REVIEWS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Authors love it when someone takes the time to review their book. We need reviews. They feed our fragile egos. More importantly, they encourage others to read the book, and they are helpful in promoting the book on other sites. What author isn’t thrilled to see a five-star review, not by Aunt Jane or Cousin Sid but by a total stranger who picked up the book, read it, and liked it well enough to take the time to write a review of it. That is gratifying in so many ways. It is validation, and above all, it means that your words resonated with someone, perhaps touched someone, that someone, at least for the time span spent reading the book, shared your vision. The reviewer may have gotten insights from reading the book; perhaps even saw something in it that you had not been aware of. It is not at all unusual for a reader to see a meaning or message in a work that the author was unaware of, but when it is pointed out says, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that?”

I doubt that any book, no matter how well received, gets only five-star reviews. After all, we don’t all like the same things. Tastes differ. But a four-star review or even a three-star doesn’t mean the reader didn’t like the book. It means only that the reader found some flaws in it, perhaps minor, perhaps more significant. Authors can learn from those reviews and should value them as much as or more than the five-star review. They are just as useful for promotional purposes, but they also point out places where perhaps we can improve our writing. In my own case, many readers found the ending of my novel Seduction of the Scepter ambiguous and puzzling although they enjoyed the book. I did not intend the ending to be ambiguous. To me it was perfectly clear, and I assumed it would be for the reader. But that is always a dangerous assumption. Readers can’t read the author’s mind. If several readers have the same problem with a work (as was the case with Seduction of the Scepter), it means that I as an author did not clearly communicate my vision to the reader.

But what about the reviewers that did not like the book and say so and tell why? We may consider those “bad” reviews, but they still show that the reviewer read the book and took the time to review it. A mix of good and bad reviews may simply indicate that the work is controversial, and if the author intended the book to be controversial that mix shows that she succeeded. Such a mix may intrigue readers and encourage them to read the book and judge it for themselves.

Some readers give a book a poor review because it isn’t the kind of book they wanted and expected. Again using my book Seduction of the Scepter as an example, the book has garnered many five-star reviews. However, it is clear from reading less favorable or clearly unfavorable reviews that in some cases the reviewer read the book expecting it to be a paranormal romance. It is not; although it does have romance in it, the book does not fit the pattern of a paranormal or fantasy romance. However, its title and cover may well lead readers to think it will be a paranormal romance. Others read it expecting it to be a historical romance or just a straight historical. Again, it is neither. Although it is set in although it is set in eastern Europe, the country in which it is set is an imaginary one. I did do research to have the clothing, food, and dances accurate for the period, but it is not historical in any other sense. And although I do call it a fantasy, the fantasy element is slight, so readers who expect a fantasy with wizards or mages or dragons or unicorns will be disappointed. There are no elves, orcs, trolls, fae, or other fantasy beings. The only fantasy element in addition to the novel being set in an imaginary country is that the protagonist sometimes hears someone’s thought in her mind. This happens randomly, and when it happens in a crowded room, as it often does, she has no way of knowing whose thought she has heard. It is not anything she can control, and it is not a gift she wants. But it is vital to the plot of the novel, which is why I label it a fantasy.

I fully understand why readers who come to the novel with expectations it does not meet will be disappointed. I would hope that some would be pleasantly surprised, but that will not always be the case. And a reviewer who expects one kind of novel and gets another may well be sufficiently put off by it to express his dissatisfaction by giving the book an unfavorable review. I don’t fault them for that. I am sorry that they were disappointed, but I do not get angry or take the review personally. An honest review may express disappointment, dislike, even disgust, but that is no reason for the author to be upset about it. No one can please everyone. No book is to everyone’s liking. We may consider a review to be bad, but rather than fret over them, we can ignore them or even learn from them.

An ugly review is another matter. It is a review intended to hurt or insult the author. It has no helpful explanation of why the reviewer was displeased with the book. It criticizes the author more than the writing. It might be intended to warn other readers away from the book, but in its language and tone it says more about the reviewer than the book or its author. I have only received one such review, for one of my early books, not Seduction of the Scepter. It consisted of a single sentence, a question. It simply asked, “What is this shit?” My initial reaction was anger, as you might expect. But then I thought, why be angry? This person obviously didn’t like the book. So what? The reviewer is showing nothing about what was wrong with the book or the way it is written but is only being rude and crude. An ugly review like that one reflects back on the reviewer, not the work being reviewed.

In conclusion let me say that authors need and value reviews. When you read a book, if you possibly can, please take the time to write a review. Good or bad, it will help the author to improve her writing and build her readership. Be honest, tell why you liked or disliked the book. Mention anything that especially impressed you about it. Recommend the book to other readers if you wish, or warn them not to read it if you prefer. Just don’t be ugly.

And if you haven’t yet read Seduction of the Scepter, I hope you will look at the reviews, read the novel, form your own opinion, and write a review. Of course I welcome reviews of any of my books. Find them on Amazon. cover art

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About E. Rose Sabin

Fantasy and science fiction author.
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