I want to talk about book reviews and book reviewers for a second.
Here’s a bit from one Amazon review of my work:
“So many twists and turns, you’ll think you’re at Six Flags. Michaelbrent Collins is the type of author that will make you put down that Robin Cook novel, that Stephen King book, and that Clive Barker story, and pick up his book instead.”
“GET ON WITH IT! Incredibly exhausting and frustrating watching the main character bumbling around and thinking, what an idiot…”
Both, FYI, are for the same title on Amazon.
So that’s one thing to remember: just because you get a “bad” review doesn’t mean you’ve written a bad book. It reflects the wonderful reality that we are all very, very different. If EVERYONE hates your book, then you might want to go back to the drawing board. But failing that, a bad review isn’t the end of the world. It is GOOD news: it means your audience is expanding. You are rubbing up against bigger and bigger circles of people, which means the odds go up that some won’t like your work. That’s just statistics.
The other, more important thing, though, is this: that reviewer took time out of their life to read your book. And cared enough to write their thoughts down. We as authors think our thoughts are worth a great deal – even when we are telling a story about things that have gone wrong in our world. We as authors get to point out flaws and detriments WE PERCEIVE because “I am an AUTHOR and what I say MATTERS, even if it hurts!”
So… why do so many of us treat reviewers like they aren’t worthy of that same respect? Why do we think that obviously the ones who hate us are evil, or mean, or just idiots?
My work has been reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads thousands of times. Of those, there are one or two that engage in personal attacks. A few of them WERE mean, and several were obvious attempts to hurt me. But those are the outliers. They can’t make us (authors) react as though reviewers are the enemy or every “bad” review is born of ill will.
Oh, and by the way: I put “bad” review in quotes because I know far too many authors for whom a “bad” review is anything other than five stars accompanied by gushing about the writer’s genius.
Also: not cool. And shortsighted.
In addition to having a good number of reviews on Amazon and GR, I’ve also been reviewed hundreds of times by book blogs and review sites and magazines big and small. And I get asked with some regularity, “How do you get those folks to read you?”
To which I will answer, first and foremost, I LIKE these people.
I’m not talking about Amazon and Goodreads now, but “pro” reviewers. By pro reviewers, I’m talking about book bloggers and book reviewers for sites devoted to reviews. This can be big ones, like Kirkus or Publishers Weekly or The New York Times, genre-specific ones like ScreamFix or The Horror Fiction Review (or others in other genres), or folks who have blogs titled “My Book Review Which I Read and Also My Mom Reads When She’s Not Too Busy” or things like that.
Pro – not “paid” necessarily (most reviewers get no money at all), but folks who do it not as a byline on a review agglomerator like Amazon or LibraryThing, but as ITS OWN BIZ. It’s their hobby, their passion.
Have I gotten gushing, loving reviews from some of these people? You bet. And I email every one of them to let them know how I appreciate their time and I make sure to put their name in a file to keep in contact with. I try to follow them on Twitter and Facebook and read and retweet and share their reviews. They deserve it.
But what about the mean ones?
I got reviewed by Publishers Weekly lately. The reviewer said my prose was great (yay!) and hated pretty much everything about the book. Okay, groovy. I’ve gotten that before.
The reviewer said it focused too much on barbarity and even hinted (not so subtly) that it had racist overtones. Now, for the record: this is a book that’s been reviewed dozens of times and no one else has pulled out either of those, so the first thing I’m going to do is assume that those points are less about the book than about the reviewer’s own background.
And the second thing I’m going to do: thank that person.
Publishers Weekly doesn’t publish the bylines or contact info of their reviewers, so I haven’t been able to do it directly, but I’ll do it here: Thank you!
And I mean it, too.
Even if they read things into the book that weren’t there, they TOOK THE TIME TO READ THE FRIGGING THING. They alerted me to issues that, even if they DIDN’T appear in this particular book, I should be aware of. They let me know things I hadn’t thought of, and provided a viewpoint that I will certainly have in mind in the future.
Most of all, though, THEY CARED ENOUGH TO READ THE BOOK AND WRITE ABOUT IT.
Again, to that unnamed reviewer: Thank you.
And, incidentally, I suspect there’s a reason that reviewer is unnamed: because so few authors act like adult businessmen and businesswomen and instead act like huge toddlers when they get words they don’t like.
A third time: not cool.
If a “reviewer” is doxing you or trying to ACTUALLY HARM you, then there’s action to take. But short of that, bad reviews don’t mean bad people.
Again, those crazy folks ARE out there. Sure. But you can’t treat everyone who cuts you off in the road (a fairly regular occurrence) like they’re a murderer with a grudge who is specifically trying to run you off the road (a lot more rare). After they take a swipe or two, sure, and drive by spraying automatic gunfire through your windows while screaming for the blood of your progeny… there are definitely things that have to be done. Call the cops. File reports. Hire a guy to “visit” that person (don’t really do this).
But normally… nope. Sorry. And anyone who DID treat the world like everyone who cut them off was out to get them, outfitting their car with Mad Max style rollbars and cages around the windows and a spike in the front and “WILL MURDER YOU IF YOU CUT ME OFF” in blood on its side would quickly be labeled as a loon.
Yet we authors get that way with bad reviewers. It’s rarely, “Well, that was their take… I don’t see it myself, obviously, but it’s good to know that some people are reacting that way!” but instead, “That &*(^$&*#* is evil! And obviously out to get me!”
But usually… it just isn’t so.
Especially with the pro reviewers. In fact, guess what? The “pro” reviewers who have given me bad reviews… in every single case where I’ve had their emails available, or other points of contact, I have reached out to them. I have thanked them for their time.
A lot of them responded with a HUGE appreciation for that action. A good chunk then said, “I didn’t like this book, but please send me the next one!”
Why? Not because they decided to love my writing all of a sudden. But because in a very hard job that pays zilch and fills their lives with the constant potential to be yelled at, a large chunk of the reviewers out there are every bit as open to reviewing a book for someone they think is KIND and COURTEOUS as they are to reviewing a book that genuinely looks like THE NEXT BIG THING.
Ultimately, we can’t control most of the world around us. But we CAN control how kind we are. We CAN act like mature adults. So…
To the reviewers who have said nice things about me and my books: thank you.
To the reviewers who have said I was just okay: thank you.
To the ones who straight-up hated my work: thank you.
There ARE a few bad ones out there. But I have chosen to assume that reviewers – on Amazon, magazines, or everywhere else – are mostly good folks who hope my book is great almost as much as I do. They aren’t in it for the thrill of destroying people, but for the thrill of finding something to LOVE.
That’s a good thing. That’s a thing that draws us together. Even if we don’t agree over what book is good, what book is bad, we’re both reading, we’re both actively searching to create, find, and let others know about the most beautiful things we have: our stories.
And a quick note here: there are people who might respond with, “Well, you’ve gotten thousands of reviews. Of COURSE you can afford to disregard the terrible/mean ones.” But I didn’t START with all those reviews. And some of the first ones I got were pretty awful. Which makes sense, because I just wasn’t as good as I should have been with some of the skills I was trying. None of those facts automatically mad the reviews “bad.” They were different viewpoints. They taught me something. Some of them I even agreed with, and used to find and shore up the weak points in my writing.
So…, thanks, reviewers. Keep up the great work. That’s my review of YOU, and it comes with respect and appreciation for being the front lines of folks who get the word out about us weirdos who live in dreamworlds.
I want to talk about book reviews and book reviewers for a second.