A word on negative reviews – by Big Al
This my dear author friends is a letter from one of my favorite reviewers. I visit his blog frequently. Though I don’t read the books he reviews, his ‘reviews’ always draw me in. So many times we (authors) are left feeling empty after a reader shreds our work and then dismisses our favorable reviews as dribble. So many times we take it personally. So often we are not able to move on to the next tale without the question of doubt whispered to the back of our thoughts.
Well Big Al gave a response to us that clearly illustrates why readers are very much so entitled to their reviews and why we authors need to put on our big girl panties and endure. Again, I don’t seek out reviewers like Big Al, however many have bought my book and took it upon themselves to state their opinions. And though Big Al mostly comments below on grammatical errors and such (which I do believe we indie authors struggle to overcome and MUST improve upon – myself included) his overall message is the goal and perspective of the reviewers of our work is really a reader to reader exchange.
This clarifies a lot for me, and it should for my author friends who lick their wounds and sulk after a beating. Readers want to know what a fellow reader thinks, and should be able to express themselves. And we can reserve the applause and roses thrown at our feet for places like our blogs, fan pages and yahoo groups. Not a bad idea?
In the short time since starting this blog I’ve received multiple emails from authors whose book received a negative review asking, even demanding, that I remove the review. Rather than address them one at a time I decided to address all these situations in this post. Consider it an open letter to both authors whose books have been reviewed or will be in the future, as well as my readers.
I’ll start by saying I don’t give negative reviews lightly. I understand writing a sixty thousand word novel isn’t easy. It is much more than two hundred times tougher than writing a three hundred word review. I’d guess it is easily thousands of times tougher. I get that. I’m not going to dismiss your months or years of hard work without a second thought. I’m not out to torpedo anyone’s budding career as a novelist, nor is a single review from me going to do that.
However, I also have to consider the purpose of a book review. It’s to help readers decide if it is a book they want to buy. The primary purpose isn’t to help the author, publisher, or anyone except the reader. The author would like a positive review and may benefit from it, but that purpose is secondary. For this reason I will not remove a review once it has been posted. Requests to do so will not receive any response. Doing so would be a disservice to my readers. I will post it to the other sites as indicated in the submission guidelines page. Asking or insisting I remove a review is no different than if I demanded an author stop selling their book.
What Gets a Negative Review
Authors and readers should review the Guide to Reviews page to understand what the rankings mean to me. In this I mention that personal taste can influence the star ranking. However, this really only comes into play when a book is borderline between two different rankings. I’ve made a minor change in the Guide to Reviews page to make that clearer. Any book with 3-star ranking or lower has some definite flaws. What and how serious those flaws are will determine the ranking. These might be problems with the story or the characters. It may be a convoluted or difficult way the author has of expressing themself. If so I’ll typically explain what these are so readers can decide, based on their personal preferences, how this should impact their purchasing decision.
These flaws might be technical issues such as typos, grammar, or incorrect word usage. Those types of flaws exist in virtually every book. I’d venture a guess that a sharp eyed reader will find some in this post. I’d be amazed if some couldn’t be found elsewhere on this blog.
How these kinds of things impact one of my reviews depends on the type and number of errors. Yes, I’m actually keeping track, to a point. I’m not a professional proofreader or copyeditor. If I’m not sure, I don’t count it. Chances of not counting something as an error that should be are much higher than the opposite. If there are a very small number of errors, up to about seven in a typical novel, I’ll indicate this in the format/typo issues area of the review with something like, “no significant issues.” More than that, but under around twenty I’ll say, “a small number of errors.” If there are less than twenty, this is the only place these errors will be mentioned. If you wonder why I mention them at all it’s because the complaint I hear about Indie authors the most is that their books are full of these kinds of errors. My experience is that most aren’t, and only readers with an extremely low tolerance would take issue with so few such issues.
Errors beyond this amount are when they may start impacting the reading experience. My note in the format/typo issues section will indicate how serious the issue is. If the errors detract from the reading experience it will be mentioned in the analysis section.
But everyone else says my book is great
Everyone and I disagree. It happens.
I’ve seen two star reviews for books I’d give four or five stars. I’ve seen one star reviews on books considered “classics of literature.” If 9 out of 10 disinterested reviewers love your book then what I think shouldn’t matter. If all your family and friends love the book and give it a great review, the same thing goes, if you’re sure they will tell you the truth.
However, before discounting my opinion entirely you might be doing yourself a favor to understand why I didn’t like it. Is it a matter of difference in taste or did you push the publish button before your book was ready? If spelling, grammar, and typographical errors were enough to influence my ranking it is almost surely the latter.
As an avid reader, I think we’re living in an exciting time. The opportunity to experience a variety of voices, different subject matter in fiction, and to find quality reading off the beaten path is greater than ever before. This is why I focus on indie authors. However, being an indie author doesn’t mean a free pass for those things that are objective and clearly wrong. If you’re an author planning to submit your book for review and can’t live with the consequences based on what I’ve said in this post and the submission guidelines, possibly you should reconsider.
You can visit Big Al’s blog here and leave a comment: Big Al BlogSpot
Or share your thoughts! I’d love to hear them!