When was the last time you saw a great movie? Recently, my husband and I saw American Sniper. Controversy aside, it was a truly fantastic portrayal of one soldier’s hardships in the face of unbelievably gut-wrenching decisions, life and death decisions that made me even more grateful to the men and women who make sure I have the freedom to go see a movie on Saturday afternoon. The first thing I did after leaving the theater? Posted my opinion on Facebook. Twelve people “liked” my post and several left comments. But the last time I left a review of a novel in my Goodreads account and posted it to Facebook, only two people “liked” it, and no one left a comment.
It’s not a great surprise that more people had an opinion on a popular movie than a novel I was reviewing; however, I wonder if the novel had been a well-known one, would more people have commented? But in order for it to be a well-known novel, doesn’t that require more publicity, and doesn’t publicity come from reviews? It seems like a Catch-22 in the extreme. Can a novel be popular without reviews?
Authors live and die by reviews. We spend time reading them, analyzing them, and even wallowing in them. When I received my first negative review on Goodreads, I thought I would throw up! I had a visceral reaction to the review and was upset for several days. You put the figurative (and not so figurative) blood, sweat, and tears into your manuscript, finally get the courage to push it out of the nest and into the world, and then someone dares NOT to love it as much as you do? How dare they! Even Goodreads sympathized with me with their standard “So you got a bad review” message, all but warning me to stay away from sharp objects and from cursing the reviewer, their progeny, and their pets. After talking myself down from the ledge and letting the criticism sink in, I realized the reader made some important points, and life went on. That novel, Vivid, has a 93 percent positive rating, but less than half of those who’ve added it to their shelves have left a review, and the number is even less on Amazon.
In a recent Godheads’ poll in which almost 39,000 readers participated, only 17 percent thought “friend” reviews were important while 53 percent valued a “tantalizing” description more. In another poll, over 33,000 readers said learning about a book in person is more important than even social media or blog posts. So, maybe reviews aren’t as valuable as authors would like to think if we’re trying to attract the more than 20 million users of Goodreads and other sites.
How do you handle those reviews that send you into spasms? Try to read them as objectively as possible. Readers have a right to an opinion, and sometimes they’ll make a valid point. If they feel strongly enough to write a review, that review could be beneficial, and it’s not realistic to expect a perfect rating. Even the best novels receive some negative ratings. Chocolate chip cookies are amazing, but you can’t get everyone to eat one. There’re some haters out there who consistently dog books just because they can. If it’s a review on a site like Goodreads, check out a couple of other reviews they’ve left. A pattern of poor reviews may show you something about that reader. I once had a reader say she’d rather be washing dishes than reading my novel, and when I looked at her other reviews, I found she’d given an average rating of two (out of five) to most of the novels she’d read. While the nice response would be to thank the reader for giving their opinion, the best response is often no response at all. Our moms may have had a point when they taught us if you can’t say something nice, keep your mouth shut.
Great advice, but easier said than done. Doubtless, I’ll still check my reviews and feel those highest highs and lowest lows. We authors travel an emotional rollercoaster, but oh what a ride!