The book is out. Congrats. Everyone is overjoyed. The writer has just released a couple hundred pages of hard work and dedication. Blood, sweat, and tears went into every word, every edit, and each stylistic decision on the font, spacing, word choice, and the cover.
The reader has a new book to devour. A couple hundred pages of adventure, heartbreak, terror, love, and all else that may lie within those pages. They stare at the cover, hoping the inside is a beautiful as the outside, hoping for a new favorite book to add to their shelves and pass along to their friends because that’s what a good book is meant for.
And then, the book is read. Both the writer and the reader await the review. Often, this is where the trouble, and an often ugly struggle, between the writer and the reader lies.
I’ve been writing for over a decade now. My first memory of writing anything was in the third grade when I was told to write a story about my summer vacation. The first day of school, my teacher was speaking to my mom and mentioned that I had written about a really amazing summer. My mom had no clue what she was talking about because we hadn’t done anything except hang around the house most of the summer. That’s my first memory that hints at my coming to realize that I was a better storyteller than most.
The next year, I was told to write a short story as my enrichment class project. Everyone was to write one. Since the class was for gifted students, the group was small, but when my teacher called me to read my story, she informed the class that I was the only student to have been descriptive with my work and had received a high grade.
And thus was my first encounter with a review.
When I was twelve, I discovered a website called Fanfiction.net. Being a HUGE Teen Titans fan, and the show coming to an end, I began reading fanfiction every chance I had. I’d spend hours, way past my bedtime, reading short stories and novels about my beloved show. At some point, I opened up Notepad and decided to write my own. I was so in love with the show that I wanted to add my own voice.
The site had a review section. Each time I posted a chapter or story, I’d wait for the reviews. I was excited to hear feedback, and for the most part, it was good. Other twelve-year old’s in love with my ideas for the characters, not worrying too much about what was written well and what was pure fluff.
And there were a few that would say nothing more than, ‘This story sucks’ or ‘Go kill yourself’, because trolls have existed for years, children.
But, out of everything, I remember one reviewer setting aside the time to write an in-depth review of my story. They started by telling me how much they thoroughly enjoyed it and then by hoping to offer a couple of insights that might help me in the future. I was twelve, so they were actually much nicer than they had to be given the quality I was putting out at the time. They went step by step offering help with grammar mistakes I continued to make, word choices, dialogue, crafting a fight scene, and countless others.
At that moment, I was both happy and sad. Sad because, whether most writers want to admit it or not, we hope that everything we write is perfect the first time. There’s a lot of work and love that goes into what we write and it’s a vulnerable experience to put something like that out into the world to be judged, so selfishly, we all hope that people will fall in love with the story that same way we did.
But I was happy because someone cared enough about the story to offer their insight. They wanted to help. Nothing was said in a mean way, and everything was a huge help. I was offered advice that I still adhere to this very day. I am eternally grateful to this person for their words.
These days, things are different. Often, words of advice are going to be sent to me personally, and even when they sting the pride, I am always so thankful because my love for writing and the want to grow trumps pride and ego. However, I’m not only writing for enjoyment now. This is a career, and in the writing world, where there are consumers, reviews are shaped a little differently than they had been back then.
I’ve been reading since I was a child. Even before I began school, my mom was buying me books to read. I grasped a love for reading very early on and would read anything placed into my hands. As I got older, I began discovering my own taste in books, which lead me to Stephen King and my love of horror books. After reading my first King, ‘Salem’s Lot’, I began to buy any horror book I could find in my local thrift shops, chain stores, and yard sales. I picked up a lot of old, cheesy horror books based off nothing more than the covers, and typically anything that said ‘horror’ on the book. Quite a few were duds, but most were enjoyable.
There were no reviews on those books. A lot of them, I wish there had been.
After having trouble with a publishing company with my first book, I began to self-publish my books. It was only then when I discovered how much reviews mean.
I am both a writer and a reader but remembering to distinguish each is a struggle. I have seen far too many authors become personally offended by reviews of their book. There have been times when even the slightest hint of a negative within a review has made me doubt myself, but that is on us. This is a business and of course, it’s going to feel personal, but I swear to you that it’s not. Because there’s one bit of advice that I feel every writer should know, and if you don’t, learn it quickly.
REVIEWS ARE FOR THE READERS, NOT THE WRITER.
Got it? Good. Regular readers and professional book bloggers alike, they’re reviewing the material they read to give an idea to future readers about whether this book is going to pique their interest. Everyone’s preferences are different. Some readers prefer a fast read to a slow burn, but that doesn’t mean your book is horrible. It just means there will be people who prefer something faster. Some people prefer plot development over character development. Does that mean you wrote the worst book in the entire world because your plot is barely a plot at all? No.
Reviews are the one thing that can give your readers an idea of what the book is like. Reviews help you find your audience. Reviews are like having someone do the work of marketing for you, so why would you hate on the people guiding your audience to you and deterring those who aren’t away?
I personally have an issue with writers that harass book bloggers and reviewers. I read once about a writer that tracked a reviewer down for giving her a one-star review. That infuriates me. Many other writers and fans praised her for doing so, but honestly, I would hate to be so insecure that I’d feel the need to harass someone that was simply stating their opinion. Did her entire ego rest on this one person? If her self-worth and identity as a writer hinged so much on a stranger’s review, I would advise seeking therapy and another career.
Listen, there are obviously idiots out there that leave low ratings with no context on books, either because they just don’t like the book and lack the ability to express why, or because they’re trolls. No one is reading those reviews. Although I would love to have nothing but five-star reviews on my books, I tend to gravitate toward three and four when I look into purchasing a book. I like to have a healthy mix of opinions on the story to see if it will work for me.
And then there are other times where I don’t look at the reviews or ratings at all, simply because I want the book that badly.
I still read my reviews because it still brings me joy that someone is willing to take the time to comment on my books. Reviews are not easy to construct, and the reader usually possesses as much talent as the writer in order to do so properly. I enjoy reading a well-crafted review as much as I do a book most times. And each time someone comments on the good points of my work, it brings me joy. And each time someone points out the negative, I remind myself that this is a growing point for me to decide whether I agree or not.
Because the review wasn’t made for me. It was made for you. I can simply take pointers along the way.
So, to all of the readers and reviewers out there, keep doing what you do. Your opinions are important, even when others don’t agree with them or treat you cruelly for not liking or liking a certain book. Your opinion is relevant and good or bad, writers depend on them. Most of us are not douchebags that will stalk you and harass you for a bad review. Continue being honest, even with my books, and continue to speak your truth without fear. And to be honest, any writer that has an issue with your review probably isn’t the best writer to read and certainly not one I’d enjoy reading.
And to all the writers. Humble yourselves. Your book is not for everyone. The lovely Dita Von Teese said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” Read your reviews, or don’t read them. There are books out there that are written poorly and are bestsellers. There are books that are written beautifully and may never gain the recognition they deserve. Just write your book. Someone out there wants to read it.