Good, bad, indifferent, and sometimes just plain nasty. Book reviews come in all flavors and how authors deal with them is important -- and sometimes crucial -- to how the author is viewed. I'd like to say there are rules, but there aren't. It would be nice if readers and authors could agree to disagree, but that isn't going to happen often enough to make a difference. It certainly isn't going to boost the author's reputation to engage in a battle of words publicly since that bit of histrionic theatricality will likely result in a few moments of rancor and name-calling between reader and writer and the writer will end up branded as a nut at best.
Who can forget Anne Rice's meltdown when she tried to defend her writing and her work on Amazon? I still have the original meltdown saved in case I ever forget how not to act.
And there was the author of an indie romance novel with a bad title who took on a whole group of writers defending her bad grammar and poor quality editing. That was a comment battle that went on for pages -- and a few days.
I know how it feels when a reader "just can't get into" my book or another reader who didn't read more than the first few pages and tossed the book aside (or deleted it from their eReader) and wrote a scathing review that seemed to have been about someone else's book. I have had my books rated with 1 star because of private and personal differences and because the reader just didn't get my book. Readers come in all shapes and sizes, and not all are polite or cannot keep their opinions to themselves. Unfortunately, the latter type of reader feels the need to spread their negativity and scorn all over the internet. I try to ignore them no matter how high my blood pressure rises or how much I'd like to sit down and quiz them on what they read to prove they hadn't read my book at all.
The fact is that there will be bad reviews no matter how much the critics or the public like your book. Get used to the idea because being a writer isn't for wimps. Writers with thin skin had better get thicker skin and writers with hair trigger tempers should avoid reading reviews at all.
Reviews are on my mind this morning because I decided to check whether or not anyone had recently reviewed my last novel, Among Women. I didn't expect any movement since I'm not writing about dragons or fairies or mortals in love with vampires and werewolves. I'm not a celebrated literary writer nor am I a celebrity a publisher hired to write a book about my expereinces on reality TV so I can pretend I'm a writer. I'm the kind of writer who slogs through a 5-foot stack of books to be reviewed and then has to write about the 10 things you should know about what to buy Mom on Mothers Day or what not to get Dad for Fathers Day.
This morning I got a nice surprise. Three reviews had been added since I last checked a couple of months ago and all three readers got what I was writing about. They really read my book and they understood what I was writing. They didn't think Pearl was boring or that she was a hero, just an individual caught in a criminal justice system where there is no justice at the mercy of her own prejudices and fears. They felt what Pearl went through and saw the world through Pearl's eyes. Those are the reviews I live for and the readers I want to reach. The rest are not important, and that is what I remind myself every time some reader looking for titillation and cheap thrills reads a few pages and writes a bad review with a plethora of spelling errors and a complete lack of knowledge of grammar and sentence structure while chiding me about mistakes in editing.
I could be obsessive and go through the book one more time to catch all those errors or I could just let the book stand and move on to the next book.
Unlike authors getting $3000 a day sales and multi-million dollar multi-book contracts from a big name publisher, I'm a midlist writer (for now) putting one word after another on the page between working 2 full time jobs while I avoid checking sales and review statistics just one more time today.
I remind myself that one opinion will not make or break my book, not even the good ones, and that if I want to make a career out of writing, I must keep writing, must keep putting word after word on the page every day. It's an uphill battle, but the alternative is silence and I've never been good at that.
Roger Ebert said that a review is one person's opinion. I keep that in mind when I review books -- or read a review on one of my books. It's just one opinion.