The Highs And The Lows Of Reviews

 

Today we are talking about reviews and who they are meant to inform. That’s an easy one: readers. Reviews are not for authors, who tend toward the snowflake end of the spectrum when it comes to feedback. (Or possibly that’s just me…)

Reading a horrible review of her own book tends to produce the same feels in an author as if a stranger suddenly marched up and bitch-slapped her baby. It doesn’t matter how many exultant professional reviews she has or how many hundreds of positive ones from readers; it’s still a bit gutting when even one sane-sounding person finds her book to be hideous. And yes: art is subjective and everyone’s response to a book is valid for them and negative reviews indicate real people are reading the book. The more a book is circulated, the more negative reviews crop up: check out any fantastic book you’re ever read. But, dang! How is it possible that some of the best books ever written have hundreds of reviews describing them as irredeemable garbage?

Before my own book came out, I read all my reader reviews. Now, however, I’ve gotten overwhelmed by the intensity of it: I almost never read them except for the ones where I’m tagged on social media (and professional reviews, which are a whole different topic.)  Today’s post, however, is unapologetically and specifically written for other authors, and therefore I am going to do something authors are urged not to do: I am going to read and discuss negative reviews, including some of my own. We all get them and we have to figure out a way to deal with them. Plenty of authors use a hater-filter (usually a friend) to pass on the best reviews while sparing them the bad ones, which is a good way to keep your sanity. But if you are the kind of person who reads them, this is for you.

Why focus on negative reviews? To paraphrase Tolstoy: All happy reviews are alike; each unhappy review is unhappy in its own way. By this I mean an author is enchanted with every good review; it hardly matters why the reader loved the book. But bad reviews are bad in different ways. Some are funny and some are ludicrous and some are an unmitigated crisis. Sometimes the star rating system is meaningless, as you’ll see below. Therefore I’ve come up with a few categorizations of negative reviews and I hope other authors will chime in if I missed any. Enjoy, fellow scribes!

Not for Me:

These are the people who just plain don’t like this kind of book. The book is science fiction and they prefer romance, say, so they decide to warn others not to read it. More than one baffled author has looked up the reason for a one-star rating and found a review along the lines of This book has cats in it and I’m allergic to cats. You should pass on this one! 

The Inexplicable Star Rating:

Brilliant, luminous prose! Insightful, well-paced, addictive… I couldn’t put it down! Two stars!

It Is But Then Again It Isn’t:

These are the ones where you are praised and bashed for the exact same things by different people, or, occasionally, by the same person in the same review. Here are a few examples from my own reviews:

  • there was a severe lack of Medicine in the plot
  • way too many details of medical cases
  • I just wish Part 2 was as awesome as Part 1
  • Slow start in first half becomes very engaging as secrets and traumas unfold in the second half
  • Their dialogue was modern and realistic
  • None of the dialogue felt authentic to me
  • the dialogue ranged from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-inducing; incredibly witty and affecting
  • no one talks like this
  • If there had been more edited out, I’d have given it 4 or maybe even 5 stars
  • This book felt over-edited—I wanted more detail
  • my ultimate kryptonite: long, windy, delicate but exacting sentence structure
  • too many big words

Constructive Criticism:

These are the best of the bad reviews and also the hardest for an author to read, because they’ve got some legitimate points to make. I won’t give any personal examples here because that would be humiliating, but suffice it to say I’ve learned from some of the people who took the time to school me. Bless their hearts.

Agenda-Driven:

These people may or may not have liked the story and the writing but they give the book a bad rating because some portion of it offends them ideologically or personally. This might be a character, a theme, a passage, or even a word. (I recommend leaving the word ‘vaccine’ out of your book, if at all possible.)The points these people make can be legit, or they can be subjective distortions of what was actually written, or, as I’ve seen once, they can be outright invented, citing descriptions or events not actually in the book.

The Haters:

These are the ones that make authors secretly cry. When I say these are bad reviews, I mean they are vitriolic, slanderous, shag-nasty reviews, the kind I would probably reserve for the cable company. These guys kick it up an order of magnitude: it doesn’t matter if the book is Harry Potter, To Kill A Mockingbird, or The Holy Bible, these reviewers are not shy about informing the internet that they’d rather take a blowtorch to their eyes than ever again read anything akin to this putrid heap of excrescence. 

 

Finally, I selected a few negative reviews to demonstrate the impact they have. I didn’t want to use reviews from someone else’s novel here, so these are from mine. My book of course is not Harry Potter, To Kill A Mockingbird or The Holy Bible, but it isn’t trash either. Or … maybe it is.

  • this is just trash
  • Hope she don’t quit her day job and become a novelist.
  • I understand this was a debut book. I do hope that he next venture isn’t more impressive to this reader
  • FUCK OFF
  • cant believe this book was written by a doctor did this person ever attend a real operation? u got other stuff to worry about than your hot colleague? also who even looks hot in operation scrubs? no one thats who
  • Barf to the 3 year old’s ‘sweetie dear’ and so on sayings
  • I am shocked that you never acknowledge that CRNAs are the ones at the head of the bed doing your anesthetics. Shame on you.
  • I felt like I was reading this accursed novel for such a long time! Glad it was less than a week!
  • Maybe she’ll improve if she writes more, but I really doubt it.

Well, to be fair… in regard to that last one, there are times I really doubt it too. 

***

My original article ended there, but how depressing is that? This turned out to be quite a personal post, exposing a lot of my vulnerabilities. I think that’s fine: anyone who puts a creative piece of work into the public eye is going to experience the highs and lows of being judged. But I decided to tack on a last-minute revision because otherwise I’ve portrayed the difficult side of being reviewed without balancing it with the upside. Future writers, do not be discouraged by criticism… because you’ll also receive love. (And by the way, the snippets from reviews below are not all from five star reviews… don’t discount the value of three- and four-star reviews.) Let’s end on a happy note!

  • First things first – Kimmery Martin is brilliant.
  • This debut novel, aside from being gorgeous, is a smart, witty, and well-written medical drama.
  • This debut novel by Kimmery Martin is sharp, witty, beautiful, and real.
  • OMG! 5 stars all over the freaking place! This was such an amazing book.
  • I LOVED this book! I had heard talk of it and couldn’t wait to pick it up and read it. This is a new author to me and I was mesmerized as soon as I read the first couple pages.
  • The best book I’ve read this year! Exceptionally well-written and just captivating.
  • I love finding a new book that you absolutely CANNOT put down. This was one of those wild, exhilarating reads for me.
  • Unputdownable !!! I loved it. Thanks to my friend for suggesting this book (usually I don’t read anything related to the field of medicine), but this was fantastic.
  • The book that I got was even better than I could have imagined.
  • Wow, what a brilliant read. The Queen of Hearts is a laugh-out-loud funny story. This novel will touch and warm your heart, but it will also; unfortunately, break it.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by this incredible and beautifully written debut novel
  • There are some books that you simply fall into and never want to climb out of – this is one of those books. I was amazed from the first page
  • Wow. Just wow. This book was spectacular.
  • Do you ever read something and just want to tell everyone you know to stop everything and read it now without giving them any details because you don’t want to spoil anything? Well that is exactly how I feel about this beautiful book.

You can read more about The Queen of Hearts HERE

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Kimmery is the author of The Queen of Hearts (2018, Penguin). She's also a doctor, mother, author interviewer, traveler, and obsessive reader. You can read Kimmery's book recommendations and reviews at kimmerymartin.com.

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