• Uncategorized

    Musings on reader reviews

    Now and then, writers’ groups will discuss reader reviews, the sort posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other places. Negative reader reviews can cause angst, especially among new authors.

    Although I once hoped to learn from reviews, I’ve found that is tricky unless there are enough reviews to show trends. Looking at individual reviews, one reader will love exactly the aspects of a story that another hates. I don’t think readers should be expected to be objective, not when professional reviewers often disagree. Objectivity isn’t the point, I think. Customer reviews are about voicing opinions and when possible, discussing them. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.

    I don’t often post reviews myself, because it takes time away from writing and reviewing fellow authors could lead to all sorts of awkwardness. I do make an exception for books I love, especially if I feel they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

    Would I make any rules for customer reviews? I’m not sure.

    I recently heard that on some sites, there are customer reviews posted before the book is released or even before advance review copies (ARCs) are available. This one is pretty easy. I really don’t think anyone should review a book without having read it!

    But does one have to finish? Personally, I wouldn’t review a book (or score it in a contest) without reading all of it. But a few years ago, I decided that I don’t have to finish a book I’m reading for pleasure if it isn’t delivering. I’ll always read at least a few chapters; there are books on my keeper shelf that I thought started slow. But if I’m not enjoying a book by about a third of the way in, I don’t force myself to read the rest. So by my rules, I’d never give a book less than a 3. But maybe it’s OK for readers in general to say “I couldn’t finish” (and the why of it would be helpful).

    As for virulently angry reviews, authors benefit by being philosophical about them. Everyone gets savaged once in a while. There was a reviewer who said my first book gave her a headache; it hurt, being an early review, but I felt better when I found out she’d also given 1’s to books by Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney and a number of other favorite authors. It’s all in the free expression of opinion.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t make any rules other than those usually in place (don’t change the facts, no personal attacks). You can hate the book, but don’t hate the author.

    So readers, if one of my books ever starts to give you a headache, I give you permission to stop reading, right away. Then write a scathing review if it will help, but a nice, hot cup of tea might help, too. 🙂

    How about you? Do you have any personal rules for reviewing, or rules you think others should follow?


    Photo by Laurel Fan

  • Jane Austen

    Everyone Is A Critic

    Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope everyone’s weekend was good–I went on a writing retreat with a few friends, where we all sat down and worked on our WIPs during the day and went out to eat and gossip in the evening, which was wonderful fun and very productive besides. Sometimes at home it can be hard to concentrate, but when I’m accountable to people for my progress I tend to get more done. Plus spending time with friends–a bonus!

    One aspect of writing that can be not-so-fun sometimes is reviews. Good, bad, wrong, right, whatever, if you’re a writer (even unpublished) you will get them. I’ve been reading a funny new book called How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche. It claims that “…Shakespeare permeates our everyday lives: from the words we speak to the teenage heartthrobs we worship to the political rhetoric spewed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle.” For instance–Shakespeare coined over 1700 words, including abstemious, accused, addiction, amazement, anchovy, assassination (and that’s just a few of the A words!). One chapter I found interesting talks about how Tolstoy hated Shakespeare, loathed him, and in fact wrote a whole book (Tolstoy on Shakespeare) about why Shakespeare was so horrible. See–everyone gets bad press sometimes….

    It seems Tolstoy, when he met Chekhov (whose characters are rather Shakespearean in their complexity) “Shakespeare wrote badly, but you’re worse still!”. In his book, he had these main complaints about Shakespeare’s plays:

    1) “Shakespeare’s bad technique. He finds the characters weak and spoiled. He finds the language overblown and exaggerated.”

    2) “Shakespeare’s amorality.

    3) “Shakespeare’s lack of religion.”

    In other words, according to Marche: “Shakespeare is a messy writer in which virtue and vice are fluid and no definite conclusions about God emerge. And he is absolutely correct.” Just one of the reasons Shakespeare appeals in every time period and to all sorts of people, I suppose. “The reason we love such a messy writer, with a contingent sense of right and wrong and a vague attitude toward the ultimate meaning of the universe, is that we are messy, and the ultimate meaning of right and wrong is contingent…’It depends’ is the accurate answer to most questions…Tolstoy objected to the messiness of Shakespeare’s means and purposes.” Tolstoy also objected to the complicated endings of the plays and Shakespeare’s loose sense of time and place.

    So even Shakespeare has people (even people as important as Tolstoy!) who don’t like their work. 🙂 But I definitely recommend Marche’s book, which is a lot of fun. (And I like to read both Shakespeare and Tolstoy…)

    What have you been reading this week?? What are some of your favorite “messy” Shakespeare plays?

  • Uncategorized

    Release Day Jitters

    Tomorrow is the official release date for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, even though it seems to be in bookstores already and is available at online bookstores. The ebook version will be released tomorrow (Kindle owners take note!)

    It is impossible to know for certain if your book “works” until comments appear, so I’ve been biting my nails a bit in anticipation of the feedback that comes with reader comments and reviews.

    I’ve been so lucky that both Judy and Keira gave me mini-reviews in their comments to my blog last Monday. I almost breathed a sigh of relief reading what they had to say. And Judy wrote a lovely review on Amazon, which was very nice of her to do.

    Early on I received a 4 star review from RT Book Reviews; that’s always a pleasure.

    And yesterday a new review appeared on CataRomance. Debby Guyette calls it “one captivating book.” Yay!!!

    But not all is rosy. Two reader reviewers on Amazon gave the book 3 stars, which is disappointing, because one hopes everyone loves the book, even if that is impossible. At least these readers explained their reasoning and listed both positives and negatives, which I appreciate.

    Many of my author friends say not to read reviews, not to pay any attention to them. And it is true that I can quote the less enthusiastic lines from my very first and only Publishers Weekly review of The Improper Wife, but I also remember the PW reviewer thought I wrote “sizzling love scenes.” The way I figure it, if I didn’t look for reviews, I wouldn’t see the positive ones, and I wouldn’t know if my book “worked” for anyone.

    There is also debate among my friends as to how much people pay attention to reviews. I personally think that they do influence whether or not a person buys a book. I have to admit that I read Amazon reviews before buying a book, unless I know the author or have read something else by that author. I try to assess whether the reviewer has an agenda behind a low review, though. You can mostly tell. And I’m not usually purchasing Romance books when I look at Amazon reviews. I also read RT reviews but typically to see how they’ve assessed friends’ books, not to develop a reading list.

    Of course, I no longer feel I’m a typical reader, so it is hard to say how much reviews would affect my book buying habits if I were. Before I was writing in earnest there weren’t as many reviews online and I mostly went on reading “kicks.” Reading all the Dick Francis books at one point; all the Victoria Holt, Bernard Cornwell, Georgette Heyer, Lois McMaster Bujold, any traditional Regency I could find. A book from the Washington Post Book World might have captured my attention, but mostly my choices seemed pretty random or began with a friend’s recommendation.

    How do you select a book?

    How do reviews influence you? (I’m assuming they do)

    Dec 2 I’m blogging with Romance Bandits and giving away a copy of Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady

    Dec 6 I’ll be here at Risky Regencies, also giving away a copy.

    Check my website for the complete schedule.

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