Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
It’s true, just as the Sara Lee folks told us so many years ago: everybody doesn’t like something. And while I’m not sure it’s true that nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee, I do know that the reason some readers don’t like your book or books is the very same reason others love them. What one likes, another dislikes. The highlight for one reader is the ultimate turnoff for another.
We have different tastes and therefore no single book will be embraced by all.
Even fans of most of your books may find one they don’t like.
They may not like the plot, the tone or style, the protagonist or antagonist, the back story, the way your characters solve the story problem, or even your lead character’s name.
Everybody doesn’t like something, and that something may well be one or more of your books.
I was recently checking out the reviews for the books of a couple of writers. Wow, lots of variety in the comments. A wide, wide, wide range of responses.
So then I started looking at the reviews for other books, picking a group at random. Yes, many of those books received a wide range of stars and reviews too. While trolling behavior accounts for some of the swing, it doesn’t account for all of it. It’s simply true that not all readers will love your books or your writing.
And you already knew that. It’s just that when you see the comments so boldly proclaimed for the world on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter, well, that’s a different animal. Someone is publicly pointing out the flaws in a story you sweat blood over.
Today I want to share encouragement regarding readers and reviewers.
You may be worried about reader reaction to the political viewpoint you gave to your protagonist.
You may wonder about your choice of protagonist—she’s greatly different from every major character you’ve written before. (But you needed to write about someone different for a change.)
You may be fretting over killing off not one but two characters, a move that you know will touch readers, perhaps shake them up. Your worry is that it might move them the wrong way and run them off.
Whatever your current worry regarding reader response, remind yourself that some readers will find fault with your stories no matter what. And they won’t all find fault with the same issue or event, the same character or scene element.
And some will most certainly find fault with parts of the story you never gave a second thought to in terms of reader reaction or satisfaction. Thus even if you worry and try to anticipate every reader’s every need, you won’t be successful. No matter how good your stories, no matter how entertaining and grammatically correct, somebody will find fault with something in them.
Some readers will love your setting, even a new setting in a familiar series. Others will miss the old setting, one they’d come to love.
Some readers will be on board with a main character whose sole focus is on the story problem rather than on a love interest. Others will miss your signature secondary plot that delves into romance for your protagonist.
Some readers will be jazzed about a shift in your writing style toward more action, more dialogue, or more prominent secondary characters. Some readers will hate the change in the balance of story elements.
And for readers new to your books, some simply won’t like your style, word choices, pace, or character quirks. Some won’t like the way you start a book, others won’t care for the age or sex or occupation of protagonist or antagonist.
Some won’t like the present tense or the omniscient POV or the use of alternating viewpoint characters.
Some will want more sex, some less. Some will want more character introspection, some will find your characters’ thoughts tedious.
And while some readers won’t leave reviews detailing their disappointments, others will be quite vocal about what they like and dislike. That’s simply the nature of people.
I encourage you to be prepared for negative reviews. What that means for you personally in terms of preparation, I’m not sure. But you know. You know how you best deal with disappointments.
Maybe a read-thru of the reviews of popular or best-selling or even classic novels will help you prepare for negative reviews. Every writer and every story gets negative reviews. You will not be alone.
And maybe it will help to realize that some (many? most?) reviews have less to do with your writing than with a reader’s tastes. Some readers write negative reviews as if a book is a badly written one when what they probably should convey is that it didn’t satisfy their personal preferences.
Now this doesn’t mean that reviewers who provide negative reviews might not have legitimate observations about badly written stories. But as noted, not all reviews are a true reflection of the quality of the writing. You need to parse reviews to discover the reviewer’s intent. Or maybe his vantage point.
I understand that that’s hard to do when a review is something like “total waste of time.” But why assume that the reviewer who leaves such a review is legitimate in any way? If a review doesn’t address the story—highlights and/or low points—you might as well assume that the reviewer didn’t even read the book. This kind of review is more likely the leavings of an Internet troll than a real reader’s sincere review.
Still, not all legitimate reviewers are going to leave a detailed evaluation. Since reviews are ostensibly for others who might purchase the book, a complete review would certainly be more useful, but you won’t get that in every comment. Reviewers and their reviews are as diverse as writers and their stories, and each will be unique. That means that some reviews will be short and to the point. And some reviewers will leave an opinion without giving a reason for that opinion, admittedly not useful for others who actually want to know more about a particular book. And not helpful for the writer who doesn’t know what to make of such reviews.
A Writer’s Response
I don’t advocate that writers create stories in knee-jerk response to readers and reviews—whether those readers are critics or fans or a combination of the two—and yet knowledge of your readers’ opinions can be helpful for future writing projects. Yet always keep in mind that most readers aren’t going to leave a review, positive or negative, so you’re actually getting a skewed picture of reader opinion.
Whatever the responses, don’t take to heart what every reviewer says. Assume that some readers simply don’t care for a particular book. A negative opinion doesn’t mean that a book is badly plotted or poorly written. It could mean that a reader just doesn’t like some aspect of it. As we’ve seen, taste and evaluation aren’t the same issues, even though reviewers might believe they’re serving up the one even as they actually offer the other.
The reviews that continually surprise me are those dealing with genre. Many readers stepping out of their genre comfort zones write how much they enjoyed reading in a new genre. But some readers downrate books simply because they don’t like the genre. That’s definitely an example of rating a book based on personal taste and not on the quality of the writing or the particulars of the story. Don’t be surprised to get negative reviews from readers who just don’t like your genre.
My reminder today is a simple one: keep writing the best stories you can. Give thought to your readers, but don’t try to steer your stories according to their whims. There are simply too many different opinions.
You’re the captain of your story’s ship; you decide the course and the destination. Be appreciative of your readers and give them the most entertaining story possible, but don’t worry about potential negative reactions as you’re creating—you and your stories will gather negative responses no matter what you write and how you write it, so any worry over reader reaction to that nasty habit you gave your protagonist is probably pointless. Even if you change that habit to be less off-putting, some readers aren’t going to like something innocuous that you didn’t change.
You’re always going to get negative responses to your stories because everybody doesn’t like something and because you’re not serving up Sara Lee. And that’s okay. Pie lovers don’t have to like cake—there’s plenty of pie for them. You just keep providing your cake for the cake lovers. And if you one day switch to pie—or you substitute coconut cake for chocolate—recognize that even if longtime fans might not be ready to change with you, pie lovers and coconut lovers will soon find your offerings delightful.
My apologies for the Sara Lee earworm. I hear the condition can be cured by eating Butter Streusel Coffee Cake. Heated. With butter.