Why ‘bad’ reviews are important – Camilla Isley

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By Camilla Isley

Readers’ reviews have become perhaps the single most important discovery tool for books. Readers prefer books with a considerable number of four or five-star reviews, professional promotional services take reviews in great consideration when deciding if to feature a novel in their newsletter, but mostly reader reviews are the most direct feedback an author receives. ♥

Of course, we would all like to only receive gloating four and five-star reviews that scream to the public how great our book was. But, honestly, I’ve noticed that negative reviews are extremely useful too, and they help me grow as a writer. When I receive a two, or three-star review I spend a lot of time reading it in detail and analyzing the critiques I’m receiving.

For example, one review of my debut novel stated that I tended to use too many “big” words. Actually, the review said, I quote, “It was as if she sat with a thesaurus at her side, trying to impress the teacher with her SAT-level vocab words.” Now, one may get offended by this post, but not me. The reader in question was even so kind as to provide a list of the offending vocabulary. I looked at her list of terms and reasoned that they could, in fact, sound as — here’s another one — bombastic words, which was not my intent and did not fit the lighthearted feel of my novel. There was also another positive review (four star) saying that I used too many dictionary-demanding words. Vocabulary can be very subjective, so I decided to re-read my book for the umpteenth time and go hunting for “big words”. That’s how recondite turned to secluded, mellifluous to honeyed, lugubrious to gloomy, lucubrating to obsessing, and how meanders was cut away forever. I also did a second edit with another professional and she had me say goodbye to one of my favorite words, verboten, which turned to taboo. I feel that this vocabulary make-over improved my novel and writing style, so I’m very grateful for the feedback I was given.

Some other reviews, instead of concentrating on the writing style, criticized my protagonist’s character. Once again, I had to admit there was some truth in the remarks I received. In real life I tend to be sarcastic — a lot! — and maybe that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So once again I learned to smooth my edges and add more complexity to my female leads, keeping the sarcasm, but toning it down a little bit and adding more personality nuances. To me these reviews were like a free developmental edit from which learn, grow, and improve. That’s why at the end of every single one of my books I ask readers for a honest feedback — love it or hate it, give it to me true. If you ever wrote a review about one of my books, please be assured that I’ve read it and took your point of view in deep consideration.

Here’s my final thought on “bad” reviews. Not every book is for everyone, and it’s impossible for one story to please all — I mean, even Harry Potter has one-star reviews, how did that happen? — but as long as a reader explains why he or she did not enjoy my work, I’m grateful for the observation.

To authors, I know that bad reviews can be painful, but try to regard them as free advice. Assess them as an objective outsider. Is any of what the review says true? Can you improve anything in your writing style or character development? But above all, don’t despair, people tastes vary so much we can’t please all the world’s readers.

To readers, the important thing when criticizing someone’s work is to remember that there’s a human being on the other side of the fence, so be always kind in your critique and never snarky. Two-line reviews that state “I didn’t like this book. It was horrible.” don’t help anyone, not the author and not your fellow readers. So if you ever come across a book you really didn’t like, please take a minute to think about what it was that you didn’t like, and perhaps another five minutes to write a review explaining the way you felt. And of course, if you loved a book, please, please leave a review … the author will be ever grateful to you, reviews are the greatest gift you can give as readers.

Camilla Isley is an engineer who has always had a vivid imagination and a more creative approach to life. After working in a corporate job for some years, she left everything to follow her husband around the world in a new adventure. Upon finding herself with loads of free time for the first time in a long while, she decided to begin pouring some of her fantasies into words…


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