Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Burning Question

Today's BQ is of particular interest to me. I can't answer it because I'm a newbie, but with my first book hitting the shelves in, darn it, eight months, I'm trying to prep myself for potential challenges. So let's listen to what the experts have to say.

Ladies, today Michelle asks: How do reviews affect how you feel about the books you’ve written?


Helen Brenna said...

I don't have reviewers, yet, but there have been times I've been disappointed by less than expected reactions to my work from friends, family and critique groups and it does cause me to doubt my writing.

For example, My mom sat down to read a book of mine for the first time, my third manuscript. Granted, it wasn't in as good of shape back then as it is today--it's the one that sold and has been rewritten and polished many times over--but her reaction back then was nonetheless disheartening. She fell asleep! Ouch!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Aw, Helen, I know that hurts. My mother never read one of my books start to finish. She came to the first love scen in my first book and stopped. Mind you, my mom was no prude. But I was, and Mama couldn't take the shock. My sister reads ONLY the love scenes. However they both--my mom while she lived and my sis--proudly display(ed) my books in their homes. What more could I ask from two dear women who simply are not fiction readers?

But on to the BQ, anyone who says that a negative review doesn't make her feel a little sick or sad or angry is lying. It doesn't change the way I feel about the book. The book is like my kid--it has it's flaws, sure, but I will defend it to the death. I know that some of my books are stronger than others, but like my kids, I know that each one has its strengths and that they're different. Some people don't get my kids, er, books. Some people get one and not the other. So be it.

Now, that's an example of my self talk. I look forward to getting rave reviews. But I'm a writer. We're an insecure lot. Even the rave review brings doubts. "Did she really mean that, or is she just being nice?" We're hopeless!

Generally I can see the signs of not "getting it" in a negative review. That or the reviewer's real agenda, which is to showcase her acerbic wit. That's the reviewer I can easily dismiss with, "As long as she spells my name and gets the title right."

That said, I've done a good bit of reviewing myself--for the Mpls Star Trib--and I know it's not easy. Romances are finally getting reviewed on book pages and in PW by reviewers who don't hate the genre. That's progress!

anne frasier said...

what a great question and one that really hits home for me. my last book, BEFORE I WAKE, got some awful reviews. It also got some fantastic ones, but it seems to be a book people either love or loathe. because of that, it's a book i rarely mention to people. if someone asks for a recommendation, i don't mention it. if i list my titles, i often leave it off the list. that's because i'm afraid if the reader hates it she won't buy any more of my books. it's very strange, because many people tell me BEFORE I WAKE is their favorite of my books, but i just don't want to risk losing a potential reader by recommending it.

Michele said...

I agree wtih both Kathy and Anne. I've come to realize that with each book I write, I'm not going to please everyone. And I wouldn't want to. And there will always be the extremes. Those who ADORE it, and those who HATE it. But why is it that the one's who feel hate are the ones who make it to Amazon, to spread that vicious feeling? And those who feel squishy, lovey, happy feelings, don't frequent Amazon as often? Sigh...
No matter what someone says about a book, good, bad, or ugly, it never changes the way I felt about writing it. I have my favorites, and yes, I have at least one that makes me cringe. It's when people rave about the cringable one that makes me realize I'll never be a good judge of my own work.
The proof of that is in how I can love something, and the person next to me does not. We all judge things by some inner gauge that is like no other inner gauges around. So I don't think we can ever truly understand the 'hate' or 'adore' factors, eh?

Hey, just as long as you spell my characters names right (and please, do use the right names, and not Fred—who has never appeared in any of my books) and don't give away too much of the plot (Oh yes, this happens a LOT), and I'm a happy camper.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, Michele: can I tell you that I have to double-check the reviews I write just to make sure I've gotten the TITLE correct?

As a columnist who writes feature reviews of romance novels, I experience mini-review anxiety every flippin week. Do you realize I get reviews of my reviews? Now when they're glowing, I fly. But when they're wishy-washy -- one woman wrote "thank you for the favorable review -- I was a little flummoxed.

Didn't she realized I sweated that prose? Didn't she realize I struggled to say exactly the perfect things about why her book is great and what she does particularly well?

