Monday, December 2, 2013

Should You Believe Your Own Reviews?

The hardest part for me in the process of moving from "unpublished" to "author" was the week, a month ahead of release date, when I lost control of my book: I had to send it to reviewers.

While I'd never looked forward to reading my own reviews (mainly out of fears they'd all be 1 or 2 stars from people saying things like "What on earth convinced this woman she was a writer?!"), I hadn't anticipated the fact that I would actually court reviews. That I would need them before readers even got their hands on the book.

Way to think things through, Aimee.

So the week I started passing out copies to people I didn't know and couldn't trust to be anything but honest felt like an exercise in self-flagellation. It was an odd experience. After all, I'd courted plenty of tough critiques and editorial comment prior to that point. I'd gone out of my way to ask people not to try to save my feelings. But it wasn't until that day that I realized, while I may have wanted honest feedback on the book before, I'd always been in control of who had it - and who saw the feedback they gave.

Turns out, getting reviewed was a WHOLE lot different than getting critiqued because, after all, whatever the results, they'd be out there in the public forum.

You're raising your eyebrows at me, thinking "Well, duh." and if I were you, I would be too. But the fact remains that I hadn't really thought through the differences until the moment was upon me. Let's just say I spent a fair week or two sweating it out.

Now, before I go any further I'll say I've been lucky: Reviewers like my book. There's currently 29 ratings on Goodreads and about 18 reviews, and none rates lower than a 3. Only 4-5 of the raters / reviewers know me personally, and they're legit. I'm sure they wouldn't have rated me lower than a 3 anyway, just to be nice. But all of them posted 5-star ratings or roaring, thoughtful reviews.

The rest, however, are legitimate reviewers who were either given a copy by me in the process of hunting for review sites for my blog tour, or readers who've bought the book and decided to let others know what they think of it.

Strangely, it turns out that even though my reviews are all positive (even the vocal 3-stars have a lot of good things to say), reading my own reviews in any category is nail-biting. See, when people read your book they take things from it you never intended. They feel things you hadn't realized you communicated. They ask questions you never intended to answer.

In some ways that can be very rewarding - after all, I've never wanted my writing to be escapism for escapism's sake. But in others it's a real challenge.

And then there's the other side of it - the ratings. The vast majority (20 of 29) of raters / reviewers have given Breakable 5 stars. I've also had feedback personally from people via social media, who tell me how much it touched them, or what they loved about it. That's wonderful, of course. Seriously, you'll hear no complaints from me. But strangely I've found myself asking "Are they begin honest? Or do they just have a reason to be nice that I'm not aware of...?"

It appears that, even in my outward success, my insecurity still carries a foghorn and presses the alarm button on a regular basis.

So...should I believe my own reviews? Objectively I think yes. The fact that people like the book is rewarding and reassuring. The fact that readers who don't know me are complimentary is the first mark of a job well done, in my book. (SIDE NOTE: I seriously wrote that sentence without realizing I'd made a pun until I re-read the post for proofing... *facepalm*)

But, by the same token, that doesn't mean my book is perfect, or I have no work to do to make the next one better. In particular, one three-star reviewer really got me thinking about the role of a "hero" and how to ensure my reader is brought along for the ride.

So, yes, I will take the (so far) predominantly positive feedback as a tick in the right box. But I will not accept that my book couldn't have been better.

With all that said, it's a lot easier to go to sleep at night feeling like I've done what I set out to do than it would be if reviews were decidedly mixed, or watery. I am thankful that readers are taking the time to think about my book - what it says, and what it doesn't say. And I'm really grateful they're willing to talk to other people about it in a public forum.

Then again...maybe they're just being nice? *Insecure frown*

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Your Turn: Do you think reviews are a true measure of a book? Do you ever "pull punches" when you're reviewing on Goodreads, or Amazon?


  1. I always worry that people only say nice things about my writing or comment on my blog because... I don't know. Maybe there's obviously something wrong with me, so they feel like they need to be nice?

    Thank you for your honesty here. I feel like I'm at the point where I want beta readers and my editor to tell me the truth, but the thought of reviews terrifies me. I don't know whether I'll even read most of them. But you're right- there's always something to learn. Our first books aren't going to be our best. How horrible for our later books if they were! But I'm a perfectionist, so I kind of feel like there shouldn't be room for improvement. I'd better learn otherwise before I release anything.

    1. (And no, I don't pull punches in reviews. To avoid bad authorial karma I don't review or rate if I'd give something less than 4 stars, unless I promised the author I'd review either way. I had to give a 3* review for that recently, and I was very honest. I hated doing it. HATED. But no, I don't lie. If I give you a good review after I've read Breakable, I promise it will be honest and well-earned!)

    2. I love how honest you are! I guess we can rest assured we aren't alone, ha!

      I'm with you on the not-reviewing-unless-you-liked-it approach. I used to review anything and be honest. But then I read a post from author Tammara Webber wherein she talked about being authors "together" and who of us wouldn't feel a little betrayed by someone in the same boat ripping us to shreds? I decided she was right and deleted all my 1-2 star reviews, and some of the 3-star that were a little negative.

      Now, if I don't like a book, I just don't review it. Or I only tell people personally who ask me, rather than putting it "out there".

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. The only reviews you shouldn't take seriously are the ones you pay for. If people are reviewing your book without taking your money then count on them being honest about your book.