What’s it like for an author to read reviews about their books? Pam Jenoff, whose latest novel Almost Home was reviewed here last week, shares her feelings about reading reviews of her books in this guest post. As one who writes about books on a regular basis, I was fascinated to read about reviews from the author’s perspective. Thanks Pam, and welcome to Bookstack!
As authors, we encounter all kinds of reviews. The pre-publication reviews from the industry trade publications, like Publishers’ Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal. The really big ones we hope to see from major newspapers or magazines. The reviews from various websites and bloggers who profile books, which are becoming a bigger factor as some of the print review publications shorten or dwindle. The informal ones from friends or coworkers who tell us in passing exactly what they did or did not like about the book, whether or not we’ve asked.
But of all the reviews, the ones that are the best and at the same time the hardest to read are those that are written by readers. They may come in the form of a letter or e-mail, or simply a review on a website like Amazon or Facebook. These reviews can be great or they can be devastating. (Take a quick look on at the reviews of my books on Amazon if you want to see what I am talking about.)
Indeed, it is a topic of debate among writers whether to read them at all. Some authors don’t, but I do religiously, in part because I don’t think as a writer I can be fragile or hide from the truth, and in part because I can learn from them (there is often validity in the criticism, especially when offered by multiple readers.) Having spent the past three years reading these reviews, I’d like to offer some observations about them:
- Readers might be surprised to know that many of us not only read our reviews, but actively seek them out. I check Amazon regularly and set Google alerts with my name to pick up the blog reviews. So if it is out there I am probably going to see it. So while I value the constructive criticism and feedback, the mean ones certainly do sting.
- Authors also debate whether to respond to critical emails. I do in a way that I hope is respectful of the opinions offered (“Thank you so much for your message. It is always a pleasure to hear from and learn from my readers.”) but doesn’t open up to further debate.
- Many people who like my books will actually write to me directly. Only a few of the haters do that – they almost always post on Amazon. Of course there are some folks who will take the time to write to me to tell me how much they disliked my book. The funniest are those from readers who tear into me about the book while managing to get the title wrong. (This has happened a number of times.) If you are going to take the time to fire a shot at the author, you should at least get the name of the book right.
- Many of the harshest critics on Amazon and the other sites are often aspiring writers, and their comments belie that fact (e.g., “I can’t believe this got published when so many more worthy books do not.”)
I always brace myself before reading a new review, but I always read right to the end. Because at the end of the day we are in the business of putting ourselves out there and seeing what comes of it. Even when it is negative, I always hope to learn from the feedback and become a better writer. And I appreciate the fact that someone took the time to write it. So I hope you like my books – and I hope to hear from you even if you don’t.
To learn more about Pam and her books, visit her website here.