Tuesday, January 27, 2015

14 Reading and Interpreting Reviews and a Reader Appreciation Giveaway Blitz

I just read a post by Jody Hedlund about coping with reviews, and I was struck by a couple of things that she said.
  1. Reviews are for readers, not for writers, and
  2. If, as an author, you choose to read your reviews, be prepared for open, honest feedback.
Having just gone through this with an author friend who is getting her first reviews, and having dealt with my share of stinging reviews as well--ALL authors get them--I've given this some thought.

My conclusions? (And yes, I'm going to share them, even though talking about reviews in public is scary as hell.)

Found on Thought In A Bubble

Reviews Can Force You to Examine Your Writing Choices

I wrote a guest post for one of my favorite writing sites yesterday (it will be out soon!) and I mentioned that one of the things that makes me grateful for editorial feedback is that it forces me to understand the choices that I make in my books.

There's a reason I choose to pace my stories the way I do; there's a reason the scenes are layered the way they are; there's a reason I choose the characters I chose. But not everyone will understand those choices. Not everyone will love any book or read it the same way.

I wrote about my main character, Barrie, because I want a dialogue about strength. About bravery. About women and our roles in society. (My theme song for Barrie--for all girls--is "Truly Brave," the collaboration between Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper, which is an incredible anthem for women and artists and victims and anyone who struggles. Barrie is so lost at the beginning of the trilogy. But it's a trilogy, and she's got a huge arc. Her "brave" is big. And although there are people who don't love Barrie, there are many more people who do love her and "get" her.

Reviews Tell Us Whether We've Done Our Job As Authors 

Just today, right after I started this post, a reader Tweeted a post about Compulsion, and I stopped over to see if I could use it as an example. It happened to talk about the fact that the blogger is a tutor and that she's "had some intense talks [with her students] about Barrie as a female protagonist."

As a writer, I can ask no more than that. And I wouldn't have known that I had made that connection unless I read that review or the many letters I get privately from girls and women who have made similar points.

Getting that affirmation isn't about vanity. It's about making sure I'm doing the job that I set out to do and finding out what else those readers need. Reader reviews are like a giant focus group. They're gold for writers--provided the writer is able to set aside the occasional "ouch" factor that's involved.

Reviews Are Not Always About the Book 

Obviously, not every book is going to be for every reader. I've been very fortunate with Compulsion, and I'll admit I've stopped stalking my reviews the way that I did when they first started coming. It took me a long time to get "zen" about reviews, or to be able to laugh about some of them. Some of them still make for very brittle laughter.

Even people who review because they love books and want to share great books with others won't love every book. A reader brings her own life and life experience into each book she reads. That's the magic of reading.

As a writer, finding out what a reader brought to my book is one of the greatest and most unexpected joys I've experienced since being published. Whether it's about my book or someone else's story, I appreciate knowing why a plot or character does or doesn't work for someone. Negative reviews can be good reading. I enjoy a well-phrased bit of sarcasm, a bit of political-correctness policing, a bit of humor--until it crosses the line and becomes bullying.

As with the Kathleen Hale scandal, reviewers can become extreme with bashing a book, and that can drive authors crazy and destroy books that took a lot of time and resources to bring to market. There are various reasons that happens. In some cases, there's truly a problem in the book. But all too frequently, it's because a book hits a trigger and the reviewer stops being rational or even considering whether the book is making a point about the very thing that the reviewer abhors. Character arcs exist for a reason--characters learn as they go, but sometimes they have to begin in places that some people don't like in order to get to a better place.

Reviews Are Not Always Fair

If someone abandons the book and then writes about it, as may have been the case with the Kathleen Hale scandal, they're not getting the whole picture. And that's okay, too--as long they make that clear in the review. I'm all about free speech. My family and I came to this country because it was a place where we could speak our minds, and I would defend that right to my dying breath.

But I'm also an advocate for justice. I would prefer that the world of reviewing was perfect, and that if a reviewer didn't finish a book, or only skimmed it and assumed that gave them the same interpretation as a full and careful reading, that they would mention that in their review. I would prefer that if someone reviews YA books from an adult perspective and dings the characters for making teen choices, they not write up a one-star review. I would prefer fairness from all reviewers, for every book, for every author, but I still defend every reviewer's, and every author's, right to write whatever they damn well want.

Reviews Need To Be Viewed in Context 

Jody Hedlund mentions that reviews are open, honest feedback. That's not always true, unfortunately. There are as many different reasons that reviewers write reviews as there are reasons why authors penned the books they have written.

If, as authors, we are going to read reviews, then I think that we need to learn to recognize the type of review, the type of reviewer, and take what we can from the feedback. The LAST thing that we should do is argue with a reviewer who provides an honest and genuine review. The last thing we should EVER do -- no matter what the review says or why the review was written -- is bully the reviewer or stalk the reviewer. Even if the reviewer bullies you, you can't respond by engaging in even worse behavior.

Bulling Shouldn't Be Dismissed As Free Speech 

I chaired an advisory council on school safety for the second largest school district in Virginia for many years. In that capacity, I focused on bringing anti-bullying programs into the schools and creating safer school environments. I recognize bullying when I see it. And I am seeing it online. Fortunately, I've not really been a victim myself, and I'm probably making myself a target by writing this. That's unfortunate, but here goes anyway.

