THE MILESTONE TAPES is now a “live” book on Goodreads and has been for a couple of weeks now. I have a giveaway chugging along … and surprising, I already have two reviews. How is that possible one might wonder, since neither of the reviewers have actually read the book. Girl, I don’t know! But, I’m not really complaining … 5 stars are 5 stars … and 5 stars beside the title of your book is really a beautiful thing. I’ll admit, when I noticed that my unpublished, never-been-read book had garnished such high accolades I was beside myself with happiness. And then the amazing happened … a sudden upsurge of requests for those 5 lowly copies.
The almighty power of the review.
Before I was a writer, I was a reader. I channeled a lot of my energies with the written word into reviewing the works of others. It got to the point where I would buy little known books just to take the chance … actually, that’s how I discovered THE HELP before it became the blockbuster success we know it to be now. I am a lover of good stories … I’m not one to isolate myself by genre, or by author. I am an equal opportunity reader … always have been. Reading made me a writer … it wasn’t the other way around.
Tonight on The Kindleboards an author posed an interesting question about 1-star reviews tanking the sales of his books. As writer, I cannot speak to that because I have no idea and zero experience … but as a reader, I’m well versed.
Like it or not … in our lifetimes as writers, we will have the ultimate fail … the 1-star review. And, it’ll sting because that is so NOT what we wanted to see about our beautiful little book. But, I want to explore WHY 1-star reviews are important to our careers.
As a reader, I’ll own it, I’ve given 1-star reviews. And when I do, they come in two forms.
The first being the analytical 1-star. The prose of book is wrong, there are grammatical errors that I cannot read through, the story fumbles all over itself and loses the momentum. These complaints are technical at heart.
Then, of course, there is the personal 1-star. This is the 1-star based on the life experience of the reader, totally and entirely personal through the eyes and baggage of an individual. As my favorite quote on reading goes … we bring ourselves to the books we read.
Example Number 1:
Early last year I read, okay — half-read — a book that was wildly popular at the time. I could barely make it to the 30% of the book before I had to cry UNCLE. I simply could not follow the story … and no, I’m not dense, dumb or stupid. The writing was a mash-up of here, there and everywhere. I couldn’t keep up with the writer’s mind and ergo, her prose was wasted on me. The book, in my opinion, faltered on a very basic level … keep the reader reading.
This was my review:
I bought this book with the best of intentions and struggled through the first few chapters keeping my fingers crossed that I hadn’t just wasted money. I wanted to like this book, honestly, I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise…but sometimes you just have to admit defeat. TITLE DELETED, while covering a very interesting, very relevant subject matter, is severely lackluster. The writing doesn’t capture the reader, and the author jumps from one era to the next leaving the reader feeling very disjointed.
I’m sure, at some point, the story picks up…but I never made it there, unfortunately. And so the book is abandoned in my Kindle…oh well.
If you’re looking for a good mystery, try one of Gillian Flynn’s books instead. Either Sharp Objects or Dark Places is a much more easily digested read with solid character/reader connections.
Example Number 2:
Again, last year I read a book that I devoured in one day. The writing was concise, crisp and the story line was impressively short for the scale of events covered. Then, I finished and gave the book the almighty 1-star review. This, was personal. I liked the story, I’ve read works by the author before and enjoyed them immensely … but the writer failed me when it came to the characters and her development of them. The story was deep — like heavy and dark — the way a reader would inhale that is through the characters … but the characters weren’t fleshed out and so the story sort of fell to pieces.
This was my review:
This book is all steak, but no sizzle. I missed the sizzle.
I read this book, start to finish, in one day. It was the type of story that a reader will undoubtably find hard to put down…you simply **need** to know what happens next. So, for the that reason alone, this book is a consumable read, and it won 1 stars. But, if it was worthy of an entire day’s focus, why not 5? Here is why..
Good books, really, really good books make you *feel* for the characters. You fall in love with them, and that is the sizzle a novel can stand upon. The ability for a character to shine, good writing or bad, happy ending or sad, is what I describe as a literary gravity–they pull you in and don’t let you go, even after the final page.
AUTHOR NAME REMOVED wrote a book with potential. She created a web of characters whom are relevant and modern. AUTHOR NAME REMOVED created drama, passion, heartbreak and a pinch of redemption. It was a pretty solid recipe when it comes to Chick Fic.
AUTHOR NAME REMOVED fails to make you *love* the characters and she rushed the book along at a pace, while enticing and page turning, leaves much, much, much to be desired. The relationships don’t build and blossom, they have more a cold/hot tendency…the characters are “here” then “there” and the reader is just expected to keep up. So, eventually when you do reach the major turning points for these characters, you’re not as emotionally involved and devastated and relieved as you could have been had more focus been given to the “sizzle”. It makes it borderline unbelievable. Huge chunks of this story are missing, and it is in those chunks that your connection, as the reader, to the book would have been built.
At the end of the novel when I was thinking about this review, I felt like AUTHOR NAME REMOVED either burnt out or was under a deadline. She simply doesn’t provide enough “time” in her book to do the job 100%. It wasn’t BAD, and I’m not trying to convey that…I’m simply saying it was LACKING in a key way.
The really interesting thing is that the reviews I get the most “likes” on … the ones that actually DO influence browsers to either become a reader or pass on the book, are the PERSONAL ones. You wouldn’t think so … but, that’s how mine break down (caveat: I am not trying to create a bell-curve here, folks :))
I don’t relish giving bad reviews. I wish every book I read was a smash that made me feel like it was true literary greatness, but unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen to be the case. But, as a writer, I see the value in honesty … as a reader, I appreciate the candor of those who came before. It’s where we can learn to be better and work harder. It’s pivotal to ongoing success. A 1-star view is an opportunity cost.
The same author started another thread about how to react to the 1-star review … and … his response actually startled me some …
I call the author who refuses to find merit and value in 1-star reviews the “gold-star-seeker” … remember in elementary school how every paper and every homework assignment came home with a the gold star? Well, that was then and this is now … but some people refuse to outgrow that stage and feel genuinely slighted when their best isn’t good enough. They are, at heart, very literal beings … 1-star = bad … 5-star = amazing.
Since there seems to be a fair bunch of “new writers” who follow this blog, I thought I’d touch on etiquette for a moment.
In the “real world” if a company selling a product gets a bad review, it’s rather nice of them to reach out and make it right. A free meal, a replacement, a sincere apology … making it right comes in all forms. With writing, the response is supposed to be entirely different. An author should never ever never engage a reviewer. Don’t you dare offer a refund, suggest they return the book, comment on their shitty taste in good literature … the best thing to do is to actually to do NOTHING. Mum is really the word here … doing anything else is such a turn off.
Bad reviews, they will come … along with the good ones and the mid-list ones as well. They will chew you up from the inside out … that’s for sure. But if you can take away something brilliant from them–something that makes you a better author, a better story-teller, then they truly can become gold-stars and tend to be more valuable than all the kudos in the world. Learn from the bad reviews, appreciate the reader who took the time to be frank and honest with you. Figure out how you can change what you did wrong and spin it into what you’ll do right moving forward.
If you can … you deserve a gold star for that shit 🙂