Publishing Fear Free

Reconsidering Reviews

I’ve already done a post on book reviews, but I thought I’d add a few new theories I’ve begun to develop about how to best interpret and make use of reviews of your work.

I read a lot of reviews. I read those for my books, and I also read those given to the works of other authors. You see, I’ve been torn about how exactly I should be understanding what I’m reading. Even though many reviews contain numerical/star ratings, book reviewing is not a scientific process. It is almost entirely based on opinion, and because not everyone sees things the same way, many reviews conflict.

Hence my quandary. I want to grow and improve as a writer and I thought I could use reviews to help guide me. But how do you react when one review says the beginning is slow but the rest of the pacing is good, the next says the end is slow but the rest of the pacing is good, and the next says the middle is slow but the rest of the pacing is good? If I believe all three of these opinions, then I’d have to think that my book is both slow from beginning to end AND yet also well paced from beginning to end. This type of conflict of opinion happens a lot in reviews. But it left me wondering what the heck does it mean for me, the writer?

When there are conflicts like this all over the place in a set of reviews, I have to chalk this up to difference in reader opinion.

When is it not just opinion then? How do you know when to act as a writer based on reviewer response?

  • When a trusted reviewer, whose opinion and judgment you respect, offers criticism, then you should consider acting upon it.
  • When there is a consensus among reviewers, you should consider acting on their advice. Look at the reviews of Janet Evanovich’s work as an example. Book 1 in her Plum series starts out with a typical spread of reviews with all the contradictions you’d expect, but when you get to book 17, you see a lot of low ranks AND repetition of criticism.

So those are my current thoughts on the subject. Writers, what have you found about reviews? And readers, what’s your take on this?

7 thoughts on “Reconsidering Reviews

  1. I agree with you 100%. When I’m shopping for a book, I also look at reader reviews. If they are all over the place, I’ll toss out the poorest (somebody had a bad day) and the best (too Sally Sunshine…), and see what’s left. Seems to me that most of the most valid input is in the moderate reviews. But if I see a predominance of lows, depending on the comments (maybe they don’t like Southern fiction and I do…) I may just discard the book. If I see a predominance of highs, an dthe comments lead me to believe that it’s a genre and style of writing that I’ll like – SOLD! I don’t usually have the patience to look for trends in an author if I haven’t read that author before, but that would be an excellent technique. I used to LOVE Mary Higgins Clark but I suspect if I read her reviews from recent books I’d see a big slide in the ratings.

  2. eh.

    I got no advice except that you just need to make yourself a flow chart and see what collective is said —

    and if they continue to buy your book, ignore all reviews.

  3. Like Brenda, I do look at reviews. But I also use the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature to see what the writing is like. I never would have thought it, but I buy most of my books on Kindle now. Those Amazon cards from the grocery store are the perfect impulse buy enabler!

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Jennifer, in taking criticism with a grain of salt. Make that a big, whopping grain, or a ten pound bagful! Trusted readers (who either produce work you admire, or enjoy the same) are the ones to listen to, not the rest. I know this, and yet I can’t help reading everything readers say about my work. A bad review can throw me into a tailspin of self-doubt. It shouldn’t. I mean I ought to be able to trust myself, right? And to remember that some people enjoy being critical just because they can?

    What I struggle with even more is writing reviews. I have fine opinions aplenty, oh yes. But should I slam a colleague whose work is sub-par? Especially now that I know how much a snippy review can hurt?

    Ah, but here is the question: Am I brave enough, and do I care enough, to privately email a talented author with my concerns? Takes courage, that!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,


  4. I never really cared about reviews (author blurbs aside) until I am looking for a new author in a genre I like. Then, I start to learn which commenters/bloggers I like, and make my choices from them. One time was a burn, but the other was great.

  5. I eventually look at all reviews, but when I see a low star rating, I let it sit until the sting has faded before I actually read what it says. That way, I don’t react out of shock. (Of course, I never respond to the reviewer, because that is The Way of Madness.)

    However, I have picked up a good tip from my reviewers and I’m grateful to them.

  6. What a tricky subject. I know since I have started writing reviews, I have had to think about a lot of the impressions a book left on me. Here’s my thing, just because I did not like a book, or certain plot development points didn’t connect or flow for me, or the errors grated on my sanity, does not mean another reader won’t be able to look over those things, or might not even notice them and enjoy the book. On the other hand, just because I think a certain book is the greatest book I have read this year, with an amazing plot, hero, and few errors, does not signify that all other readers will also.
    You are right. Reviews are so subjective. I hope you authors have much luck discerning well-written reviews from poorly written ones.

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