Monday, September 24, 2012

Interpreting Reviews

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I love Seth Godin. He’s a marketing maven and always shares a wealth of wisdom in his books.  My favorite example? All Marketers Are Liars

Yes, I insult myself every time I say the title. *Grins*

I reread it the other day, and something stood out to me. Seth has a section on bias where he discusses his friend’s book. About half of her readers rated it five stars, and the other half gave it one. The reviews were split between glowing praise and scathing personal attacks. So, how did Seth explain this discrepancy?

'The book didn’t generate anything. All it did was give people a chance to express the biases they had before they even opened the book.'
 – Seth Godin

He went on to say:

'People don’t want to change their worldview. They like it, they embrace it and they want it to be reinforced.' – Seth Godin

That makes sense, doesn’t it? This is a highly subjective industry. People have different tastes, different biases. Maybe your horror-writing friend didn’t fall in love with your romance. Maybe the chef you used to work for didn't like your cookbook. That’s okay.

The same goes for the strangers who review your book. It’s entirely possible that your category/genre isn’t their cup of tea, but they decided to read it anyway. That’s flattering, isn’t it? So they didn’t end up liking the book. Big deal. How did you handle split feedback before you were published?

"Bookshelves at the library" by Westcott Phillip,
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
If you're anything like me--and I'm speaking to fiction writers now--you waited and took a consensus of your critique partners’ opinions. Did any of their suggestions overlap? What did the majority of readers think about scene X? Did most of them like the voice?

I know. You’re probably thinking, ‘Your book isn’t even out yet, Carrie. Talk to me after the bad reviews pour in. You’ll foam at the mouth!’
 
That’s fair, but I’m not saying they won’t hurt you. I’m saying they shouldn’t hurt your writing. Look at everything. Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, critique partner notes, beta reader emails, fan letters, etc. Take it all into consideration. What’s the consensus? 


You are not a bad writer.

Keep your chin up, work on improving your craft every day, and do the very best you can. No one has the right to expect anything more of you. If they do... well, that’s their problem. ;)

How do you handle reviews/ratings? Is it different than how you handle early feedback?

 Have a great week, guys! ♥
Next topic: Goodreads!

64 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

To me a bad review doesn't mean my book was bad - it just wasn't for that person. (Be nice if they figured that out before reading all of it and posting a bad review, but hey, can't control that.)

Iain said...

When I get to the reviews/ratings stage, you'll be the first to know how I handled it ;o)

JeffO said...

Please note I have yet to receive reviews/ratings. When I do, I may feel differently. :)

I think reviews/ratings are fundamentally different from feedback. Feedback is given (hopefully) with an eye to helping you improve your story/writing. Reviews are done for so many other reasons, very few of which have to do with making you a better writer. People review to share their opinions, or to make themselves feel better, or to boost their friends/family, or to entertain.

To really grow from reviews, you have to wade through them and find the ones that are seriously done. Those are the ones that may give concrete examples from your book as to where you succeeded or failed. Those are the ones you can learn from.

Lisa Regan said...

I don't know yet--we'll see what happens when my first book comes out in December! :) But in the 6 years it took me to sell my first two novels, I got a lot of negative feedback. My absolute favorite was an editor who told my agent that there was no human element to Finding Claire Fletcher. I know I should have been really hurt by that but I couldn't stop guffawing long enough to get my feelings hurt. I mean I know I'm no literary genius but honestly, I'm not sure she even read the book. (When you read it, you'll understand.) Or maybe she was sending the rejection to the wrong agent. I don't know. Anyway, my point is that I've heard a lot of bad things along the way and yes, they hurt. Absolutely they do. But you're right about taking a consensus. For every negative thing I heard about my work, there were 5-10 positives so I figured I'm doing okay, I'll keep plugging along. My rule has always been to take what I find helpful (in the hopes of getting better in the future) and discard the rest. Not everything is for everyone! Some days it's hard to be okay with that but it is just part of the business.

ilima said...

Bad reviews are a piece of cake. Probably because I haven't gotten reviews yet, ha! I have a feeling I won't handle them well. I may need to avoid reviews all together when the time comes.

Nancy Thompson said...

