My first book came out in 1991. Over 50 books later I’m still kicking and fighting as an author. My very first review ever, on my first book, in the NY Times was overall positive but said: “Fans of thrillers will love it, but characters right out of action comics.” My editor thought that was great. I don’t think the last part was very positive. And it was accurate.
Then along came Amazon. Originally, in days of yore, when men were men, and the sheep ran scared, anyone could post a review on Amazon anonymously. You should have seen the bloodletting. And, of course, I read them. At least now you have to buy something (not necessarily the book you’re reviewing) to have the opportunity to review.
An author can get 99 “attaboys” but one “aw-shit” would sink me into a funk. Same with emails from readers. Honestly, 99% of readers who email are really nice. But every once in a while you get the “Your book sucked so much I burned it.” Same effect.
I don’t mind constructive criticism. You should see the mss critique letter I got from Elizabeth George. She sent it like this: an open letter saying a bunch of stuff, then a sealed envelope. At the bottom of the letter she said ‘open the letter if you really want to know’. I opened it. There was blood on the walls, but damn if that book isn’t pulling together solidly.
So I learned. A lot.
Also, reviews can help you find problems with formatting, editing, etc. No matter how much we try, things do slip through the cracks.
Now, I don’t read Amazon reviews other than to check to see if anyone has problems with formatting of eBooks, because that can happen and we immediately want to get in contact with that reader if we can and correct any problems, so we’ll post a comment on the review letting them know that.
With emails, when I open one and it starts getting nasty I do two things now: I instantly hit delete and I smile. Because, as I teach in Write It Forward, anger is an indicator. Of something for the person who is angry. So they must have really gotten into the book to get so angry. I’d actually rather have an angry reader than an apathetic reader. I read Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile recently and it really bothered me a lot. I initially said I didn’t like it. Then I had it pointed out to me why I didn’t like it and it was because it said something to me that was bothersome to hear. Great book.
Here’s what I’ve learned I can’t do with reviews: respond. Bad, bad idea. You can’t change someone’s mind. Let it go. Responding can start something that the writer can only lose.