To read your book reviews, or not to read your book reviews, it’s a contentious issue and one that is highly debated on both sides of the argument.
Those against, advise that nothing good can come of reading what someone thought of your book – especially the negative comments! Writing is an art, and once it’s out there, it’s subject to interpretation and opinion. The reader will either ‘get it’ or not.
While I do agree in part with that theory, on the other side of the coin, I think there is much to learn from reading your book reviews, especially for indie-published authors. Here’s why.
#1 You can see what readers liked about your book
Once you’ve had more than a handful of reviews, you are likely to see common themes in what your readers liked about your book. It might be that they loved your main character, or loved the way you drew everything together with a satisfying ending. Or perhaps they simply loved your prose. Or the way you dealt sensitively with serious issues without making the book too heavy a read. Each reader will find something different resonates with them, but it’s the commonalities that you’ll find useful.
Not only do three, four and five-star reviews feel good and give you validation as an author, they also give you a feel as to what your readers like, and what will entice them to read your next book. It doesn’t mean you can be complacent though. Just because readers collectively loved your character development doesn’t mean you’ve no more to learn! It just means you are doing well and can continue to build on this strength.
#2 You can see where you need to improve
I’ve been lucky so far to only receive a handful of 2-star reviews (and, touch wood, no 1-star, yet!). And although they are gut-wrenching to read, and do take time to process, they can be useful.
Of course, you need to take the one and two-star reviews with a grain of salt. If the reviewer is giving you a negative review because your novel was romance and they only read crime, well then you can discount that feedback. But, I’ve found often, low star reviews can be helpful, particularly, when again, there are commonalities among them.
With The Memories We Hide, one of the most common criticisms was the slower pacing. While some readers love being inside a character’s head and a slow-burn read, others just want to get into the action. (How much of each depends on your genre too). From this feedback, I determined for my next novels, I need to work on the pacing. I need to ensure each chapter moves the story forward and has action and consequence. I’m learning to step out of my character’s head a little more rather than get bogged down with internal dialogue – because you can get stuck there for too long which isn’t good for readers.
So, I’m taking on board this feedback as an area I need to improve on.
If your reviews are saying that your characters appeared a bit wooden, or were hard to relate to, then that’s something you can work on. If the comments are about unfinished or unanswered story-lines, then that’s another focus area from you.
So, while the negative feedback and low star reviews can be, and are, hard to swallow, it’s important to see them as your learning and growing process as a writer.
But remember, the ones that are purely negative and mean – don’t even bother!
# 3 You can hone your genre
Sometimes knowing your genre is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. So many authors write books that sit between genres. This is possibly the most common reason that some authors – no matter how good their story, or writing – don’t get picked up by traditional publishers. And it’s also a big reason why indie-authors struggle to gain traction with their novels.
When you are clear about your genre, you are clear exactly who you are marketing your book to. This is important for both traditional and indie publishers.
For authors straddling genres, your book reviews can often reveal how your audience perceives your book. Readers have expectations. If you’re writing romance, they expect a happy ever after, or at the very least, a happy for now. Crime readers expect high tension, page-turning action, and the crime to be solved by the end of the book. If you have written a book that sits outside of these expectations, it will be seen in your reviews.
But how does that help?
It can help you decide how to market your book. Which readers are enjoying your book the most? Where are readers placing it on the shelves – (in Goodreads)? By reading the review you will be able to tell which genre your reader was ‘expecting’ when picking up your book, and from there you can move forward with targeting the right readers with your marketing. You can also learn what you need to do to write your next novel more in line with genre and reader expectations, and therefore making marketing (or pitching) more effective.
But… there’s always a but!
Not every author is emotionally equipped to read reviews. If you’re the type of person who finds it hard to take criticism, who can’t separate the emotion from the review, or who is likely to give up writing after reading a one-star review, then I fully advise – DO NOT READ REVIEWS! No good can come of them if you can’t be pragmatic and realistic.
However, if you can see both the good and the bad and take all reviews with a grain of salt, then reading your book’s reviews can be a very useful thing to do. But, don’t sit on Goodreads and Amazon refreshing the page waiting for the next review, get on writing that next book!