Ignore them, read only the good ones or suck up all the criticism? What can writers learn from reader reviews? Here are a few thoughts…
We authors love it when we get a fantastic five star review and hate it when we get a bad one. That’s only natural, isn’t it? Everyone enjoys praise and nobody wants months of hard sweat to be dismissed in a few damning words. These days, reader reviews are more important than ever. With the dominance of Amazon, star ratings are crucial to sales and readers often seem more interested in what other readers have to say than the retail blurb put out by the publisher. Authors can refuse to read reviews but they can’t pretend they don’t matter, because they do.
There was a time – long, long ago – when the only reviews a writer ever received were from professional journalists and they only appeared in print. I remember coming back on the coach from Wales, after the premiere of my play ‘A Solitary Confinement’ at the Taliesin Theatre, a huge bouquet of flowers stuffed awkwardly between my thighs, stopping at a service station on the M4 and nervously buying The Guardian. To be honest, it wasn’t a brilliant review and the joy I’d been feeling up to that point wilted more quickly than the flowers. In contrast, the local Swansea paper had praised the production to the skies and the audience had responded really positively. Maybe The Guardian knew best, but it didn’t seem fair that one person’s opinion should hold such sway.
Then the era of people-power dawned. I discovered that readers were taking time out of their busy lives not only to read my books, but to comment on them. Because they wanted to connect with me and other readers, not because it was their job. I was amazed and rather touched. I was also taken aback at how spiteful a very small number of people could be, but that’s life… We authors have to be careful. Get too hung up on the bad reviews, or too high on the effusive ones and we’re in trouble.
This year, Bookouture published my first two psychological thrillers – LIE TO ME and THE GOOD SISTER. I screwed my courage to the sticking place and read many of the reviews, especially from the bloggers. There are some incredibly dedicated people around, so generous with their time, so perceptive and intelligent. I’m building up a sense of what really pulls a reader in, how they want to relate to the characters, how they love twists and satisfying endings. It’s all very helpful stuff for future books. Common themes turn up in the reviews – for example, with THE GOOD SISTER, many readers enjoyed the tricks I played with changing perspectives. That was a risk on my part and I’m thrilled to know it paid off. Now, rather than feeling vulnerable to criticism, I actually feel supported. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review my novels this year. It’s much appreciated.