One thing I realize above all else in this business it the subjectivity. I'm a super picky reader. Every aspect of a book had to be just right for me to keep reading. I know others have similar criteria. So while I imagine the unfavorable reviews will hurt, I'll try not to let it get to me. I guess we'll see how we'll that goes in a few weeks, eh? One thing I will say, I don't read much paranormal romance, but I totally loved STRENGTH. It has all those elements I require. And I actually learned a trick or two, as well.

Natasha Hanova said...

We can't please everyone all the time. Bad reviews hurt. We're only human, after all. But like you said, just because someone gives a book a bad review it doesn't mean we're a bad writer.

That said, I find the concept of book reviews anxiety inducing. Haven't had one, yet. I know there will bad reviews mixed with good ones. I hope I'm able to focus on the positive and let go of the negative.

Carrie Butler said...

That's a great mindset, Alex! I'll have to keep that in mind next year. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Thankfully, those thrown chairs will never make it across the Atlantic! (Either direction.) *Grins*

Carrie Butler said...

Same here, Jeff! Watch. In six months, I'll probably be sulking around this side of the Internet. ;)

I really like the point you made about the intent behind feedback v. reviews. It's definitely something to consider when deciding how you'll use them!

Carrie Butler said...

No human element? You should've re-pitched FCF as a paranormal! "Claire Fletcher is a vampire who's been missing for ten years..."

I kid, I kid! Don't slap me. ;) I'm the same way. You know some of the reactions there have been to Strength. (Not the majority, but enough to make me blink.) I had to laugh off a couple of those, too!

You're so right. Not everything is for everyone!

Carrie Butler said...

This must be the calm before the storm. You know, the part where we're at peace with bad reviews because our books aren't out yet. LOL I'm with you. Maybe we shouldn't read them.

Donna Nolan said...

Fortunately I don't need to worry about reviews for a LONG time but I can't imagine the pressure. Hopefully by the time I have to worry I will be able to handle it all with some grace and dignity.

Ciara said...

I've had my share of bad reviews, and get over them quick. Although, the ones where the person clearly didn't read the book drive me nuts. Also, being told there was a lack of romance in a story that wasn't suppose to have romance cracks me up. Oh well, it all works out. No one gets perfect reviews.

Carrie Butler said...

Aww... thanks, Nancy! I was the same way with psychological thrillers. Before Jenny's book, I wasn't particularly interested in them. But now, having read hers and yours, I'm thinking they might become my next obsession. ;) Good stuff!

Carrie Butler said...

Me too, Natasha! Thank goodness we have such strong support systems (SSP and the blogging community). :D

Carrie Butler said...

I hope I'll be able to handle mine (privately) with grace and dignity, too. It's like a rite of passage. :)

Carrie Butler said...

I didn't think about that! I imagine the reviews where it's the clear the person didn't read your book are quite frustrating. They misrepresent something you've spent months, maybe even years, putting your heart and soul into. Ugh!

Thank God we have the support and encouragement of our fellow bloggers/writers. It certainly helps to balance things out! :)

Emily R. King said...

You know, subjectivity can make a great writer feel like the worst writer on the planet. It's difficult not to take in all the negative feedback. If you're not careful, it can change how you view your story. I'm dealing with this right now. I just got through my beta revisions and I'm still a little bruised. I know it'll take some time before I see what I love about my story again. I think reviews should be the same way. Keep what you love about writing close to your heart, and those bad reviews can't get in.
Thanks, Carrie!

Carrie Butler said...

You hit the nail right on the head, Empress King! I think bruised is the best way to describe that post-beta-feeling. It hurts now, but with time it'll fade away. :) Well said!

Victoria Smith said...

Preach on my friend! I will keep this at the back of my mind when d-day comes, a.k.a that first negative review, haha

Nicky Wells said...

Carrie, what a tough one! I'm not really sure how to respond coherently. Obviously I adore receiving glowing reviews, who doesn't? I've had a few lukewarm to critical reviews and I surprised myself by taking them well. In each case, the reviewer offered a concrete reason and I didn't feel like they were just having a rant--so I could accept what they said, even if perhaps I didn't understand it or agree with it. I haven't yet had a really, really bad review but I think I might probably feel quite destroyed for a little bit.

