Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Santa Rosa’s main office on a sunny day
The late Johnny Carson monologued once on the Tonight show about the pitfalls in responding to a woman holding a newborn baby. She wants you to admire it, and usually you can, but sometimes you’re stuck. “What do you say about an ugly baby?”
Johnny grinned at the audience and put a long emphasis on his second word: “That’s some baby.”
I think of him from time to time when a writer offers up their baby-manuscript and wants an opinion. You can see the hope in their eyes, the pride and expectation of praise. I always look for something positive to say, something more profound than “you typed all these words yourself?”
But what do you do if your friend wants you to write a review of their book on Amazon and you just don’t like it? Can you somehow find words to waffle through a description that tells the truth but doesn’t hurt your relationship?
Or, worse, what if you get a bad review?
Some authors with nerves of steel never read their reviews. They’re confident what they wrote is good and they don’t need some critic’s validation. Other writers live by their Amazon reviews and agonize over every single non-five star opinion. Hopefully, most writers fall somewhere in between.
What is a review, anyway? Just some person’s opinion about a work. How many of you decide whether or not to purchase a book based on a review?
Um, I do, sometimes, though word of mouth–the opinion of someone whom I trust–counts more than a token review in a newspaper or online.
Some marketers argue that any publicity, even bad publicity, is better than no publicity in the busy marketplace we call the Internet. One company, Marketing Science, recently concluded a bad review actually resulted in higher book sales for an unknown writer. You can examine the hieroglyphic calculus and analysis here.
E-how provides a list of what to do when you get a bad review that includes the mature suggestions to keep your cool, learn from the review, and try to salvage the relationships, if not the book itself. What you don’t want to do is rant about the reviewer and cause would-be readers to think you’re deranged. I’m not going to direct you to an author who recently made a fool of herself in this way.
Negative reviews serve a purpose for the reader. What might bother one reviewer–say, “This book is full of Christian symbolism which I hate,” –might be the very thing another reader desires. I declined a 600-page book recently, mostly because I’d have to haul it on a vacation and the reviews were mixed. But a woman who reads in the genre told me how wonderful it was, “I couldn’t be parted from the book I so much wanted to know what happened.”
I purchased it for the Kindle. Paper problem solved.
The negative reviews about the writing in the book itself, however, turned out to be correct . . .a 400-page novel crammed into 600-pages. I had been warned, I recognized the value in the comment, but I persevered anyway–the subject matter was important to me and it actually added pathos to my trip to Budapest.
So, what do you say to a writer about their project if you’re not real keen? “Wow, you’ve worked so hard to write this book. You must be so proud.”
And if someone says those words to you?
Be proud. You worked hard to write that book, regardless of what any reviewer says!
BTW, The Dogtrot Christmas comes out in Barbour’s A Log Cabin Christmas Collection in September. Let me know what you think of my story–good or bad!
I can take it.
At least I think I can. 🙂
How have you handled the sticky situation of bad reviews–whether from giving them or receiving them?