Friday, December 12, 2014

How to Talk to a Reviewer

If only someone would invent paperless books!

A day or two ago it was pointed out to me that a reviewer had given Tears of Heaven one-star.  I’ve received a couple of mildly negative reviews and low stars in the past, so this was more of a shrug of the shoulders than anything.  It would be nice if everyone loved my book and gave it nothing but high marks.

That’s not only impractical, it’s impossible.

Even the highest rated books, some of the most well-known, are not now, nor when they were released, universally beloved.  Take a look at this collection: “15 Scathing Early Reviews of Classic Novels”.  I particularly liked the one-line quip for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  I’m sure Uncle Walt chuckled no end at that review.

Myself, I’ve never been able to get on the Frank Herbert Dune bandwagon.  My parents took me to see the David Lynch movie version, and I got a real kick out of it.  It would be a few years later before I’d read the book, which I found to be more of an outline of an amazing science fiction story than an actual complete novel.  Especially the climactic and closing chapters which felt extremely rushed and painfully barren of detail.  It seemed like Herbert realized he’d bitten off more than he could chew in a single novel, and went about tying up the loose ends as quickly as possible.

Careful.  That knife could Sting!
I didn’t hate Dune.  I could probably stand to read it again if I was on a deserted island.

But as an indie/small press author, nearly every review counts.  The majority of the reviews for Tears of Heaven are ones that I worked hard to get.  I begged, borrowed, cajoled, or otherwise blackmailed anyone with a set of eyes and an internet connection to give it a read and an honest opinion.  Some friends won’t talk to me anymore—but I have their reviews!

Just kidding.  None of my friends actively associate with me.

Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to engage with a reviewer—any reviewer.  Generally, the right way, if you’re going to engage at all, is thank them for their time and their feedback.  After all, they went through the effort of reading the book, and then the effort of getting on their computer to share that experience with other readers.  Even with a bad review, that’s effort that should be noted and appreciated.

For the record, I wasn’t upset with the one star.  But I was curious.  There was no review with it.  I did a quick hunt on the reviewer’s blog, but couldn’t find anything.  Even more curious.  With a blog and whatnot, the reviewer wasn’t hard to track down, so I decided to reach out.

But what’s important here is the way in which I reached out.

Speaking of big swords . . .
Honesty is not always the best policy, but in this case I was curious about the negative experience.  So I shared that.  As I’m working on a follow up novel, Hell Becomes Her, I also don’t want to repeat major problems from the past.  I shared that too.  I went into the conversation open about the reviewer’s opinion.  I didn’t want the review changed, and I didn’t think the review was wrong.  I did want to understand what had gone wrong.

It was a lovely conversation.  Not overly long, but perfectly suitable.  Turns out there was a posted review, just a little tricky to find.  The book simply didn’t connect with the reviewer.  Nothing was specifically wrong.  There was no utter failure with the book.  It didn’t grab hold of the reviewer and there was no resonance with the characters or the plot.

I can’t say I’d recommend engaging all reviewers.  Not even some reviewers.  That’s what a beta team and an editor are for.  This happened to be a positive experience, and one of the very rare times I was even tempted to talk with a reviewer after a negative review, mostly out of curiosity.  The mindset going into the conversation was key.  An attack, belittling, etc., all would have resulted in a negative experience.  The furthest thing an author should be seeking.

So thanks, reviewer—and all reviewers everywhere—for taking the time, the effort to read my work and provide an honest review.  It’s deeply appreciated.

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