What I've Learned About Reviews

I belong to the "better to laugh than to cry" school of thought when it comes to reader reviews.

If you are a writer with a published book--whether trad print pub or indie pub--then you have some experience with reviews.

As soon as you pull those daggers out of your respective backs, leave a comment about your review experience.

Readers Saving Literature

Yes, there seem to be hundreds, if not thousands, of readers who feel the burden of saving literature from the evil known as indie published books. Just ask any of them, and they will tell you how awful indie books are, how shoddily formatted, how utterly pedestrian, how poorly edited, and how completely lacking in any redeeming value those books are.

In fact, many of these readers have banded together in discussion forums and talk about tagging indie pubbed books with negative keywords and leaving scathing reviews just to make sure these books don't succeed in hopes that Amazon will pull indie books and leave only the beautiful traditionally print published books in ebook format for them to revel in.

Ah yes. Traditional print publishing that never makes mistakes. Oh, you want to know about that book that had an amputee as hero--except when he had a love scene and was grabbing the heroine with both hands? I won't name the author because she's super-talented and sometimes stuff just gets by you when you're caught up in the writing. However, it does seem that some of the editors at Major Publisher would have caught it.

Oh, you want to know about those typos you see more and more frequently in print books from major publishers? Well, sometimes, stuff happens you know.

Oh, now you want to discuss that Harper-Collins book filled with typos?

Of course, these indie-haters gloss over the same mistakes when they come from big publishers. Can you spell double standard?

Writers Bleed

You know, I don't know of any writer who expects to never get a bad review. We all do. If the review is legitimate, we can live with that. However, most reader reviews sound like a snark convention with every reviewer trying to out-snark the next.

The great anonymous Internet allows people to say nasty things in reviews that may impact your ability to sell books and earn a living. In person, those people would never say the same thing to your face. Why? Because they're probably decent people who have been taught not to insult someone to their face.

But saying it in a review is like saying it behind your back. They don't have to look at you and see the look on your face when you read their words.

Writers don't like the reviews that say nothing about why the reader found the book lacking. Reviews that say, "This book wasn't worth $.99," aren't worth much. Why? Because reading is highly subjective. What's not worth the money to one, may be priceless to another.

Reviews should address the elements of the book, not how the reviewer perceives the author or her subject matter or the genre in which she chooses to write.

What I've Learned

As I write this, I worry that some of these indie-haters will decide to scourge me with bad reviews. If so, perhaps enough people will like my books to then go post a good review.

1. The one thing I've found in my indie book career is that readers either love my books or hate them with a vengeance bordering on insanity. Little in-between. If you have a very popular ebook, chances are you will experience the same.

I've had a scathing review publish, followed immediately by one that said my book was the best they ever read. Same book. Since I always got good reviews on these books when they came out in print, it's a little weird to get so much polarization with them as ebooks.

2. Most reader reviews are like brittle chat at a cocktail party. Don't take it personally.

3. Pricing is a big issue. All the indie-haters immediately think a $.99 book is indie published, and, of course, that means it sucks. Look for reviews that say how much they hated the book with qualifiers like "that's what you get with a 99 cent book" or "not worth $.99 as expected." For too many, price is a predictor of the value.

4. With pricing, you're damned if you do; you're damned if you don't. Readers bitch about high pricing because they don't want to pay it; they bitch about low prices because they equate that with low quality.

5. When you get your first negative review, visit dozens of other sites of popular ebook authors and read their reviews. You'll see that you're in very good company.

6. If you must read bad reviews, see if there's any objectivity with a mention of any element that you might need to address. If more than one reviewer mentions the same thing, check it out. Don't blindly assume that they're wrong, and you're right.

Takeaway Truth

Reviews are just one person's opinion. Don't internalize the negative comments, and don't become arrogant over the positive ones.

Note: If Joan Reeves aka SlingWords helps you get ahead, please consider buying one of my books (Written Wisdom is perfect for writers--readers too!), subscribing (only $.99 per month) to the Kindle Edition of SlingWords,or making a donation of any amount by clicking the button below. Thank you for your moral support and any monetary support you see fit to contribute.


