Monday, April 22, 2013

The Reviews Are In

By Reece Hirsch

You've all heard them in interviews, the writers who say that they never read their reviews.  I can understand how someone might feel that way, but I can't imagine how they would pull it off.  Perhaps writers who have achieved some Olympian level of bullet-proof success can actually ignore their reviews, but I'm still slogging away in the trenches and the concept is inconceivable to me.

As someone who has been published in mass market paperback, reviews in major outlets were scarce and I treasured the few that I managed to garner.  Getting reviewed in Publisher's Weekly was one of the highlights of my debut author experience.  Maybe I might feel differently if I ever receive a truly psyche-scarring negative review.  And, don't get me wrong, I have received a few lukewarm notices, but no professional reviewer has really taken the long knives and tongs to anything I've written -- yet.

When it comes to reader reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, I try to take it all in for anything that may be useful and ignore the rest.  For example, I've learned that a large number of readers from Utah really don't like my use of profanity.  And when a few readers note that I strained believability with a particular plot point, I have to figure that if enough of them say that, then I probably did, and I'd better keep that in mind the next time around.

I have also learned to never respond to a review, whether from a professional reviewer or a reader.  That way lies madness.

My favorite review, and the only one I was tempted to respond to, was this odd little post on Amazon by someone from Dallas, Texas:

my son purchased this without my knowing it through his smartphone.  He is 17 and loves thrillers and criminal type books.  I am trying to steer him the other way.

As you can see, this is not exactly a review and I feel that my book and I are only incidentally involved in what's going on here.  But I like to think about that crime-and-thriller-fiction-loving kid in Dallas devouring books the way I did at his age, downloading them onto his smartphone so that his parent can't see what he's reading.  I'm sure that his mother's or father's disapproval just cemented his love of those books.  Parents -- this is not a winning strategy.  Consider it a victory that he loves reading.

I wish that kid a lifetime of reading books that his parent would disapprove of and, if I helped that process along, then that gives me as big a thrill as any review in Publisher's Weekly.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Love that Amazon review! I firmly believed as a young person that the only books worth reading were the ones my parents disapproved of. I was right.

Chris said...

Great post, Reece!

The only review I've ever commented on was years ago, for my $0.99 short story collection, 8 POUNDS. Someone wrote:

"What a waste of time and money. Couldn't get past the first few pages. Plenty of other great stories cheap or free to bother with this one."

To which I replied:

"I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy my collection. Though I might humbly suggest it may simply not have been your cup of tea. It seems to me your ire may be a tad misplaced; you claim great loss of time and money, but spent less than a buck, and read just a few pages. Still, it's a shame I couldn't keep you entertained."

For the record, the story in question won a Spinetingler. And also for the record, responding didn't make me feel any better about the review, so I resolved never to respond to negative reviews again. (And Wednesday, I'll reveal my tried and true methods for getting over them.)

Reece said...

Sue Ann -- I couldn't agree more. One additional note: that strange Amazon review gave my book three stars. One or two stars wasn't fair because he or she clearly hadn't read my book. However, giving it four or five stars might have encouraged me, and clearly the parent didn't want to do that, either.

Reece said...

Thanks, Chris. I really like your reply to that snarky reader. And I look forward to your post on Wednesday about getting over negative reviews -- in this age of Amazon and GoodReads, it seems that no one gets away without getting flamed a little.

Catriona McPherson said...

Great post! I might not have been able to resist asking about "the other way"

Meredith Cole said...

Nice post, Reece! And I love your review on Amazon... I feel very lucky that my parents (and my librarian) never tried to control my reading habits.

Reece said...

Catriona -- I know, I also wondered about that comment. I think there's an implication there that we mystery and thriller writers are denizens of the dark side. Which we are, of course, but still ...

Thanks, Meredith. My parents also never tried to police my reading choices -- they were just glad that I was reading.