I don’t spend a lot of time reading my reviews, but I check them out now and again to see what readers are saying about my work. Many authors avoid reading their reviews, because they (like most humans) tend to focus only on the negative feedback and criticism, and ignore the positive things people say about their work.
Personally, I think authors miss out on opportunities to improve their work when they ignore their reviews. Certainly, it’s frustrating to read a negative review only to realize that the reviewer barely read your work, or to discover the reader has an axe to grind regarding some moral issue in your novel.
That said, I find that there’s a lot of gold to be mined in the reviews people leave for my books.
The Upside of Reader Feedback
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but I routinely dig through my latest reviews, looking for issues readers bring up that I can address in revisions and future novels. As well, I do my best to read and answer every email and message I get from readers. Sometimes it can be brutal, but I find there’s plenty of benefit to be had in listening to my audience.
An example would be when readers point out typos or plot holes that my editor and I missed. And we always miss something. For instance, in Junkyard Druid, I accidentally changed the name of a supporting character between the first and fourth chapters. I edited that novel several times, and my editor reviewed it twice. Still, the name change was subtle enough to escape our notice, and if a reviewer hadn’t made me aware of it, I never would have known of the error.
More recently, my beta readers returned a list of at least a dozen typos, plot holes, and awkward sentences after reading the tenth Colin McCool novel, Druid Mystic. And that’s after a half-dozen editorial passes between me and my editor, who will likely be horrified when she reads this. But thankfully, I have fantastic beta readers who are helping me produce the best books possible at this juncture in my career (thanks, y’all).
The Dark Side of Reader Feedback
But sometimes what I find in reading my reviews is that you simply can’t please everyone. For example, I tend to include a lot of pop culture references in my work. Ostensibly, the references are there to provide insight into a character’s personality and background. Still, mostly I’m just giving a not-so-subtle nod to all the geeky stuff I like.
Many readers love these references, but some say they’re distracting and detract from the story. And, a few have gone so far as to trash my books because of it.
In a similar vein, I want my work to reflect the real-world settings found in my books. This means including people of every color, creed, religion, sexual identity, etc. in my works. These are the same people you’ll meet on any given day in Austin, Texas, and that’s why they’re represented in the series.
Yet, in reading my reviews, I’ve found that some readers are offended by writers who offer a realistic cross-section of society in their work. Why? Who knows? It’s not for me to decipher what goes on inside of a bigot’s mind. My job is simply to write the most honest stories I can and hope they end up in the hands of people who appreciate them.
A Writer Should Know Their Purpose
Long ago, I decided to accept that some people were simply going to hate my work, for no other reason than it’s just not their cup of tea. That’s a given with any art form, whether it’s writing, painting, cooking, dance, music or acting. Some people will love your art, and some will say it’s trash.
But it’s not my job as an author to please everyone. Neither is it my job to pander to a particular subset of readers who share similar values and beliefs. “O, that way madness lies.”
You see, I believe that to entertain is the sole function of the commercial writer. Therefore, my goals as a writer are simple: I am here to captivate and enthrall those readers who resonate with the stories I’m telling.
Sure, I might inject a little social commentary into my stories, but I’m not here to preach. And, I might insert a shameless plug for my favorite books, movies, or music into a story, but I’m not here to sell you anything (except my next novel, of course).
My singular goal in writing novels is to allow my readers to escape their lives for a few hours by immersing them in an enjoyable and entertaining story. That’s it. And if I’m able to accomplish that, I can sleep soundly regardless of what my critics say.
Some Advice For New Writers
Look, I know it can be tough to put yourself out there for all the world to criticize. I’m also aware that harsh reviews and insensitive reader feedback have destroyed many a new author. So, here’s a bit of advice for those of you who are on the cusp of publishing your work for the first time:
- First, some readers are going to hate your work. If you can’t accept this, don’t publish it. Instead, stick your draft in a drawer and pat yourself on the back for finishing what you wrote.
- Second, don’t take criticism personally, don’t internalize it, and don’t make others’ problems your own. There are a lot of frustrated writers out there, and some of them are shit people who enjoy leaving bad reviews for books and authors they don’t like. Don’t let them get you down.
- Third, don’t read your 1-star or 2-star reviews. The gold is in your 3-star reviews because those are the readers who care enough to point out what they liked and didn’t like about your novel. Sure, some of their opinions will be whack, but you’ll also get plenty of useful feedback by reading those middle-of-the-road reviews of your work.
And finally, remember that this is all a process. No writer starts their career writing literary masterpieces. Your writing is going to suck at first, but don’t let that stop you. Keep learning the craft, continue to hone your writing skills, and for gosh sakes, keep writing.
If you put time in at the keyboard every day, your writing will get better. So stick with it. Then someday, you too can say your work is hated by readers on every continent (my proudest accomplishment, by far).