- The joy of finally seeing your name in print
- Making friends with editors, other writers and readers
- Being able to express oneself creatively
- Making money from what used to be a hobby
- Rejections. Yes, even published authors still get them. And they still suck
- The pressure of producing the next book. Which is even harder if you already have a contract, as nice as that may sound
- I absolutely loved this book by Serenity Woods
- This was such a satisfying journey that I read it twice in 24 hours!
However, for every author there comes the time when you get a bad review (unless you're really, really lucky.) Here are some of mine:
- I thought this was a cute book. I thought it could have been better though. I felt like it was kind of rushed.
- Too dry. I can't even stay interested long enough to get into it.
- The only reason I finished this book was see if it might get better somewhere closer to the end....it didn't.
Still, even that doesn't come close to some of the bad reviews I've seen on Goodreads and Amazon on other authors' works. I won't quote them as it doesn't seem polite, but it amazes me how scathing readers can be. The reason I'm writing this blogpost is that recently I've had several author friends devastated by bad reviews to the point that they've thought about giving up writing. And this is where I struggle with the purpose of reviews.
Why do we review books? I'm guessing the main purpose is to inform other readers of whether - in your opinion - it's worth spending that $3.99 or whatever on the story. With the emphasis on In Your Opinion. One reader said on one of mine, "Not everything appeals to every reader" and that is very true, and we all know this. However, I know that if I look up a book and it's littered with low reviews, it's doubtful I'm going to buy it. And there's nothing wrong with that - some books are truly awful, and we shouldn't have to part with our hard-earned money for them.
The thing that puzzles me mostly though is the reason that people give low reviews. On Goodreads, the star ratings are supposed to relate to the following system:
1 - didn't like it
2 - it was okay
3 - liked it
4 - really liked it
5 - it was amazing
So if you like a book, and it was moderately good, you're supposed to give it 3 stars. However I've heard other authors bewailing when they've received 3 stars reviews, gutted they've been marked down, especially as usually the reviewer hasn't explained why, or has even said they've enjoyed the book.
The point I'm trying to make in a very bad, roundabout way is that there really isn't much rhyme or reason as to how reviewers grade books. For example, I've had quite a few people mark my novellas down because they're short, with comments like:
This puzzles me. I wrote the story (Stranded with a Scotsman) for a short story market. It's 13,000 words long. I ended up self publishing it as a taster for readers to try out my work at a cheap price (it was offered on a free promotion for 5 days and now it's 99 cents - the cheapest price I can offer it as on Amazon's KDP system). To me, that's not much to pay for a decent story, although I acknowledge that there are full-length books out there for that price (which is a whole other matter, don't get me started). But I don't understand the idea behind downgrading a book because of its length. Does this mean there can never be a truly great poem that deserves 5 stars? I'm sure Wordsworth might have something to say about that. Dickens' A Christmas Carol is 112 pages but I doubt anyone would criticize it for being too short. (I'm not comparing myself to Dickens here, obviously, but hopefully you can understand my point.)
Another reason I've been marked down is because usually I write fairly steamy books, and obviously this is to do with an author's brand. A reader may read two or three of my racy novels, and naturally they're going to be disappointed if they then pick up a sweet romance like my Scotsman or Something Blue because there's no heat in them. So they mark them down as boring and say that nothing happens, even though it's a nice romance that other reviewers give 4 or 5 stars. And that's the reader's prerogative. But it makes me sad.
Reviewing is often like judging apples with oranges, and there's no easy way to do this. If you've just read the latest Booker Prize winner that's stunned you with its amazing prose, a trashy romance isn't going to seem in the same league. And yet if you love romance and it makes you laugh and brings a tear to your eye and you finish the book reluctantly thinking you might read it all over again, do you give it 5 stars? Or do you give it 3 stars because it's not as "worthy" as the prize-winning book?
I don't know the answer to that. A designer dress made of quality material will naturally get a 5 star fashion rating, but does that mean you can only give your favourite jeans 2 stars because they're faded and old and ripped? Monet would obviously get 5 stars for Water Lilies, but does that mean you have to give 1 star for your child's finger painting, even though it's more precious to you? A stupid comparison, but you get my drift.
I'm a crappy reviewer because I hate hurting people's feelings. If I didn't like a book, I just wouldn't comment at all. Equally, I admit that I often give author friends 5 stars because I know they, like me, are just starting out in this business and we need all the nice reviews we can get. I wouldn't downgrade a friend's book whatever I thought of it. And I don't get the mentality behind someone who would do that. But then that's me.
What am I trying to say? I have no idea. I suppose, to reviewers: please think a little about the effect your cruel words might have on an author. Even though the book may not be to your liking, they've still worked hard and are trying to make a living, and although crappy writing probably does deserve to be given 1 or 2 stars, a well-written story that doesn't quite do it for you doesn't, in my opinion, warrant such a low rating.
And to authors, whatever you do, don't let a bad review make you give up. It's only one person's opinion, and we all like very different things. Fifty Shades of Grey has received over 5,000 5 star reviews on Amazon but over 4,000 1 star reviews - talk about polarised. Nora Roberts's Vision in White has received 13,000 5 star reviews on Goodreads but still has over 500 1 stars. Look up your favourite author/book and I'm sure it'll comfort you to see that everyone has bad reviews. Everyone gets trashed at some point.
All you can do is thumb your nose at those reviews, have a large glass of wine and start the next book. You never know, it might be the new Fifty Shades and then you won't give a damn how many bad reviews you get!