Monday, 5 February 2018

Do You Read your Reviews? by Savita Kalhan

Some actors, artists and writers say that the only thing worse than a bad review is no review. Is it?
And, good or bad, would you, do you, read your reviews?

Lots of people don’t read their reviews. AL Kennedy leaves it to her publisher to read and tell her about, but she won’t read them for herself.

Newspaper reviews and magazine reviews of your work, if they are good, are often used on the book, either on the back or on the inside. Otherwise they are generally forgotten over time. When it comes to Amazon and Goodreads the story is a little different. The reviews, the ratings, given for a book stay there forever.

Reading some of the reviews on these websites, it becomes clear that  there are some great reviews from people who have read the book and enjoyed it, and there are those who read the book but don't connect with it for reasons they discuss intelligently. This is all fine because the enjoyment of a book is subjective and reviewers will have their own opinion.

But not everyone who leaves a review or a rating has necessarily actually read the book, If they had, that would be different! As a writer it is incredibly galling to see one star reviews being given for reasons such as the book being delivered late or arriving damaged. Why do people do that?

Take 1984 by George Orwell. The reviewers who gave it one star were for these reasons: 'there were lots of typos', 'the copy was in German not English', and 'the pages were marked', etc. There were a few reviewers who did review the book itself before giving it a one star: 'Unbelievably boring' and 'a dystopian snoozefest', are a sample of these. Somehow I don't think any of this would have bothered Orwell.

I know authors who make it a policy not to read their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m beginning to think they’re right. Someone left a two star rating on Goodreads for my next book. The book hasn’t even been printed yet - even I don't have a copy of it! Fellow writers have advised me not to respond to the reviewer.

Over the years, authors who have responded to reviewers on Goodreads have come off very badly. It’s a lose-lose situation as the reviewer has nothing to lose, and the writer can come off sounding peevish, precious and, in some cases, abusive towards the reviewer. Here’s a link to an article where the writer responded to the reviewer – it went viral, and did not end well for the writer - HOW NOT TO RESPOND

Writers have to develop a thick skin early on. Their writing is critiqued by themselves, their agents, their crit group, their publisher etc. But the kind of thick skin you need to read some of the reviews that are left on Amazon and Goodreads, well, I'm not sure I will ever be able to grow skin thick enough to handle them. So come the time when reviews for my book start going up, which will be in a month’s time when the book goes out to reviewers pre-publication date, will I read them? Or will I leave it to my publisher or my agent, or a kindly friend to read and sift through to the ones I need to know about, and the ones I really don’t!

So, if you are ever tempted to respond to a bad review, take a deep breath and think again. Go for a walk. Beat up a pillow, vent to your friends, go and play with kittens or puppies, but don't respond to the reviewer on Goodreads who gave your book a two star rating, or comment on your one star review on Amazon. 

Of course, in your head, your book will always be a 5 star book. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Perhaps the off-the-point Amazon reviews happen because, when you send for something from Amazon, they automatically ask you to review it. I remember being flummoxed when I was asked to review a cable for my camera - what on earth did they want to know? Perhaps that's what happens with books - someone asks for a review, you haven't read the book, all you can think of is a comment about the state of the book. (And if you send for something from Amazon Marketplace, they do ask you about the packaging and what state the item's in and so forth.

But as for commenting on a book that's not even been printed yet - well, that's beyond bizarre!

Ann Turnbull said...

Yes, I agree, Sue - and I think often these packaging comments are not always malicious; it's just that people think they've been asked for a review of the experience of buying it, as happens with other 'products'. Whether it's buying something online or staying in a hotel, you always get asked for a review.
That was a horrible, frustrating experience with GoodReads, Savita, but you're right to just ignore it.

Savita Kalhan said...

I think the person who left the two star rating made an honest mistake. I hope she goes back and fixes it. But, yes, I found it very frustrating.

Chitra Soundar said...

It's hard not to get bogged down by bad reviews. I've been there before and the book went to the top 5 - so it's only one person's view in any case.

In your case, I think as you say it is a honest mistake, she just clicked on an app and ended up marking it. She'll love it when she actually reads it.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It would be nice to think that a person had marked a book they hadn’t read with one star as an honest mistake, but it does happen, deliberately, on Goodreads(I don’t see Amazon reviews). A warning, yes, not to respond. I’ve read people’s angry comments along the lines of, “I won’t read this book, and here’s a one star to teach him/her a lesson!” And “I’m allowed to give a one star rating to a book I haven’t read, it’s not against the rules.” This happened recently to a book by a new author who, yes, behaved badly over a poor review by someone who HAD read it. The review was polite enough and the reviewer had offered the author a book launch - of course, the offer was withdrawn - in the interests of supporting a local writer. The author had behaved very unprofessionally, even threatening legal action! But at the same time, I wasn’t impressed with many of the truly nasty comments by about a hundred people who hadn’t read the book! So, that’s what happens when you respond to bad reviews!

At the same time, there are people who give five star ratings to books they haven’t read because they love the author! I know of one case where the book wasn’t even finished. You’d think they could wait till the book is published.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Mind you, at one stage my Goodreads ratings were linked to my Twitter account and the damned thing tweeted before I’d finished, showing one star ratings for books I wanted to give five stars. My friends were saying, “Huh? You’ve given that one star?!?” till I explained and detached the link.