We love them. We hate them. We can’t live without them.
This is on my mind lately because with two new books out at the same time I’ve had a lot of them. They come in two stripes: editorial reviewing services and reader reviews, the kind that land on Amazon or Goodreads with stars from one to five. They have rather different roles.
The quality of an editorial review matters—the more stars and the more raving the text the better. There’s nothing quite like a reviewer telling me I’m brilliant. I can quote it on my author pages. I can put it in a meme and spread it through social media. I can post a link on my website bookshelf. But what if they don’t like the book? The less said the better. Actually, I’ve never had a scathing editorial review. Often they simply ignore books that don’t interest or don’t fly. This summer I had one that took thought, though. A popular reviewer took great exception to the conclusion of The Price of Glory, my latest release from Soul Mate. She castigated me about, well, no spoilers. Let’s just say someone died. I was horribly disappointed in that review for about half a day. Then it dawned on me: I had written a book that so engaged her as a reader, one that had her so emotionally invested that certain events at the end caused her too explode. Now that is not a bad endorsement of my writing.
Reader reviews? Alas what matters most isn’t the content of them, but the quantity of them. There’s a snip of dialog from The Pirates of the Caribbean. The officer says, “You are the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.” To which Jack sparrow says, “But you’ve heard of me.” So it is with authors. Numbers of reviews matter.
The question with such reviews is, how moved were readers to respond with a review and/or rating? I sometimes think those who respond either love it or hate it. Hence the proliferation of 5s. And 1s. It appears to me that in general the books of a reasonably decent author will always average in 4.xxx range. I always check the quantity of reviews for a better picture of how a book is doing.
Popular wisdom is that authors shouldn’t read their reader reviews. I don’t agree; if readers take time to write them, they deserve attention. But caution is required. The last thing an author wants is to become discouraged. I believe that if you read the 5s you ought to at least peek at the 1s. Every book gets at least a few. Some are from trolls, hateful folk who love to be negative. Some are from people who should have paid more attention to the blurb or they would never have read that particular type of book. On rare occasion I read something useful.
Which words from readers matter to me? The ones that motivate are direct messages from readers (and occasionally reader reviews) that tell me they bought the book and couldn’t stop reading. Or it kept them up all night.
When it comes to judging how well written a book is, it’s the reading that matters.