Thursday, May 10, 2012

10. How Should a Writer Respond to Reviews?

I’m changing the subject today because of two reviews I received recently on Amazon. Like all writers, I’ve had to learn not to take feedback--whether positive or negative-- personally. When the feedback is from an editor, I accept it and work with it, simply and professionally making the requested changes.

On, feedback  from readers as well as professional reviewers is posted along with the book information. This feedback can make the difference between a sale and a click to another page. A couple of weeks ago I received the following review from someone unknown to me, on Pandora’s Genes:

Meh...Interesting plot, lacks skillful writing, and too abrupt of an ending
My title pretty much sums up the book. I really liked the story. The beginning of the book was actually pretty good and I got drawn into it fairly quickly. Once halfway through, I felt like I was being rushed through the plot by the author, wanting to make sure she explained what was going on so we didn't get lost.... Towards the end of the book, it seemed to get even more rushed and lacked any kind of artistic writing skill. It gave the facts, went through the time line and POOF! The End. I will say the plot was really interesting. It could be made into a decent film if anyone ever decided to do so and in this case might be one of the rare movies that's actually better than the book.

This reader gave me three stars, and had some positive things to say, but all I could see was the phrase “lacked any kind of artistic writing skill.” How dare she? I thought. What does she know about skillful writing? She’s probably never written anything more complicated than a grocery list. I have to admit that this review stung. But, as with all feedback, I shoved it into a corner in the back of my mind and returned to working on the third Pandora’s book.She is, after all, just one reader, and most of the other reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

Yesterday, I received this four-star review from someone unknown to me, on The Ptorrigan Lode.:

A nice read
This was definitely a short one..What I found amazing is the author was able to set up a world, several well defined characters, and introduce a well devised conflict in such a short period of time. I found the protagonist self-absorbed (as he should be based on his circumstances) and related well with the course of action that he chose. If the author chooses to expand on the ground work that this story laid, I would purchase it.

Ah, what a difference! This reader is obviously a man of great literary acumen. He GETS what I’m trying to do. I wonder if he’d like to be my Faceboook friend? I will eventually shove this review into that corner in the back of my mind, with all the others, but for now... I’m basking in it.



  1. As an educator who reads a lot of student evaluations of instructors, I'm come to believe they say more about the student than the teacher. I suspect the two reviews you cite reflect the readers' preferences for shorter or longer works more than something intrinsic to the stories. Except for the second one, of course. He or she has exquisite taste :b

  2. I agree with gh (and kl) about this topic, especially because when I sample some of the literary stuff that actually gets published or turned into movies, etc., much of it does not seem all that good. For example, I did some net surfing a few weeks ago when the Pulitzer Prize for Literature was in the news, read some selections from past winners, and couldn't believe that the crappy stuff I read was considered "the good stuff." I really think you could take almost any piece of writing, whether it is from Joe Blow or Steinbeck or Hemingway, and some smartass reviewer or publishing editor will read it and say, "How pedestrian." So I agree with gh as well as kl in saying, "F*** the critics -- if they had any skill they would be creating something themselves instead of showing off their insecurities by tearing down the work of others."

  3. Not a professional writer, but here's my take on bad notices:

    Learn to get past your first reaction. Your first reaction to a negative review will be to believe everything the writer says and also deny everything the writer says, either simultaneously or sequentially. Experience both, but get beyond that and try to judge the validity of what the person is saying. Don't reject or accept it all out of hand. There may be a kernel there (or more than a kernel) that you can use to make your work better next time. If not, if there's nothing there that ultimately accords with your own judgment of your work, write it off, let it go, and literally forget about it. Holding on to it--by arguing with it or brooding over it--will only hamper future efforts.

    All easier said than done, I'm sure. Positive reviews, of course, don't pose a problem, unless you go over them obsessively.

  4. What kills me is neutrality from people I know. I've had people say "I saw your piece in the Star." How should one respond? "Thank you" doesn't seem to fit. Maybe "Yep, it was there." Or "How clever of you to find it."

  5. Kate--LOL. Except it's true. It's like the people who read something you've poured your heart and soul into and all they can comment on is a typo.