad thing. Or maybe someone just didn't like my book, or my writing style, and that's fine too. When I get GOOD ones, though... I grin from ear to ear.

    Becoming a published author made me appreciate reviews and although I'm way behind on my list, nowadays I try to make time to leave them as much as I can.


    1. Hi Carmen! I agree, the good ones are WOW, and the bad ones keep us honest. I think whatever people say it makes me stop and think, and more often than not improves my writing or makes me see things from a different angle.
      Like you, I really appreciate reviews now - before I was published I didn't realise just how important they are to the author, as well as other readers. I just wish at the moment I had more time to read and review, maybe that will be one of my new year resolutions - make time! x