Books Anne has written or has a chapter in.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Musings on Reviews

Book reviews... if you're a writer you have to live with them, like it or not.  My second dark-fantasy novel, Shaman's Blood, is shaping up to be one of those books readers either love or hate. 5 and 4 star reviewers "got" what I tried to do and loved it, while the 1 and 2 star reviewers didn't get it and didn't want to, not one bit.

So it goes. As a writer, while I don't enjoy the bad reviews, on some level I'm still pleased that a lot of people seem to be reading the book. And in this digital age where anyone with access to a computer can create a blog or join a site like Goodreads and call themselves a book reviewer, reviews carry less critical weight than they used to. If you've spent time learning the craft of writing knowledgeable, literate book reviews, you'll be slightly appalled to see that much of what passes for book reviews these days is pretty pitiful. Misunderstanding the plot and rehashing it badly is not a book review.

There are still competent reviewers out there, of course, and when you get one of those, it's like a gift from a dragon's hoard. A skillfully written book review, even an unfavorable one, can reveal things about your writing that are useful in honing your skill. It can help you spot aspects of plotting, character development, tone, diction, and so forth that you may need to work on. And praise for doing something well is golden.

How writers deal with reviews--whether positive or negative, competent or amateurish--is as personal as the books they write. I have a fantasy writer friend who becomes paralyzed when bad reviews surface. She says her muse goes into hibernation and refuses to come out, threatening to never let the author pen another word. Eventually she gets over it, but on some level, her joy of writing her books is lessened.  Another friend of mine who writes M/M mysteries & romances says he never reads his reviews. He doesn't write for reviewers and really doesn't care what they write about him, one way or the other. He writes for himself and his many fans. He's been criticized for having this attitude, but that's how he deals. And it seems to work because he sells a lot of books.

I guess my own attitude toward book reviews falls somewhere in between these two. A really poor review might leave me stunned for the time it took to read it, but unless I feel there's something useful for me to glean from the review, I let go of it and move on. This is especially true if the reviewer is not literate - I allow myself a moment to despise those types of reviews, acknowledging all the while that the so-called reviewer has just as much right to post what they think as anyone else. 

I tend not to read every review I find, but instead just look for trends. If there's something everyone mentions that was a problem for them, I take note. Or if some aspect of the book continually gets high marks, I remember to keep that going. The important thing is not to let reviews sap your writer's creative energy. As my friend says, who are you writing your books for, anyway?

I'm curious to know how other writers deal with reviews. Have you published and gotten reviewed, for better or worse? How did you deal with it, and have the reviews had any effect on your style or creative output?

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