  1. With two novels and two novellas indie-published so far, I'm surprised I haven't gotten a bad review yet. At least, I haven't received one that I know of. But I know it'll eventually happen.

    What tickles me is when a trad-published author reads someting of mine and says, "I'm surprised how good this is."

    Honestly, if I screwed something up, like the amputee using a non-existent hand, I want to know! The lovely thing with indie-publishing is that I can fix it and upload the fix in a couple of hours (or less). That's not something I can do with a trad-published book. At least, not yet.

  2. Suzan Harden ... You touched on one of the best things about indie publishing: the ability to be responsive and immediately make corrections.

  3. Oh wow, Joan. This blog post came just at the right time for me.

    This morning I woke up to a bad review. Now I have another book with one review and it's bad. I know that hurts sales. But what to do?

    And why is it that the readers of my books who hate them leave scathing reviews while the readers who love my stories write me fan letters? Don't get me wrong. I love fan letters.

    But I wish they knew how much they could help authors if they'd praise the books in good reviews.

    I know. I know. I need to develop a thick skin. But it still hurts.

  4. AnneMarie Novark ... Hugs to you. Get a Ding Dong and a glass of milk. That will make you feel much better. *g*

    You bring up a great point. I have the same experience, and I wonder if this is true of most writers.

    I get great email fan letters from readers! They make me float on air. Every time, I write back and implore them to please post a review on whatever website where they bought the book. Only once has someone actually emailed back and said they went and did that.

    I've wondered why the negatives outweigh the positives when I have far more positives in email letters than in reviews.

    Do you think that satisfied readers don't have the time to post reviews because they're too busy reading?

    Or maybe they don't see the big deal about posting reviews because maybe they don't read the reviews?

    Of course, my wonderful husband just sneers at bad reviews and says, "Probably just a jealous writer out to torpedo you."

    *LOL* Gosh, I love that man.

    Anyone got an opinion?

  5. Recently I broke my own rule about not reading my reviews and I'm sorry I did because I'm mad enough to spit. The reader complained that it felt like pages were missing from the book and gave as an example where the hero gives the heroine a bracelet but that I never showed him actually giving it to her and said there was no story revealing the events that led to it. Huh? First of all, it wasn't a bracelet. It was a necklace of trade beads that he gives her when they finally wed, and the whole first half of the book reveals events leading up to this. I don't mind a bad review. You can't please eveyone. But get the story straight, for goodness sake. And what happened to the old adage, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?

  6. Nancy Morse said... broke my own rule about not reading my reviews

    Hugs, Nancy! It is so hard to NOT look! My husband scolds me every time I'm moping about one: "I thouhgt you said you weren't going to read those any more."

  7. Joan, I'm going back to not reading them. It's much healthier.

  8. I never read reviews on book sites. Mainly because I know there are just malicious people out there. I used to, and then I read a review for one of my favorite authors and thought... did they even read the book? I do check out my favorite book blogs for recommendations for new authors, because I trust what they have to say. All books, no matter if it's a top NYT bestselling book, have at least a few horrible reviews.

    I guess I was raised by my mom, who always told me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Well, okay. Sometimes I don't like a book. I'm allowed to post an opinion, but not to bash the author or the book. That's just hateful. I read a LOT. I mean, a LOT. I've read books since I was young and have quite the collection.

    I've read books by authors that everyone seems to love, except me. (No names here.) But do I go post on their page that the book was horrible? No, I just think it wasn't my style. You have to be thick skinned to be in this field. And quite honestly, I agree with your husband... the person slamming is just jealous that they can't write a book. Or they got a bad review and are taking it out on someone else, trying to bring them down.

    *hugs* I LOVE your books!! ;)

  9. Angela MacIntyre...

    My mom always told me the same thing, and I think it's good advice. I sometimes wonder if all the negative reviewers just post according to their personality and world view. In other words, they're the constant complainers about everything.

    Btw, thanks for the *hugs* and for loving my books! I've been struggling since injuring my hands and wrists in last week's dumb accident. Trying so hard to keep writing and get these 2 novels finished and published before Thanksgiving.

    You just gave me an added measure of motivation!

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves