Friday, April 20, 2012

Review! The good, the bad, and the ugly.

That may be the most over-used reference in history. You can hardly find a mention of reviews from the author perspective without hearing that certain, twanging Eastwood theme. At the risk of being cliche, however, I'm going to reuse the title here because I believe it fits incredibly well with the subject of reviews, and because it's my blog--I'll cliche if I want to.

First and foremost let me say that I fully believe reviews are meant for readers, not for the author. I also think the new influx of book bloggers and reviewers will step up and take the reins on the quality control issue that NY is bemoaning so loudly in this e-volution of publishing. Reviews will serve that purpose nicely, and that is their primary function. In fact, an author gets a lot of advice along the lines of "just don't read them," which of course, is impossible.

They are out there, and you know it. I dare you not to peek at least once.

So despite the fact that they aren't really meant for us, we should still probably be prepared to handle them in all their shapes and forms. Enter: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I'd bet good money any author who sticks with the business long enough will get at least one of each. I also think each of the three has both benefits and challenges to offer.

The Good:
This is the glowing review, the one that makes you crow for joy. It touts the wonder of your book almost reverently and offers almost everything your ego could ask for. I say almost because most good reviewers will try to point out at least a few of any book's weaknesses, so even in The Good, an author might discover a tiny sting.
Benefits: The Good is great for confidence boosting. It can inspire a flagging motivation and add a nice dose of validation to low spirits. It's also great for sharing, loudly and frequently.
Challenges: The Good can lull an author into a false sense of security. It can boost the ego to unrealistic proportions and weaken the resistance to bad and ugly reviews in the future. A really glowing review can also make other perfectly nice ones pale and seem to criticize.

The Bad:
This is the not so glowing feedback that seems to see right through all the glorious bits of your book and shine a nasty light on every flaw and indiscretion.
Benefits: The Bad usually points out things that we need to work on. It is a great opportunity to have an honest look at where your craft could be improved. Sometimes, a bad review will spark some good discussion in the comments, enough to get people (not you...NOT) talking about your book.
Challenges: The Bad can be a real blow to the ego...but really, ego can get in the way, right? Bad reviews can unfortunately also slow down an author's motivation, force them to question their own ability and bring on minor bouts of depression--or depending on the author, heavy drinking. :)

The Ugly: This is thankfully a fairly rare animal. You get the reviewer who has a reputation to uphold, you know, Simon Cowell's first cousin. While many times the literary shredding comes from a strong, honest dislike of your book, often enough, a little poking about will reveal that a particular reviewer's style is "a la Cuisinart." This review doesn't just point out the issues with your manuscript, it gets personal--and nasty.
Benefits: While a truly Ugly review can be blown out of proportion (often) it can still offer hints at your book's weaknesses if you are sturdy enough to read between the lines. Depending on the author, a good thrashing might build up a thicker skin, but even if you are not that sort, don't fret. Take what you can from the experience and move along. There really is nothing you're going to do to change the reviewer's mind, and they have every right to think you thoroughly suck eggs. Of course, you're welcome to return the feeling--just do so silently.
Challenges: This is an obvious one. A solid Ugly review can shake the strongest of constitutions. It's a confidence killer, but identify it for what it is, and you might just come out taller and prouder for it.

They say any review is a good review. Your name on reader's lips, etc. Still, that's a hard line to swallow in the wake of a full-blown Ugly. My advice is to do your best to find a seed of helpful criticism in there, work at keeping your mindset positive, and don't go back and reread it any more than you absolutely have to.

Let's hope we all have many review's on the horizon regardless of type.
~ Frances


Rhonda Parrish said...

I agree with you that reviews ought to be written for the reader, but sometimes you stumble upon reviews that are very pointedly directed at the author. More and more often these days. Whether those reviews are good, bad or ugly, I tend to find myself resentful that I (as a reader) am just being used as an audience to a private conversation/lecture.

Do you know what I'm talking about, or am I crazy? LOL

~ Rhonda Parrish

Frances Pauli said...

I think you're dead on Rhonda. Reviews should be for the reader. They should be about honest recommendation and a communication of the reading experience from one reader to another.

There is a trend in the other direction, and I hope it doesn't stick. I think if authors paid less attention to their reviews and if reviewers paid less attention to authors, the whole system would work better...and there would be less embarrassment on both parts.

I think what you're describing may be a reaction to the flood of authors over-promoting. A lot of reviewers/readers/just anybody have gotten really fed up with overzealous authors and just plain rude behavior. It's very sad for all authors when you are seen as the enemy or opposing force in this equation! Its also very sad to see an author behaving like a used car salesman. The trust between author and reader is important. Making readers feel like they are outside the loop would be a horrible mistake.

There is only one reason to be an author, and that is to tell stories to readers. I hate to think what would happen if that relationship became dysfunctional. ;)

M Pax said...

Even great classics get ugly reviews. Part of our lumps. Not our audience most likely. Hopefully not. Sometimes I think some people are just mean-spirited. But yes, we keep our mouths and fingers quiet and move on.

Vero said...

Great post, and very well dissected too. Thanks, Frances. I hope I'll remember to see the good in every kind of review when I'll get there. ;)