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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Negative Reviews: The Painful Way to Improve

The most important statement today must come first:
Happy Mother's Day!!

Now, onto another obvious statement: no one likes negative reviews, especially authors. It’s a kick in the gut to something we’ve poured hours of energy into, spilled sweat, tears and sometimes blood into creating, and it hurts to hear that someone didn’t like the ‘babies’ we’ve made.
In addition, so much of this industry is subjective. What one person loves, someone else can’t stand. Which is why so many authors hear so many different kinds of ‘suggestions’ from various editors and Beta Readers. It’s the old adage: you can’t please everyone.

But from the reader’s perspective, if they spent money on a book, then they want to truly enjoy it. They feel cheated if they’ve spent time reading a novel that they weren’t fully engaged in, especially when there are so many great novels out there to read. It’s important to respect the reader and their buying power.
I choose to look at the ‘negative’ reviews a different way.
I use them to help me improve.
First of all, the reader took the time to tell me what they thought. Most readers who don’t like a novel don’t even bother doing that. They just never buy one of my novels again. And that’s the real tragedy. So the fact that they put forth the effort to provide an honest review is a good thing.
If someone says they didn’t like one of my characters because they came off too negative or temperamental, that tells me perhaps I need to work on the initial likeability of the character. Yes, characters need to have development arcs and improve over the length of the story, but sometimes I can start them off too far left. So that’s something I can pay more attention to in the next novel. Hopefully I haven’t turned the reader off so much that they won’t purchase the next story because of the last one.
If someone says they didn’t believe the plot, well that’s a huge red flag to me. Clearly I need to focus more on fleshing out the details.
Even with the many beta readers I use prior to submitting to my publisher, and the various editors who tweak the story at the publisher (all supposed to help me ‘catch’ those issues), some things fall through the cracks. No one is perfect.
But believe that I pay attention to those reviews. They don’t go unheard. And some other authors I know who respond negatively to those kind of harsh reviews let it get the better of them. They stew in it, delay their next releases because their minds are in a funk, or worsestop writing all together. Probably the worst response is a retaliation of some sort: verbal bashing or defensive posts. All of which are completely unprofessional.
I don’t do any of that. I work to improve my writing with each story. Hoping that the next one is better than the last.

So thank you for your honest reviews. Keep them constructive, and I’ll keep improving.
Bringing the next great story to life.

And if you truly loved a story, the best thing you can do is go online (Amazon, GoodReads, or if you bought a print copy in a bookstore), and leave a review. It’s the best way to thank a writer. That, and purchase the next one!

Susan Sheehey writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, though it definitely requires consideration before taking too much credence in a bad review. Some of my favorite authors have been obviously influenced by the one-stars and tried to make appropriate changes in the sequels. What often ends up happening is they strip the book of what their fans liked in order to appease and regain those it didn't work for. Instead of gaining them back, they end up losing more. For instance, I think it's interesting you brought up someone not liking characters "because they came off too negative or temperamental" as it reminds me of my very favorite series that had this problem. I've read many stories where sarcasm or arrogance has been the biggest criticism in the one stars, yet was exactly what made me love it. When the sequels tried to soften those characters, I stopped caring or liking them.

    Bad reviews can help you improve, but I think only when they serve as conformations for what the fans who loved it also felt. Because you are only getting a glimpse of what a person felt without knowing their context or being able to get further insight into what they really mean and why, negative reviews should be used in conjunction with other feedback, not taken seriously as stand-alones.


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