Actually, I hear from about 90 per cent of the writers I feature, and it thrills me. The other ten per cent? I guess I'm not as important to them as I am to me.

When I send off my column Wed ams, it's gone, done, and I'm on to the next with no time to think.

I can't imagine, or rather I can imagine what it's like to create a grand novel then ask people, "hey, whatd'ya think, you reviewer, you fickle reader, you jealous colleague."

But I do keep that in mind every time I write a review. I haven't written a novel, so I give props just for that alone. Really. If you can't say something nice... But I'm lucky to have a Pollyanna set-up. Only review the best and one only has to say good things. I'd be pretty uncomfortable if I had to hang with writers I'd critiqued, even constructively. It's bad enough when I've not reviewed a novel they sent.

Could I be any more boring or long-winded?

Anyway, here's what some bloggers and viewers say: They don't much listen to reviewers, they look for recs from friends and their fave authors. They stick with an author they love, and if she puts out a book they're disappointed in, they'll give her another shot cause she's made them feel a connection to her through her work.

Betina Krahn said...

I've had terrific reviews and ones that made me weep. And yes, sometimes they do effect the way I feel about the book. That probably makes the the most angry, partly at myself, for letting it influence me so much. But, I've seen how publishers and editors glory terrific reviews, so I find it hard to believe them when they say a bad review from a major review source doesn't matter.

The worst is when reviews are downright nasty or politically/socially biased and the reviewer makes no effort to hide it. . . even parades it under the banner of ascerbic wit. They do it with impugnity and anonymity and I don't care if it's PW or Mrs. Giggles(who lives in Singapore and doesn't have to fear running into anybody she reviews). . . that's mean and cowardly. Worse, they sometimes get the bare facts of books wrong, making me wonder if they bothered to read past the first few pages! On Amazon I still have a PW review with the wrong characters and wrong plot posted with one of my books! Clearly another book altogether! Even after I protested it, it's still there!

Far more valuable are thoughtful, balanced reviews that acknowledge the good in the book while pointing out major flaws. If a major flaw keeps readers from enjoying my books, I want to know about it and correct it in future work. The critique may sting, but it helps me grow and ultimately I'm grateful for that.

Thank God for family and friends and people you can count on to be honest with you while still caring for you and loving your work.

For the record, my mom read and loved my books right up until Alzheimer's impaired her reading ability. Of course, she tended to think her daughters were wonderful no matter what they did. Being a teacher and a huge fan of reading on any level, she was proud that one of hers had written and published books. My late husband, bless him, never read one of my books. Of course, he always had the pieces of the things read to him as I wrote them and was probably on overload with that. (The king of endurance!) But he never just picked up a book and actually read it. But then, he didn't read other novels, either. Strictly a non-fiction man.

My fiancee, Rex, reads constantly and voraciously and always reads (even helps proofread) my stuff. And there's my beloved sister Sharon. . . who is the worlds best reader/editor and to whom I owe a great deal of the meager equanimity I possess. Now those are the reviews that really matter!

anne frasier said...

since we're talking about reviews, i had to post one of my all-time favorite bad reviews -- because REALLY bad reviews can be hilarious.

BEFORE I WAKE review posted on amazon:

This physcological thriller is a little too physcological for me. I got very tired of the split and fractured personalities of almost everyone in this book.

(lengthy book description here)

This woman is so physcotic you don't know what is going on. She is promiscuious, paranoid and so wrapped up in her own mind she can't function very well.

Even though the experiment was supposedly stopped, there are several more people at the saniterium. This was the biggest mess I have read in a long time. I did not like any of the characters and by the end I just wanted all of them dead, so I could stop reading. I just have to finish any book I start and this one was way over the top. Even at the end we have no idea how much of these killers she absorbed. Any one who would let a scientist mess with their brain like this deserves what he gets. Don't waste your TIME or money.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

LOL OMG, Anne. If I had that kind talent for writing and literary critique, maybe I could get a nationally-syndicated review column. Wait a minute, I have one already.

You are right. I think it's cowardly to build a web pag, spew negativity, then sit back and giggle as the putrifaction spreads.

But let me tell you what makes me crazier. Seeing those same lame dot com writer wanna-bees blurbed consistently on novels when they find it in them to write something good.

