02 March, 2015

Reviews: the good, the bad, the baffling

There are a number of writers who only write for their own pleasure. Most of us, however, write for both enjoyment and in the hope that somebody will read what we've written and enjoy it also. That's why reading reviews can be both encouraging and disheartening.

The e-book version of my novel, The Art of Letting Go, was promoted by Amazon throughout February. This meant a huge increase in sales, and therefore in my sales ranking on the Kindle store. It was exciting to be in the Top 100 e-books for nearly all of the month - my highest rank was 45 - and to be in the Top 10 for my specific genres. For the last week or so I have even been the bestselling e-book in Women's Literary Fiction, which meant I got one of those little orange labels that Amazon use to mark bestsellers. But for me, the best part of the promotion was the increase in reviews.

Before my book went on promotion, I had 23 reviews. They were all 5*, which was splendid (and really helped when it came to Amazon choosing me for promotion - so thanks so much to those who reviewed it!), but I was aware that a lot of them (not all) were from people who knew me. I was intrigued to know how my novel would be reviewed by people who didn't need to spare my feelings.

As of today, my review stats look something like this...

Total number of reviews: 51
1* reviews: 1
2*reviews: 2
3* reviews: 2
4* reviews: 7
5*reviews: 39
Average star rating: 4.6

I'm really pleased with this, although I do feel with my headstart from all my kind friends, I am only going to watch the average sink over the next few weeks and months!

Oddly enough, I wasn't too discouraged by the very low rankings. The criticism from all my reviews of two stars or less, was much the same - the book was boring. This is pretty damning, but I don't suppose there is a book in the world which isn't found boring by somebody. I knew the major publishers hadn't taken it on because it wasn't a fast-paced novel, and I really don't mind if my book just isn't to somebody's taste. Also, The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro is probably one of the finest and "quietest" novels I've ever read, and its handful of negative reviews were almost identical to mine (not that I think my novel is even in the same league as that one!)

The little things that made me sad were the mediocre reviews - the people who said it was OK, but unmemorable; nice enough but with one or two major flaws. These are the readers I feel I've let down. If only I'd written the ending slightly differently, or taken more time over one character, perhaps I wouldn't have wasted their time. There was one 3* review in particular which made me feel dejected - they just didn't get the point of the story, and conveying that was my one job!

However, the 5* reviews have been such a joy to me. For everyone who found it tedious, there was one or two who couldn't put it down. There were people who loved my characters, praised my writing, or were gripped by the plot, and I confess I nearly cried knowing that they'd bothered to come online to tell other people how much they enjoyed it. There was one review which was so perfectly what I would've wished for I feared they were being sarcastic! It was, of course, immediately followed by a 2* review. Win some, lose some!

Thank-you to everyone who has read and reviewed me - good or bad - it's so valuable for a debut author. I've taken great encouragement from the compliments, and some valuable lessons from the criticism.

You can read all the nice and nasty things people have said about my work here. But if you want a taster, here is my one 1* review, and my favourite 5* review for you to enjoy...

1*: Probably the most boring book I have ever managed to get half way through before giving up.

5*: What an utter delight this novel is. I was initially attracted by the cover and the title and then was blown away by the writing. It was one of those rare books that had me hooked from the first page. All the characters are so well drawn that I became deeply involved with them. The very different first person voices are beautifully realised - each one real, human, unique...a testament to Ms Banks' skill and craft. This does NOT read like a debut novel: it is confident, accomplished & I would go so far as to say masterly. I can't wait to read more by this author. In the meantime, I am about to re-read The Art of Letting Go to savour it all over again.
The only downside is that it's one of those novels you're really sad to finish because you know that everything you read for a long time afterwards will feel inadequate and second-rate by comparison. HIGHLY recommended.

6 comments:

  1. Considering this is your first book, I would put the reaction to it down as a resounding success. My mother in law gave me it back at her birthday party and/or housewarming on Saturday, and her exact words to me were: "It's not something that I would normally read, but I'm glad I did - I loved it!"
    As for negative reviews such as the one you received, if I were ever to write a review for the Da Vinci Code it would amount to the same thing, but I am not in the habit of offering bad reviews just for the sake of venting my spleen. It's a pity that the reviewer couldn't offer more than "this book is boring, to the extent that I'm going to elevate its status to the most boring that I ever read!!!" Perhaps that's why you didn't feel wounded by it, as it offered very little beyond a "this is my opinion and you WILL hear it because opinions are important!" - there wasn't even an attempt to explain why the book was so bone-numbingly dull that it had to be abandoned.

    I appear to have just reviewed a reviewer, which now can stand as official proof that I think far too much!

    It is my personal policy to never offer a negative review unless I am able to offer - if nothing positive - a constructive element to balance the negativity. Maybe this was the stinging element that the mediocre reviews had which you felt bad about?

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    1. Thanks, Helen. You're exactly right - I didn't mind the negative reviews because they seemed just like a vicious swipe. The mediocre reviews were intelligently thought-out reasons why my book wasn't all that, which is much harder to take! BUT it's very similar to get rejections from publishers and I'm pretty used to that, so it hasn't hit me too hard!

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  2. I think it's always wise to take reviews in stride (and you seem to be doing just that). With so many 5 star reviews, you can afford the one or two readers who just didn't get it - or who may even be people who like to leave mean reviews - they do exist. In the latter case, they are their own problem and nothing to do with you.

    As for the 3 star review that left you feeling you had let them down, well . . . 46 readers certainly didn't feel disappointed. :-)

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    1. Thank-you, Elizabeth. I think by the time you get to being reviewed as a writer on Amazon, you've been through so much rejection from agents and publishers to go with your one or two bits of good news that it's easier to take things like this in your stride. I imagine if you go straight for self-publishing without getting your work beta-read etc. (which would be madness, but I'm sure it happens!), and have therefore never faced any sort of criticism, it might be harder.

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  3. Just remember, if you're feeling down, go to whatever famous book you love and look at all their bad reviews. There's bound to be some. And you're right, some people will just not get a book. I've read several best sellers and though, um, what's the big deal. You can't please everybody. :)

    So ignore those low numbers and remember the highs (which you have a ton of). You wrote a terrific book and be proud of that!

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    1. Thank-you, Suzi. That's why I looked at the reviews for The Remains of the Day! I got five reviews in the last 24 hours which is a bit of a rush - three 5*s, and one each of 4* and 2*, so that's not bad :)

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