Thursday, January 3, 2013

With Great Review Power, Comes Great Responsibility

Over the holidays of 2012, I was sick. Really, ugly, flu-like sick. I didn't get much writing in, and I'm now a grumpy, frustrated, over-stimulated writer as a result.

Even though my writing took a beating this holiday, I learned a few things that taught me some valuable lessons as a writer, and I wanted to share this first one, about book reviews, with you.

Before buying a book, I always read the reviews. I don't always make my decision based on them, but I always glance a them, so I value the extreme influence they can have over other readers. As a budding novelist, and acting editor, I take my responsibilities as a reader and a lover of the craft of writing very seriously. So when I started my reading journey this past year (see My 100), I was determined to be honest, raw, and forthcoming in my book reviews. It's what I hope from other reviewers, and it helps me make informed buying choices. 

Enter the book Evermore, by Alyson Noël. I bought Evermore at the recommendation of an article I read suggesting some hot new books that may come "next" for those who loved Twilight, but are looking for something new now that the last movie has been released. I bought about seven books from the list, not only as an avid reader, but also as a way of doing research in my genre. (Sometimes I feel significantly under-read in my genre when I see book compilations by other authors.) What I had not done, was read reviews of the book first. But after getting about 10 chapters in I became curious about others' opinions of the book, so I dove into the online world of Amazon and Goodreads reviews.

What I discovered while reading Evermore was just how nasty, how outright vicious, some reviewers can be. There are very few books I have just out right hated. Hate is such a strong emotion, after all. In my life, there are only a hand-full of books I have stopped reading midway for lack of interest (Life of Pi; sorry, I just didn't fall in love with it) or movies I have walked out on or stopped watching part way through because they were just that bad (Romeo & Juliet, The Break-Up). 

But, I was never compelled to write a nasty review and trash these works, or make personal attacks on the writers, directors, or actors. As a writer, reading the reviews of Evermore really just threw me for a loop for a few days (so I can't even imagine how Noël felt after reading some of them). Here's a handful of 1-star review titles:
  • Will Meyer Sue for Copyright Infringement?
  • Brainless Protagonists Are Role Models Too, You Know.
  • How to Write Popular YA Supernatural Literature AND Defile Your Spirit!
  • Eversnore. 
  • A Smoldering Mess.
  • A Bland, Annoying, Putdownable YA Paranormal Romance. 
One reviewer even posted a You-Tube video of a person imparting "You Suck" while dancing. I don't highlight these titles (or reviewers) to jab the knife in further for Noël, but rather to impart the passion in which readers feel for their books - whether they are fantastically won over by them (Twi-hards/Team Edward/Team Jacob) or in this case, fantastically disappointed (no, no, no, no, no per one reviewer). That said, the book has gotten a 3 star rating, overall, on Amazon and Goodreads, so not everyone hated it (though those who did, REALLY hated on it). 

I know this sounds lame, but I've been so wrapped up in the love-affair of my story and the writing process, that this was one of the first times I actually stopped to think about how:
  • Other people, whom I don't even know, are one day going to be reading my book. (I hope. That's why I'm writing it, after all.)
  • They are entitled to their opinions whether I like them or not. And they are entitled to voice their opinions, whether I agree with them or not.
  • I pray they will love it and be kind, because even if they think it stinks, I put all of my heart and soul and love into this book, and it's not an easy process to put that out there to the world. It's easy to critique; it's not as easy to write a book.
  • My book may not get the reviews I hope it will, and I'll have to live with that if the day comes, but I hope I never have to read reviews like these for my book, because I'm not sure if my skin is that thick. As writers, we all pretend we can take it, but few of us really can.
  • My writing will personally affect readers. As readers, we get so emotionally invested in our books, in the characters, and in the outcomes we hope for. I hope I don't disappoint such a spirited group of readers in the YA supernatural market.  
  • I really, really need a great group of Beta readers who will be tough yet kind, and completely unbiased. Readers who are in my corner and who want me to succeed, so much so they will be honest in a respectful way when giving me feedback.

So, I went into the holiday a little shaky and physically ill after reading of all these reviews of Evermore. For those of you who know me, I'm a very confident person overall. This was the first time I even questioned whether I had the balls to publish my work and put my soul out there for such review and judgement. In the end, I know I will. I love my characters too much and I have too much invested in this story that I feel needs to be told. I just hope I can withstand the reviews and feedback and know that they will only make me that much stronger as a writer. 

In the end, I did end up reviewing Evermore for My 100 (it's part of my challenge). I tried to give it a fair review, but I didn't go into all of the pits and peaks of the story.  Some say it's a direct rip-off of Twilight. I didn't see that. Some say it's nothing like Twilight. I didn't see that either. It was a decent story that, while I normally wouldn't have remembered much of it after its ending, will now forever leave an imprint in my writing heart.       

4 comments:

  1. Interesting! I'm glad you agree that people are entitled to voice their opinions, whatever those opinions may be.

    I wrote a blog post about dealing with bad reviews, which a fair few people have told me has helped them to change their perspective on them. I hope this link works!

    http://terrytyler59.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/what-i-think-about-bad-reviews.html

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    1. Sorry, the link hasn't come out properly. Anyway, if you would like to read it, the link to my blog is on my Twitter bio, and I posted it in July last year.

      Best of luck with your work!

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  2. I found it Terry, and the blog post too! Thanks for sharing! Great points made about reviewing as well. It's a touchy subject on both sides. But I agree 1000% that authors should not fire back and slam reviewers. I've just never understood this desire. No matter how cruel the review, it ends up making the author look poorly too. (That said, I've read a lot of crappy reviews from readers who DO make personal, degrading comments about the author as well as their writing, and I think that's pretty lame too!) I'll find you on Twitter and follow you - I really enjoyed your blog!

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  3. If your novels are written as well as your blog entries, I don't think you'll have that much to worry about.

    I'm one of those reviewers who can really tear apart a book (and sometimes the author... though I'm trying to be more diplomatic and not get too personal). I wrote the one-star review of Evermore on Amazon.com entitled "I've already read this book!" Sometimes it's difficult not to get too personal, especially when I'm frustrated. That's where most of my negative reviews come from: a state of frustration. I get especially frustrated when I've been misled by glowing reviews of a book when said book doesn't really deserve them. I feel cheated, and I don't quite know where to direct my anger. I've spent time (and, usually, money) on a book that really wasn't a positive experience. Do I stay silent and let other readers (with similar likes and dislikes) be misled? Or do I explain what I didn't like about the book?

    Unfortunately, sometimes it's difficult to completely separate the book from the author. Some authors just can't write very well. Does it do the reading public any favours to not point that out? Bad writing doesn't bother some people; for them, they might still find enjoyment in the plot and characters. For others, bad writing can completely ruin a reading experience, no matter how amazing the plot and characters are.

    I totally understand the fear of not wanting to put your work out there for fear of negative reviews. The only writing that I've put out there is book reviews, and I've had people tear into me about those. It stings. But I think it's important to be honest about whether or not something is good. I'm not talking about personal preference here (e.g., I'm not a fan of zombie books, but I'll give credit where credit is due if it's well written and somewhat original). I'm talking about aspects of books that aren't so subjective: whether or not the plot was ripped off and repackaged without many significant changes; whether or not the book was written with proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling; and whether or not it's full of tired cliches and overused plot devices. Let's face it: a lot of the books on the market are put out there simply because the publisher knows they'll sell... not because they're going to win any awards for the writing craft.

    Anyway, I've rambled on for long enough. If you'd like some recommendations for your "My 100" challenge, let me know. We both disliked Evermore, so perhaps our tastes are similar! :)

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