Not wanting to sound too dramatic, reviews can make or break a writer’s career. Obviously, too many negative reviews will steer customers away from the product, but having a low number of reviews – even overwhelmingly positive reviews – can be just as damaging. This is because of the way that online shops work these days, if you get enough reviews on something like Amazon – love it or hate it, it is a dominating force in the book selling market – they’ll start to recommend your book to other people. This translates into more sales, hopefully, which translates to more reviews which, again, means more sales.
For such an important part of your writing career, how you handle reviews is something that it’s unlikely that you’ll have any experience of. For starters, the main piece of advice for reviews is to completely ignore them. Don’t look at how many stars you have, don’t read the text that comes with them, don’t even think about them. This is for a couple of different reasons.
Firstly, the only benefit to reading them is to stroke your ego. That sounds harsh, I know, but let’s look at why. You get a five star review and the person talks about how it was the best thing they’ve ever read and you change their life, you made them a better person. Perfect, you did a good job but it doesn’t tell you anything other than you’re good. If it’s a one star review that talks about how it was the worst thing they ever read, you’ve ruined their life and have made them a worse person. Neither of these reviews tell you anything of real worth. Positive reviews are great but they don’t tell you anything that you need to maintain in order to continue to do the good job. The negative reviews are the reverse, they won’t talk about things that need to be improved. These are generalisations, of course, you can get incredibly detailed reviews that give out good information but these are the outliers.
Next, we need to look at how reviews are, generally, skewed towards extremes. People who either love or hate the book are going to review it, for the most part those who enjoyed the book but aren’t blown away by it are much less likely to leave a review. This doesn’t help you a great deal, the majority of people who have read you book could be enjoying it, just not enough to leave a review, but all you see is a torrent of people saying it’s terrible. Their opinion is valid, but it isn’t necessarily indicative of the whole picture.
This leads us nicely into the next point which is that reviews aren’t always about the quality of the work. I had a look through the Philosopher’s Stone most recent one start Amazon reviews. Very few of them actually spoke of the book. Some were influenced by JK Rowling’s recent behaviour, others were complaining about how they couldn’t get it to work on Audible, others spoke about how the CD they received of the audio book were scratched or the second hand copy of the book was damaged. In three or four pages or one star reviews from this year, I saw a couple that spoke about how they didn’t like the book. As an author, if you look and see that you’ve got thirty one star reviews are you going to remain calm, read through what people are say and take it on the chin or are you going to take it to heart and not read what they’re saying? Personally, I’d take that really hard. You don’t want to go through that because Amazon has a glitch that day, for example.
Finally, they’re not meant for you. Reviews are for the reader or the prospective reader to decide if they want to buy your book. Or the seller if there are issues with production or distribution. They aren’t for you and they don’t benefit you in any way, so don’t look at them; it’s only ever going to end badly for you.
As a final point, do not respond to reviews. A lot of platforms allow people to write comments or responses to reviews. Do not do this. Don’t even respond to say thanks. Do not respond to reviews. They aren’t for you, as I’ve said, but it’s a slippery slope to start going down. Maybe you start by saying thanks for the review, then someone asks a question so you answer it, then someone says something that it isn’t true – maybe they hated the sex scenes but there were none – so you want to correct them. Then your next step is starting an argument. It’s not worth it. It makes you look bad, it puts people off reading your books and it can, and probably will, encourage people to leave negative reviews because seeing you get into arguments on the internet amuses them.
Reviews are an incredibly important part of writing, but they’re not for you so ignore them completely. Focus on your job; writing.
© 2020 Davina Chime
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.