The thing that gets to me are the ratings. I'm really ambivalent about ratings. I've had a glowing review that made me all rosy cheeked and happy, but a three star rating to go with it. Three stars are fine, but they seemed incongruent with what the reviewers had said. To me, three stars say 'ok', not 'absolutely loved it, wanted a sequel.' So it's ratings that get to me first, particularly as it's one of the first things a prospective reader sees.

The long and the short of it for me is that everybody is entitled to their opinion, and my books won't be everyone's cup of tea. So I take each review as it comes but I try very hard not to let them impact on my current WIP. Great post, Carrie, and lots of food for thought. X

Donna K. Weaver said...

This is a great post. Keeping the subjectivity in mind is very important. Beth Revis recently did a blog post about this very thing and even listed the 1 star ratings from the classics. It was great and made the point wonderfully.

I love your statement that it "shouldn't hurt your writing."

Melissa said...

You are about as far from a 'bad writer' as one can get. Counting the days until March... :)

Carrie Butler said...

I'll have to keep this in the back of my mind, too. Remind me not to freak out. LOL

Carrie Butler said...

Well said, Nicky! We have to take these reader reactions as they come. If they didn’t enjoy our work, maybe we can find some constructive criticism in their comments. Maybe not. By that point, it’s out of our hands.

We just have to write the best books we can and hope they reach the right audience! :)

P.S. It is difficult to understand a rating that doesn’t match the content of its review, isn't it? I mean, to me, a three star rating is lukewarm. They didn’t love it, and they didn’t hate it. When I see it alongside a glowing review, I get so confused.

Of course, that's usually why I decide to read the book for myself. The discrepancy makes me curious! ;)

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Donna! I'll have to check out Beth's blog post. I love reading different takes on the same topic! :D

Carrie Butler said...

D'aww... thanks, Melissa! You made my day. :)

P.S. You're not so bad yourself, Ms. Maygrove!

Botanist said...

No idea how I'll handle reviews, not had to go through that...yet :)

It's true that people want their own biases reinforced. To explain the extreme polarity, though, I suspect there's another bias at play too - the "selection bias". In other words, reviews don't represent a true cross section of everyone's opinion - only those who chose to give a review. And those folks will tend to be those with the strongest opinions one way or the other. Few people take the trouble to post a review of something that didn't trigger a big response, so the middle ground gets lost.

Botanist said...

P.S. I tagged you over on my blog

Carrie Butler said...

Excellent point, Botanist! See, this is why I love the comment section. We have the very best discussions here!

Thanks for stopping by! :D

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, thank you! I'm on my way there. :)

Karen Lange said...

An author once told me that she finally came to the conclusion that her books wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. She figured she could either stress over it or accept it. I want to adapt that mindset for the big picture.

Thanks for the great food for thought. Thanks also for stopping by my blog and commenting. It's great to meet you!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

John Locke has a unique view on negative reviews: they were not his targeted audience, so he doesn't take what they say to heart about the quality of his prose.

Of course, he is also the fellow who paid $1000 dollars (according to THE NEW YORK TIMES) for 50 positive reviews for his book, too. :-)

Mina Burrows said...

Man, did I need to read this post. Thx, Carrie. I'm a Seth fan too. Where's my tribe?

Jessie Humphries said...

I have a hard time with negative reviews. I always feel like there is something redeeming in any book, otherwise it wouldn't have been published/talked about/on the best selling lists. I try to focus on what they did right, and ignore all the icky.

David P. King said...

I wish I was in a position to say how I deal with this issue, but I know my books won't be for everyone. If the reviewer can be specific as to their dislikes (being constructive about it), that would be super helpful to the authors, too. :)

Carrie Butler said...

I want to adapt that mindset, too! It's so much healthier to accept these things as they come. :)

Oh, you're welcome. It's great to meet you, too!

Carrie Butler said...

Whoa. $1000? I think that's more than my car is worth! LOL

Thanks for stopping by, Roland! You always have such interesting things to add. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Yes! Another Seth fan. I love it! :)

Carrie Butler said...

