The Hardest Review

by Doranna

“Read the reviews!”

“Ignore all reviews!”

“Don’t let them get to you!”


It used to be easier to ignore reviews, but I think we all know that reader reviews have become an important part of discoverability for all books, but especially for ebooks.  It’s important to keep track of them–to pluck out the awesome phrase of praise, or to pluck out critical information.  I recently learned about an embarrassing formatting error via a reader review, for instance.  (Yes, it’s fixed!)

And if I care deeply about what I’m doing, how could reviews not get to me?

But some are harder than others.

A Feral DarknessI talked about the review of A Feral Darkness, where the reader really, really, REALLY didn’t like the book.  I wasn’t sure she was reading the book I wrote, but nonetheless…that was her feeling about it.  Those are a little hard to take when the review responds with such viciousness, because, wow…who needs to deal with that?

But in another way, that makes it easier to step back from the sting of it.  “Well, this book quite clearly isn’t for this reader.  It happens.”  It’s happened to me, too–where I pick up a book and am utterly taken aback by it, but also know it’s not due to craft issues…it’s just because that particular book isn’t sympatico with me.  Different strokes and all that.  Or sometimes when a book pushes all the wrong buttons, as clearly happened with the A Feral Darkness reader.  Whether she likes it or not, that book reached out to her on some level.  She just wasn’t happy about it.

c.e.barrenlands.200Then there are reviews like this one-star that BARRENLANDS recently received:

“I have downloaded many books recently and have not had a chance to read this book so i(sic) am unable to rate at this time.”

Well, okay.  Thanks for sharing that.  But why, oh why, drag the book down with a one-star rating?

So those are frustrating, but don’t have any particular emotional impact.

Here’s another frustration:

“Heart pounding saga–a great read. Captivating from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you like action this is the book for you.”

“Wait!” you cry.  “What’s your problem with that?  What more could you want, you darned prima dona author?”

Well, I’d like to know why that wonderful review came with a low-star rating.  *sob*

But that’s still not the hardest review to read.  I can marinate in the review’s praise–it’s wonderful to have someone say such nice things about a book–and hope to heck I get enough good ratings to offset the stars.

Nope, the hardest comes with the low star reviews where the reader is perfectly literate, has clearly read the book…and just didn’t like it.  And says so quite effectively.

I can’t step aside from that one.  There’s no ax being ground, no obvious buttons being pushed.  It was a book the reader hoped to like, but didn’t.  And those are the reviews that make me stop and worry and wonder and second-guess myself.

A certain amount of that is healthy…it helps keeps the writing fresh.  Too much of it…stops you in your tracks.

(One reason I’m writing this blog today instead of writing pages, eh?)

c.e.dun.ladys.jess.200The truth is, reader reviews have always had power.  Now they have more power than ever, and for that reason I appreciate any reader review with thought behind it, even the ones that make me doubt myself.

(In order to remain uber-PC, I should say I appreciate all reader reviews, but…nahhh, I’m not a saint.  I don’t in fact appreciate one-star “I haven’t read the book yet” reviews.)

But I know it takes time to post such reviews, and I like it that people are invested enough in their books to bother.  I like it that they’re invested enough in my books to bother.  That’s the whole reason I started writing, after all.  To create stories that people care about as much as I do.


About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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10 Responses to The Hardest Review

  1. Carolyn Golledge says:

    Sums it up nicely for all we writers, thank you!

  2. I’ve had to post about this very thing lately myself–though more from the standpoint of “is it kosher to review another author’s work once you’re an author yourself?”

    But wow, no, dropping a single star on a book you haven’t even read isn’t cool. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’d drive me spare. So would low reviews complaining about the price, which I’ve seen done to many an ebook.

    Also, for the record, A Feral Darkness remains, hands down, my favorite book of yours. 😉

    • Doranna says:

      8) Thanks for that!

      The “reviewing other authors” thing is a very difficult issue indeed, and one I shift around on constantly, trying to respect both my reader self and my author self. Let me know if you ever find the Perfect Solution…

  3. Pingback: To review or not to review |

  4. Marilyn says:

    As a reader, I vote with my pocketbook — if I don’t like a book, I just don’t buy any more by that author. But it wouldn’t occur to me to down-rate a book unless it was really poor because what one person likes, another may despise and vice versa. I sure as heck wouldn’t down rate it because I hadn’t read it! Example: I have a 1994 edition of Dun Lady’s Jess. At that time, it was decent, but not something I’d go back and re-read multiple times. Maybe three stars. Due to the vagaries of chain book store distribution, I never saw the sequels. (I also have hard copy of Wolverine’s Daughter, Seer’s Blood, and Barrenlands, which were all I saw.) Twenty years later (almost), when I learned DLJ, plus sequels, was out again in e-book, I decided it was time for a re-read. And found that my tastes had changed. Now I’d rate it at five stars, and I’ve re-read it three or four times. >grin< I've glad I don't have a three-star haunting me somewhere.

    • Doranna says:

      If I’m reviewing–which is rare, due to the author/reader internal conflict–I’m okay with saying I didn’t like a book, but I always say *why,* especially if I think it’s specific to me. The “whys” give people context. I’ve purchased many a book where someone said, “Ugh, I didn’t like XXX about this book,” because I’ve been able to say, “Well, I don’t mind XXX.”

      Plus everyone’s star system is a little different. For me, by the time it’s a 3, it’s got significant issues. “Bleh. There are words on the page and they’re competent words, but there’s not much here I care about.” (In order to get a low-star, which I don’t actually put out there in public any longer, I have to be able to identify distinct craft skill FAILs.)

      Fascinating comments about changing tastes, though. I know just what you mean! I experience that all the time. Sometimes I decide against re-reading old favorites, because I want to remember that experience as it was the first time and I know my life/perspective has changed so much that it just might feel different this time.

  5. Robert says:

    The few reviews I write are generally of the 5 star variety. I would much rather point someone to a good read than to invest my limited energy to try to warn them away from a book I didn’t like. For me to write what I consider an adequate review I almost have to go back and re read the book with the idea of reviewing in mind.
    I read sample pages much more often than I read reviews. A review written by a dissatisfied or disgruntled reader on a power trip doesn’t often influence my choice of a book.

    • Doranna says:

      Hmm, I swear I’d responded with a note saying how much I use samples these days (that would be “extensively”) but I don’t see it here. One of those days of Doing Too Much, I suppose…

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