It worries me to hear authors and bloggers -- even huge authors and huge bloggers -- say privately that they do not feel that they can speak freely in defense of the victims of online bullying. Let me clarify here. I am not speaking about defending stalking or bad behavior, as in the case of Kathleen Hale. I'm saying that over and over again, I see female authors treated differently than male authors, and I see female authors get bullied in a way that makes me feel like I am back in middle school. On the flip side, there are reviewers who write perfectly innocent and reasonable reviews who are flamed by authors who don't realize their book isn't perfect. There's a cult of extreme behavior going around the internet that makes me want to cry.

Bullying begins with individuals. It grows because people let themselves become bystanders. But kindness begins with individuals, too, as does responsibility.

Take What You Can From Reviews and Move On 

As authors, I believe we have a responsibility to our readers. For that reason, I do think that reviews are helpful. The vast majority of reviewers are responsible, lovely, incredible people who review books because they love books and want to share that love with others.

Found on WoodleyWonderWorks

I Have WONDERFUL Readers 

I am so grateful that I have the readers I have. Compulsion has gotten such wonderful support--more than I ever dreamed--and I have met so many incredible readers along this journey that I am truly, truly overwhelmed. Not all of my reviews have been favorable. Duh. But my favorite reviews aren't always five star, or even four star reviews.

My favorite reviews are the ones that are honest. That make me think. That make me grow as a reader and as an author. There have been many of those.

And I thank everyone who has taken the time to read Compulsion and think about it. I thank you for your letters, and emails, and messages, and reviews, and tweets, and support.

Which brings me to this week's giveaway!


You'll find this giveaway on a lot of sites this week, and if you'd like to share it on your site, please email me at ayaplit (at) gmail dot com. I'd love to spread the word. The cover reveal for Persuasion will be next week. Next week! Yikes. And for anyone who would like a good deal on Compulsion, this is the final week it is available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks for $1.99!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Brave post--thoughtful and thought-provoking. I'd love to see more dialogue like this online about reviews and bullying.

    1. Thanks, Beth. I would love to see a dialogue about this, as long as we can keep it considerate, thoughtful, and civil on all sides! : )

  2. I'm really happy that I read this post. Very brave and well thought out.

  3. Whenever I post a negative review, I try to do two things: First, I try to point out something I liked about the book. Second, I ask my husband to confirm that I stayed respectful in my comments. My obligation is to my reader. Yet I'm also aware of how much work went into a book and to remain kind.

    Thank you for your post. It's well-thought out and considerate of reviewers. Sadly, I've seen bashing on both sides, both by reviewers AND by authors.

    1. Oh, Allison, I hope I made it clear that this works both ways. I"m very sorry if I didn't. It is absolutely a true that authors can behave very badly toward reviewers as well. The kind of review you are describing is the kind of a review that I think most authors hope they'll get--if we have to get negative reviews. What I'm trying to say is that everyone needs to practice civility, kindness, and respect. That respect begins with the author respecting readers--including reviewers. If we don't respect those who expend their time and money on our ideas and words, I'm honestly not sure why we would be writing in the first place. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Thanks for this post. It is an important one for all of us who are writers and reviewers to think about. Can't wait to see the new cover.

  5. Great post. And great things to remember about reviews if you're published. It is so true that no book is for everyone and that sometimes whether you like or don't like a book could be tied into things totally unrelated to the book, like what's going on in your personal life. I know some of my challenges this last year has made it more difficult for me to get into some books but I recognize it doesn't mean they aren't good.

    1. That's a great point. I know that I sometimes have a hard time getting into a book that I ultimately adore, and it has nothing to do with the book itself. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is an example. I loved LOVED the writing but I didn't have that moment where I couldn't stop reading until a good way into the book. I'd honestly have to reread to figure out whether that was because something about the pacing/plot didn't connect for me, or whether it was just the fact that I was working hard and barely had time to read. All I know is that once I got to a point in the book, being tired and working hard didn't matter. I stayed up and read until I finished, and I think the book is utterly brilliant.

  6. Love this post, Martina. It's weird to me how these online reviews are such a major topic. To be honest, I never, EVER read a book based on an online review. I read books based on true word of mouth--like words spoken by actual people I know. But it's a sign of the times, I suppose.

    You're right though...with reviews, or critiques, or any feedback on our books...we can learn from them and move on.

    1. That's a great point. I'm not sure how much reviews actually sell books. But I do know that the state of the bestseller lists and the evidence of the way books are being shelved at the bookstore basically suggests that we are increasingly at a point where people are buying books they've heard of. So unless someone is in a social group where they talk about books, book discovery is increasingly an issue. Arguably, all the so-called choices basically result in fewer choices--except perhaps with online reviews?

  7. This is well-said. So true, too. I'm glad you're forging this path before me so you can experience it all first and tell us all about it. Now I'll know what to expect!

    1. LOL! I'm here to help in any way I can. You KNOW that! XO


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