Reading between the lines of reviews

Sometimes I read a bit of writing advice and get myself all a dither. This week has been one of those times. I read something the other day about the importance of understanding what readers like most about your writing, so you can play to that. Since I’m writing another novel, and I’d like it to be better than the last one, that sounded like good advice to me. Then came the questions.

Sometimes I read a bit of writing advice and get myself all a dither. This week has been one of those times. I read something the other day about the importance of understanding what readers like most about your writing, so you can play to that. Since I’m writing another novel, and I’d like it to be better than the last one, that sounded like good advice to me. Then came the questions.

Do I know what readers liked best about The Brevity of Roses? And isn’t there a related question—what did readers like least? What if the novel I’m working on right now, includes too much of what they didn’t like and too little of what they did?

So far, the reviews of that novel have been positive. That’s nice, but it’s also unfortunate. I’m happy about good reviews, of course, but I know many more people have read Brevity than have reviewed it. Some have let me know privately that they enjoyed it, but many many others have said nothing, publically or privately, since reading it.

I’m left to wonder. Did they hate it? Did they throw it across the room in frustration? Were they bored? Did they not even finish reading it? Did they laugh—when I didn’t intended them to? Do they regret wasting their time and money? Or maybe they loved it, but it didn’t occur to them to let me know in some way. Silence is maddening. It’s also unhelpful.

At this point, the bulk of Brevity’s reviews were written by fellow writers. I suspect the reviews from most of my writer friends are just as biased as those from my non-writer friends. Maybe more so because writers sympathize. They know the value of good reviews, not only to boost sales, but to boost a fragile writer’s confidence. But they also know how to write, so when I read my fellow authors’ reviews, I try to read between the lines. What didn’t they say, and does that point to what they didn’t like?

I know. I know. I’m supposed to be writing for readers, not other writers. But is there a writer out there who doesn’t want the respect of her peers? OH … wait … aren’t I supposed to be writing for ME? If I write what I love, won’t my readers love it too?

But wait … what if all those silent readers did hate my novel? And what if all my good reviews really were written out of sympathy? Maybe NO ONE really liked it. Maybe I’m a terrible writer. Maybe NO ONE will buy my next book. OH … wait … if that’s the case, I can write anything I want. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. Maybe I should turn off the computer and take up knitting instead.

Yeah, it’s been one of those weeks so far. But tomorrow (Thursday) I get to celebrate my anniversary with teppanyaki, so things are looking up.

How’s your week going?

8 thoughts on “Reading between the lines of reviews

  1. How is my week going? Wait…give me a second, I’m still dizzy from reading your blog post. 🙂

    I honestly cannot think of anything that I didn’t like about Brevity.

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  2. Linda, this is such a toughie. On the one hand we want good reviews–of course we do!–but there is something to be said for the benefit of some CONSTRUCTIVE criticism–and I think that’s the key. I think it’s like dating–sometimes you don’t know why you don’t click with a person anymore than you can sometimes explain why you DO. So I appreciate that some readers who won’t like our books may not be able to articulate why, but for those who can, and do so in a fair way (opening a can of worms there, I know;)) it can be so beneficial to us as writers. We want most of all to connect with our readers, and while you can’t connect with everyone, you want readers to know you appreciate that they took the time to read your book and want to hear their thoughts.

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    1. Oh certainly, Erika, we want “CONSTRUCTIVE criticism”. A one star review that simply says, “I hated this book.” is no help at all — to us or to other potential readers. And I also agree that not every reader will like my books. We’re all selective in our reading. For that reason, I know enough to filter criticism. Not all of it is valid for my writing. But I understand readers who say nothing. I think I’d only left two reviews at Amazon before I had a book of my own for sale there. I just thought book reviews were for professionals. It never occurred to me an author might want to know what I — the lowly reader — thought. 😉

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    1. Actually, AIT, I switched the order of that adjective more than once. I am a writer and my confidence is fragile, so I first wrote it as “writer’s fragile confidence”, but then I questioned whether all writers have a fragile confidence. I see now I could have written A writer’s fragile confidence, so I believe I’ll edit it. 🙂

      And more of my week’s are like that than I want to admit, so I sympathize. It sounds, from your post, that you’re gathering a community around you, so may they hold you up when you confidence is shaky. 🙂

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