Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review Etiquette for Authors

I’ve been thinking about book reviews lately.  I use them when I’m deciding whether a book might be worth my time (along with the description, genre, etc.).  I’ve even written some.  Now I find myself on the receiving end of book reviews.  So, what’s an author to do about reviews of his or her books?

English: Open book icon
English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s kind of an important question.  Pick any random book from your favorite online bookstore.  See those reviews?  Except for the ones who have but a few or the sad ones without any, those reviews and ratings run the gamut.  Some readers love the book, some hate it, some more are indifferent.  And that’s ok.  In fact, in time, I hope to have enough to run the gamut myself.  How’s that saying go?  You can’t please everyone all the time, etc., etc.  I’ve yet to find a widely read book that was beloved by everyone.  Even some classics.

So, again, what’s an author to do?  I’ve got some ideas.
  1. I’m not going to read the reviews of my books.  Well, not all of them anyway.  Perhaps the ones that have been voted up as the most useful.  And I always need a few positive ones to put on my Library page, so I have to look at the first few of those at a minimum.  Is this blasphemy?  I don’t actually think so.  Here’s why:
    1. I don’t think reviews are actually meant for the author.  I think book reviews are meant for other readers.  That’s how I tend to write a review.  That’s how most of the reviews I’ve seen read.  I think if someone really wants to give me feedback, personally, they’ll seek me out.  I would. 
    2. Keeping up with reviews can be a time suck.  With everything else we need to do, do we really need to waste time searching out and poring over reviews?  What’s to be gained from that?
    3. What’s the benefit?  Or to put it another way, how’s your ego?  Do you require the good reviews to motivate you to write?  Can you take the abuse from the haters?  The apathetic? 
    4. Would it change anything?  I know when I hit publish that I’ve done the best job I can reasonably do in a respectable amount of time.  It’s passed by multiple pairs of eyes and has gone through multiple edits.  At that point, it is what it is, and I’m not going to do a complete overhaul of it or destroy it entirely; someone somewhere might like it.  I might tinker with it, fixing little problems that are found, but that’s about it.  Are reviews likely to be so granular as to point out the specific items that need fixing?  Maybe.  How much time do I want to invest going through those to find the pearls?
  2. I’m not going to respond to my reviews.  Not on a bookstore’s site anyway.  That could be awkward for the reviewer.  Now, if it was positive and on a blog, Facebook, etc., I could see maybe saying thanks.  Those are social. I think that would be acceptable.  What about less than stellar reviews?  No.  Never.  That is a guaranteed loss situation.   It doesn’t matter if the reviewer is an idiot (actually, never argue with an idiot; that is always a losing proposition).  It doesn’t matter how clearly and cleverly you support your stance.  You will not come out on top.  It’s art.  Not everyone will like or get your art.  Accept it and move on.
  3. When I write reviews, I keep in mind the old adage about glass houses.  Or maybe that whole do unto others as you’d have them do unto you fits better here.  I’ve come up with my own reviewing policy on my Misc page.  It takes a lot of effort and time to write a book.  Why would I want to spread bad karma around by trashing my peers.  Better to remember if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
And that’s about it.  Short, sweet, and simple.  Plus, I’m running out of clich├ęs.  Smile 

It’s not complicated.  Leave the reviewers alone.  Be nice*.  Be honest.  If you can’t do both, then be quiet.  Think how much better the Internet as a whole would be if everybody stuck to those?

*Nice doesn’t mean sugar-coating everything.  It’s great when it’s positive, but it can be negative.  Then it’s constructive criticism versus destructive criticism.  It’s choosing words carefully to help instead of hurt.  Hopefully, you get the idea.

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