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HOW TO HANDLE REVIEWS
By Chad Corrie
 

Reviews.

Eventually you'll get some of them as you progress in your writing. So how do you deal with them? Reviews can come in one of two ways. One is from a known source. This is a category in which I lump your family and friends, and people who might have read your book but aren't "established" as a "professional reviewer" so they don't have the clout as another might when they share their view of your book. I'm not going to put much time into talking about these folks as they will give either vague, favorable comments or indifferent thoughts about your work which, in the long run, really doesn't have too great of an impact in terms of helping you grow as a writer or generating a large impact on your work when they're shared.

The other is the unknown source, which is made up of non-established and established reviewers. The non-established reviewers are people who you don't know who share their take on your work. These are more often than not common readers who have read your work and then post them online. The established reviewers are people who make their living giving reviews whether it might be for a magazine, website, newspaper, or other outlets in which a large body of people come to hear them dispense their take on various forms of media.

Now before we get too far let me explain the basic nature of reviews. Most reviews originating from the unknown category (established and non-established alike), I dare say 95-98%, are either highly critical or shower high praise upon any given work. One need only look to Amazon, movie reviews, magazines, and newspapers to see this is the case. Very rarely will something get lower than a "five star" or "four star" rating or higher than a "one star" if it was thought to be terrible. This is because many non-established reviewers, and even some established ones, have to be moved to make a comment about your work. Either they really hate it or they really like. Very few will take the time to share their opinion unless it is birthed of a strong emotion. Strong emotional reaction is not the best way to gauge the merits of your work unless you wanted to gauge your audiences' reaction/interpretation you work might engender.

The known reviewers are usually pretty favorable in their reviews, and there is a reason for this as well. Many known reviewers, because they are so swamped with titles to look through, are hard pressed to take a true measure of many of the books they get, and use the press release sent to them with the book to cut and paste into their own commentary. Because most press releases are going to sell the book as the next best thing since sliced bread, the cut text will reflect this. In some cases it isn't unknown for a reviewer to even use the whole press release itself, changing a few words to make it his own. It's a dirty little secret in the publishing business, but many publishers end up writing their own reviews for their books and many known reviewers help them out in doing so. This is more and more the case with new media types of reviews, like blogs, but not the sole rule in the world of reviews. There are still some places that put forth thoughtful commentary on what they look over but the more common causes are those I have have already listed.

So with these things in mind, why do a lot of writers get so concerned about reviews? Why do some go to pieces if one said that their work wasn't so hot and then are on cloud nine if another said it was "an incredible read" and offered other wonderful accolades? After speaking to some other authors, and experiencing some of these things in myself, I think I've found a way to help you stay away from this manic roller coaster and keep moving forward with your work.

First, understand that regardless of what is said, it is that person's opinion of your work. Many times this is going to be a subjective take, but even if it isn't, it is still that person's opinion. It isn't set in stone and it doesn't mean the death of your work (Star Wars wasn't that widely praised when it first came out and it hasn't done too bad since then). Nor is one review that sings your work's praises going to open up every opportunity in the world either.

Second, understand that reviews, in the long run, help some but are not the end all be all to book sales. There are many cases where books have received high awards and reviews and flopped in sales. The other extreme is true wherein books have gotten terrible reviews and still sell like hot cakes, even getting to bestseller status. So it is important to note that a review, whether good or bad or even indifferent, is not the "kiss of death" or the "shot in the arm" needed to bring about guaranteed sales, that my friend, is the secret and power of marketing and sales–a topic for another essay for another day.

Reviews have a limited shelf life and reach. While the internet is making that shelf life a bit longer than it used to be, in short most reviews, like the books they critique, have a shelf life too. The majority of, if not all the people, will forget them in time. Do that many people recall off the top of their head what was said about a book that was released twenty years ago? How about ten years ago? What about even five? Further, you aren't often going to see a review unless you read a publication that features them. Since many people don't know about or could care less about where things are reviewed the review isn't going to get into their hands more often than not anyway. But it will get into the hands of the buyers... again, another topic that can fill an essay on its own. Reviews are also short term things; it is the book itself–the story–that will be eternal and that has to be solid enough to sell long after the reviews have come out.

Reviews are also subjective and superfluous. I mentioned this a bit earlier in part but it bears a bit more discussion. Most people don't buy a book based upon reviews. Most people don't see movies based upon reviews either. It's the consumer/reader, who decides what is a hit/of interest for them and what they like to and want to read. Like the ancient Greeks seeking to interrupt the words of the Oracle of Delphi, people are going to read and see what they want to in most cases. Even if the reviews for your book say the thing is terrible, there will be readers who will want to read it, and if the book isn't as bad as the reviews say, their impression will override the comments of those reviews.

Reviews are superfluous because no matter what was said, a key line or segment of text is cherry picked and then spun in the book's favor. So no matter what is said only good things will be promoted. This is done all the time in movies, video games, and just about anything else that can and does receive reviews. So with nothing of the true review really getting into the majority of the public save: "...a great read..."-Mike Smith, Bookland Reviews, then one has to wonder if the review itself is even needed. Again, another topic for another essay.

This all being said, you shouldn't get wrapped up in reviews. No matter what is said about your work or how many people come up and say it was great, etc., you really shouldn't start to live for the praise of others. You shouldn't live on the praise of others in general, but especially in your work. If you get a great review, that's fine, just don't make it a shrine. If you get a bad or even indifferent review don't camp there either and let it overshadow everything else you do. For everyone who thinks one way about something there is another person who things another, so don't dwell on the bad reviews and don't live for or too tightly embrace a positive one either. Remember, a review, in most causes, is a subjective opinion at best or a reworked press release at the worst.

I hope this helps some of you out there who have wondered about reviews or been on the receiving end of some good, bad, and indifferent ones. What I have said above, though, is no excuse for not taking a serious look at what is said in a review, when you know it be genuine and not hype. Take a moment to see if what they say is true and where your work can and could be improved on in the future. All writers should be looking to grow and improve with each new work they create. Feedback, even in the form of reviews, is helpful at seeing where correction or improvement could be made. Again though, take all things said in reviews with a grain of salt, but don't be too heady to think that you can't always improve as well. It's often the authors who have "arrived" that tend to quickly fall.

Finally, I wanted to repeat that no amount of reviews will help a book or hinder a book to any great extent if marketing is not used to get it moving into the marketplace. There are many good books out there but not that many well developed marketing plans to help make people aware of them and push sales through. Marketing is what is going to sell the book and make people pick it up, not so much reviews. While reviews help with some buyers, all buyers ask what the marketing plan behind a book is before they purchase it. Should they see that a believable and robust marketing plan exists then they will be more inclined to pick it up and put it on their shelves, even if it has bad, indifferent, or no reviews at all.

© 2007 Chad Corrie. All rights reserved.

No part of this essay may be used in any form without written permission by the author.

Read a related New York Times article about this very topic.

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