Over a few years now I have watched and read the forums and authors effort to come to terms with reviews of all kinds. I'm kinda bemused by it all because we all seek approval for our work, but cannot seem to manage rejection in any form. A bad review elicits hand-wringing and disgust over the fact that someone had the temerity to react badly to something we wrote.
You know the old adage 'you can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time'. So it shouldn't surprise you that out of a thousand reviews, 10% are going to absolutely hate it, 30% are going to find something they didn't like and another 20% will be borderline. That about sums up the voting norms in just about any walk of life. Even a President has poor reviews.
Anyway, I thought I'd bring my thoughts to the table about reviews an how they make me feel in the hope we can recover some perspective and begin looking at them and taking notice of what people say. Warning! If you're thin-skinned' don't do this because this isn't for you.
Four and Five Stars
These are great. You want to stroke your ego? Read these. They will rarely say anything bad, but they shouldn't be ignored because of that. The person who left it was moved to write that review because of your book and its deserving of your full attention. When they tell you what they liked and you read four hundred other reviews of the same type you get a sense of what it was that made them read it, then review it positively. How can you ignore that feedback?
Two and Three Stars
These people read your book. Let me say this again. THEY READ YOUR BOOK! They then felt that your book impressed them enough for them to give you feedback on it. Don't ever think that these reviews are for the other readers - these are messages to YOU! Sure, they want other people to read their reviews because they think their opinion is important. It might be, but not that important. No, the review is for you to read and consider. Remember these people purchased your book and something you wrote annoyed, upset, or otherwise negatively affected them. What was it? You can learn much from reading these. OK, many can be ignored because they are silly, childish, bigoted, illiterate or just misunderstood. You can decide which of these to ignore, it's easy with practice, but not if you take every critique as an arrow to the heart. It's just a viewpoint of one person and it's valid, but not the end of the story. You might have more of these two stars than five stars, but ignore them at your peril because these are generally mainstream readers who aren't easy to please. You should really listen to them. if you seriously want to improve your craft they will tell you things you don't want to hear, but among all of them, you will find truths and insights that could help you write better books. The trick is working out which are useful and which are not. I find the ones that sink deepest into my thoughts are the ones that are closest to the truth. I just have to admit them to myself to move forward.
This is probably the one you should take most notice of because this is where you find the real gems, but not for the reason you think. If people hated your book that much it says much about them and little about you. Here you will find jealousy and hate because let's face it, there are always people out there who cannot see good in anything, or will ignore all the good and concentrate completely on the bad. They might be a competitor, editor or a grammar Nazi. They might even know you and are personally attacking you in a way you cannot fight back. These people aren't generally successful and probably find you a threat to themselves, another author they follow or to what they think or believe. Why should you listen to them? Because they make you angry, upset and rile you into thinking retaliation in violent forms. Great! turn that into villainy and moral retribution in your next book. Take that emotion and channel it. Then look at the other one-star reviews and try and determine if they are right. Do their views have merit? Can you learn from that, or attempt to resolve the negativity in future books.
Responding to Reviews
I've heard of some people engaging in review responses and having a fruitful exchange. However, this is rare and needs very careful handling. The rule of thumb here is NEVER Respond To Reviews even when they are ridiculously wrong. They may be placed there to elicit your reaction and engage you in pointless defence. Yes, there are people out there that want precisely that - attention. There is a place for comments, but you really should not use these. Nobody looks at them so you will be wasting time, energy and giving oxygen to a non-issue. Remember, "It takes two to Tango"
Writing is a continuous learning experience. As authors, we can choose to ignore criticism and negative views because it hurts our ego to accept that some people might not like what we write. However, if we learn to listen to our fiercest critics, we can learn much about our craft, even more about ourselves; and most important of all, learn to balance the views of others with our own. When we do that our writing will benefit and we will all be better people for it. Embrace your critics!