I love your mindset, Jessie! I'm the same way when it comes to giving ratings/reviews. No sense nitpicking if I enjoyed the read. :)

P.S. Your bullet point reviews are the best!

Carrie Butler said...

I agree! Though, if I felt compelled to give an author constructive criticism, I'd probably have to do it in a private message. I worry (too much) about things like that. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Hahaha! I don't know. Hopefully I handle it well. I have handled criticism well all along the way, so hopefully I will then, too. One can never fully tell until it's time, though.... I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Carrie Butler said...

I'm hoping, too! If nothing else, I know to keep my reactions to myself. No good can come from addressing things publically. *Shudder* You know what will probably help?

Cookies. ;)

Elise Fallson said...

Awesome post. Needed to hear this. Haven't read any of Seth Godin's books but I will now. (:

Carrie Butler said...

Thank you, Elise! :) Oh, you'll love Seth Godin. He makes even the driest business topics interesting!

Lynda R Young said...

The subjectivity of anything produced from creativity means it can't be taken personally if someone doesn't like it. Although it's still sometimes difficult to remember that ;)

Melodoie said...

CJ Redwine has an awesome post about this today. Check out her blog at: http://cjredwine.blogspot.com/
She's also the author of the just released DEFIANCE which is a great read.

Carrie Butler said...

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that from time to time! :) Thanks for stopping by, Lynda!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Honestly, I'm very sad for most of the day. Then I read the review again and look at what their complaints are. Really,, why didn't they love the book. What came across as valid in the end, helped me turn into a better writer. But you're right, so right, much of the complaints were simply personal preference. For instance, I didn't like 50 Shades. Nor did I like Messages in a Bottle. MHO didn't stop both books from being best-sellers though.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks for the heads-up, "Melodoie"! ;) I'll be sure to check it out!

Kelley Lynn said...

So far I haven't had to deal with this. We'll see what happens when the time comes :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hmm, we need to work out some kind of system for those sad days. Maybe an unfounded negative review = a nice dinner. Or wine. Or cookies!

Something to balance things out. ;)

Carrie Butler said...

At least we'll probably go through it at the same time, right? :)

Michael Pierce said...

I've been lucky so far, but as I push to get more reviews I know I'm going to be hit by disappointing reviews. I hope it just motivates me to continue striving to improve my craft, and not reach for a drink. haha. Okay, that's not really funny.

cleemckenzie said...

I know reviews are supposed to be important from a marketing standpoint, but I'm with Seth, some are going to like what I write and some aren't. They're human and not every human I've come in contact with likes me or my ideas. Hard to believe, isn't it?

So I guess my answer is I love the good reviews. I hate the bad ones. I move on.
Great post.

Carrie Butler said...

I'm glad to hear your book has been well-received, so far! Like you said, hopefully you'll be able to use those (potentially) disappointing reviews as motivation. And as for the other option... well, as long as it's just one! ;)

Carrie Butler said...

It is hard to believe! Who wouldn't like you? *Shakes her head*

But yes, moving on is what it's all about. :) Thanks, Lee!

Lydia Kang said...

I'm not sure. When my ARCs come out and reviews start coming in, I'm probably going to read some, until I get a scathing one. Then I'll probably stop.

Carrie Butler said...

Yeah, sometimes I think stopping might be the best approach. Blissful ignorance, if there is such a thing. :) Thanks for stopping by, Lydia!

Morgan said...

I'm totally wanting to smack my head right now... I've been wondering why your blog doesn't show up on my feed and I realized I wasn't following you... Carrie, HOW. WAS. THAT. POSSIBLE???? I'm so confused! Weird. Oh well, problem fixed! LOL. ;)

And great post. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Clearly, Blogger is against us. If we regularly commented on each other's blogs, there'd be too much concentrated awesome in one area. The Internet would explode!

That's why it ate the feed. *Nods*

...Yeah, this is why I shouldn't be allowed to reply to comments at three in the morning. LOL Thank you! :)

Alice said...

I see we have a lot in common that we both love to read. If you want to be affiliates or link me, live me a comment on my blog.

Thank You,
Alice

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alice! I'll have to check out your blog. :)