And THAT, my friends, is the most negative thing I've ever written on the Inet.

Betina Krahn said...

Michelle, you're a rare and wonderful person. Positivity all the way. We're lucky to have you!

anne frasier said...

i agree with betina! this was a fantastic topic.

michelle, i loved hearing how you agonize over reviews. i've long suspected that of good reviewers but never heard any come out and say it.

Andrea Sisco said...

As a reviewer I can't tell you how much I agonize over a review that isn't, shall we say, positive.

But I love posting the positive ones and am thrilled to send them for release in my newspaper column.

We have a policy at Armchair Interviews. No mean-spirited reviews. It is fine to point out things that the reviewer believes didn't work, but no trashing.

I admit to strong criticism when it is a YA book that is filled with cursing, glorifies (promotes?) teen sexual activity, violence and hurting the vulnerable kid at school. We allowed a teen reviewer to say she threw her copy of a popular YA novel in the trash. That is the extreme exception. (I read the book and felt the same way. It was by several girls, with connections and was given publicity 95% of authors will never see.)

Because many parents (we've learned through emails) don't know what their kids are reading, it is a, "Hey folks, do you know what your YA is reading?"

We will not review a book if we really believe it's awful. And we have turned down many books (primarily self published, unfortunately).

Now that I've said this, a review is one person's opinion. Even the YA books that I disagree with might be loved by someone else.

I don't care if I don't agree with the topic, etc. Is it good, accurate, characters I can see and feel something for, great dialog?

I agree with the writer that said, get a recommendation from someone you trust.

We have written critical (Not Mean) reviews. No personal attacks, ever.

One in maybe 50 authors will write and say, I'm sorry you didn't care for my book. One asked if the reviewer would be willing to give them some specifics (privately). Some really class acts out there in author land.

The others? Well, we have had one reviewer mini-stalked by an author who didn't like the review. About a dozen have demanded new reviewers and that we change the number of stars we give on Amazon. I've been called names, screamed at and generally harassed by phone and email. One publicist accused us of things best left unmentioned.

We keep about 1100 reviews up on our site. We've probably posted 1300 in the past 18 months. Out of those 1300 mostly good, many great reviews, only about 400 authors have sent a thanks of any kind. A thanks is not necessary, but it is a great marketing tool. We remember them and we're human. If I have to decide between reviewing a book from someone who has thanked us, or from someone who stuck pins in a doll that looks remarkably like me...

Again, I don't like critical reviews. It hurts me. I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I ache for the author. But I write some. They asked me to review their book, they put themselves out there. My job is to give (my) honest opinion in the kindest way I know how.

But... For those who have threatened me or my reviewers, I remember every one of you. We don't get paid, we do this for the love of books and authors. Oh, but then they probably won't want another review from us.

Thank you for allowing me to vent from the other side.

anne frasier said...

andrea, thanks so much for your viewpoint! you are providing such a wonderful service for writers. we should be giving you foot massages. ;)

i can't remember if i sent a thanks for the great review i just received from armchair. arghh. sometimes i think i've done something when i've only thought about it. but i do plan to blog about it soon -- probably next week -- and post a link.

writers often forget their manners. At a recent multi-author booksigning, the store owner told me i was the only one out of 40 authors who sent a thank-you note. i was stunned. i suppose with a group signing people might be less inclined to send something.

Andrea Sisco said...


You sent an email thank you. See, I remember.

Connie and I are writing a little book on strategies that will help an author go from the bottom to the top of the interview/review slush pile.

The reason for the book is because we see the mistakes new and seasoned authors make, as well as the interesting and smart things they do to focus the attention on their books. We've kept careful track of both and think it might be helpful.

I'm laughing this a.m. An author wrote an email to our info@ address and said:

Please review my book.


That was it. No title, publishing house or release date, no genre... But also, no last name or email address. Now, I'm fairly bright but do not have a crystal ball.

I hope this author in his/her frustration, when a reply is not forthcoming, does not take that doll that looks remarkably like me and stick it with pins. I'm battered and bruised enough.

anne frasier said...

andrea: ooh, very COOL IDEA for a book.
let us know when that comes out and we can review it. ;) and blog about it.