Oh . . . it's cold in my neck of the woods! It must be time to snuggle down with a good cup of coffee and a great read. Today we Quills are talking about something that may or may not be related to finding a great read. Specifically, we're discussing whether low-rated reviews are helpful or not.
First up is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Parker?
Interacting with criticism is never easy as an author. There's opportunity to grow, to shape our stories, and do better, but it still isn't easy.
From the reader's point of view, reviews can provide a wonderfully unvarnished perspective on what to expect. I read reviews on everything from books, computers, a new lawn mower or a plastic doodad to organize junk. Just how well does this doodad organize? How well does a this mower mow? How well does this computer compute, and how well does this book read?
Thank you, Parker! Now for Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. Robin?
The more I thought about this particular can of worms, the more I wanted to put a lid on it! Yes, people have the right to express their opinion. No, it’s not always kind, helpful, or even necessary. Yes, the person under the glaring light of criticism might learn something valuable. No, that doesn’t give Everyone Else the right or the duty to shred someone’s work to pieces.
Did it just get really foggy in here?
And here are my thoughts . . .
I believe that in general, the more reviews, the better. When I see a book with few reviews and those posted are all 5-stars, I tend to think that the author got a few friends to post positive ratings in an effort to promote sales for the book. By contrast, when I see a book with quite a number of reviews, I expect that I will find that some highly praised the work, while others were considerably less flattering.
When I review a work, I try to put myself in the shoes of the its average intended reader. If it is geared to children, I consider how they might receive it and what their parents will think. Likewise when I review something for school-grade readers. I try to give reasons for why I liked a story and/or what did or did not work for me. I have found that this is quite an unusual approach. For many, a book they like is an automatic “5”—even if it has serious issues, while one that didn’t speak to them personally is an automatic “1” or “2”—even if it was extremely well written or at least presented a unique story not told before.
All that said, even while I know that people look at reviews of my books, and even while I know they can be helpful—especially if there are a wide range of differing opinions—I rarely look at the reviews of others to determine whether to purchase a book for myself. Why? Because I’ve found that a review doesn’t have to have any connection to the book at all. I’ve read reviews that left me fairly certain that the person never read the work. Since many sites allow people to leave reviews even if there is no record that those people purchased the item or items in question, it is entirely possible that a particular reviewer may not have read the book for which he/she left a review.
I did a bit of research and discovered that books I found quite good, and/or about which I’ve heard great things, almost all have one or more 1 or 2 star reviews. When I look into the history of those reviewers, I often find a long string of similar reviews. Often they are nasty one-liners that offer me no insight into what the reader found objectionable about the work. So in short, occasionally, a poor review offers genuine insight, but only if the reviewer provides reasons for why the story did or didn’t work. Accordingly, while I try not to let great reviews of my works go to my head, I also try not to let poor ones strike at my heart. They reflect, after all, only one person's opinion (and that person may not even have read the book!).
(I must add that there are always those reviewers who rate works according to what they would have done differently had they written the story. These readers seem to find it difficult to turn off their interior author/critic/editor voice and just experience the story before them . . . as told by someone else! (Moreover, they seem to conclude that they would have done a better job. Hmmm . . . I wonder . . . For the most part, I try to just ignore those reviews!)
For myself, I’ve concluded that, overall, reviews don’t mean anything except that if a work has a number of them, it is more likely that because others have given the work a chance—regardless of how they rated the story, more may do so in the future.