Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Free ebooks and Bad Reviews

Thank you to those who downloaded Lighting Candles in the Snow during the recent free offering on Kindle. And if you enjoy it, I hope you will post a review on Amazon. Or a review on Goodreads would be welcome too. I don't expect every review to be positive. I appreciate the honest response from readers, and I learn from reviews, even the negative ones.

What? Did I say "learn from negative reviews"? Yes! I glean valuable information even from the worst of the worst. Not what's wrong with my book-- I ignore those comments since it's too late now anyway, the book is out-- but I learn about my demographic. I enjoy discovering who they are. And seeing clearly who they are not.

WiDo Publishing uses the occasional free on Kindle promotion to get attention for its books-- an effective tool for increasing visibility and garnering reader reviews. But one of the downsides to the free option is that people will download a book just because it's free when it's not really their cup of tea. And then you'll get reviews like --

I don't really like the genre but I downloaded this free on Kindle, and sure enough, I didn't like it. Horrible book. Don't bother. 2 stars for effort because it must be hard to write an entire book.

What to learn: I write genre-specific books that don't appeal to those outside my specific demographic. They probably downloaded it by accident, thinking it was something it was not. Or they might have thought they'd try it and realized that no, they really can't stand literary women's fiction after all.

I don't like books about Mormons. Mormonism is a cult. Hated this book because it was about Mormons. 1 star but only because Amazon won't let me put 0 stars.

What to learn: I snagged a reader hoping for an anti-Mormon rant and instead they got a novel positive toward the religion. Being sorely disappointed they had to vent their animosity somehow.

Not bad for a free book, but not very good either. I've read better. 2 stars 

What to learn: Some people like to write reviews that say nothing.

There was no plot. Boring.

What to learn: I write character-driven literary women's fiction. Yes, there is a plot, there is always a plot-- and a story-- but it is based on my main character in battle with herself, not with a clear antagonist. This type of novel is not for everyone and a reader looking for a strong plot and obvious antagonist will not like my books.

So next time you get a bad review, don't get upset. Instead, analyze it for the most valuable information a writer can get-- a profile of your demographic.

29 comments:

  1. Reviews that say nothing - I know the feeling!

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  2. Karen
    Sorry about the bad reviews. You are right about downloading the free book. If a reader plunks his money down on a book, it will be exactly in his specific interest realm. It's not fair to write a mean-spirited review on a book someone would never pay to read.

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  3. I get bad reviews all the time, the last one stating that I didn't do enough research. I wanted to slap her. But of course, I have to let it go. For those "fans" that I do have, I appreciate the fact, that even if they don't leave a review, they buy my next book.

    Bad reviews are just things to recycle. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

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    1. Yes, Anne. Your last sentence is THE truth (as my daughter just whispered in my ear)!!

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  4. Hi Karen,
    I'm sorry about those reviews; you are a good writer and I'm willing to bet that those negative reviewers are the type of people who post mean comments online in other places as well, because they would never have the nerve to say those things in person. I think that a lot of reviewers like them expect books to be like reality TV; that is, reality TV is all about melodrama, instant gratification, and acting foolish. So when they read fine literature that is the opposite of all that, they automatically dismiss it rather than sit down and try to understand it.

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  5. Once again I learned something here. I love to write reviews, but so far I have only written them for books I have loved. Not wanting to hurt the author's feelings, I guess. I really don't know why. You have given me something to think about. A negative review written to inform from my point of view may not be such a bad thing, after all.

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    1. Inger, It is not a bad thing at all! Every writer has to realize at some point that not everyone who reads the book will love it. And that is okay! Because if you write well in your particular genre, there will be those who just don't care for that genre. And some reviewers bring up valid criticisms that a smart writer will learn from for next time.

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  6. You must've been working on this when I popped over here earlier this morning, Karen, because it wasn't up then...

    AMEN! (Really all I need to say, but I'll say more because I'm a word tosser-outer like that. :)

    Free days, blog tours with stops on book blogs that don't normally read/review your type of work (if a blog agrees to host your book, you don't typically turn them down), etc. can all open your work up to unintended audiences. When that happens, you're going to get some negative reviews.

    Ultimately, it's a tradeoff, because you can't grow your audience by only targeting people you KNOW are going to love what you write. That thinking will leave you with 5 reviews (mom, aunt, friend, blog-friend, and random ARC person) in perpetuity.

    You just hope the reviews are articulate enough to give other readers some insight as to why they didn't enjoy the book. Which, as you say, isn't always the case.

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    1. E.J., Thanks for this well-spoken comment because your point about growing the audience is right on the mark. All we have to do is look at reviews on a few bestselling authors to see that! If we can't take the heat we better stay out of the kitchen. Getting bad reviews is part of being a professional.

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  7. argh. Unhelpful, negative reviews can be so irritating. I know whenever I read a review that says "The Truth About Faking" is "too innocent" or "too high school," I'm like, that would be why it's a TEEN romance... :P

    But you're right! It's good to try and find out about our readers, find out about our fan base, keep the good, shake off the bad~ <3

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  8. I totally agree there is something to learn from negative reviews, but not the nasty ones.

    I did download it and put a review as soon as I can.

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  9. Negative reviews terrify me- LOL but I know everyone will have them. At least you are looking on the bright side and way to go for taking something positive out of it!

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  10. It's easy for me (as a reader) to weed out the reviews from people who obviously don't enjoy the genre the book is in.

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  11. I've never written a bad review on Amazon because I think to put negativity on a source of income is wrong, but when I do write a negative review on Goodreads I hope I am constructive.

    I never understand readers who download a book that they already have a predisposition to hate!

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  12. I'm yet to grow skin thick enough! Sometimes the great reading public scare the crap out of me! LOL!!

    Take care
    x

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  13. Sometimes I wonder if buyers should pass a comprehension test before they're allowed to download a book to be sure they understand what they're downloading.

    I've made a few mistakes in my time when choosing books, but that was my fault for not reading an excerpt or the blurb.

    You made an excellent point about demographics.

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    1. I always read an excerpt before I buy a book. You would think that would be the first thing someone would do before investing their money, especially if the price is more than two dollars.

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  15. (Sorry about the above comment. A sentence was garbled! It's one of those days....)

    I think the most disturbing thing about reviews is something I read a while back: that EVERYONE poses as a "reviewer." Many so-called reviewers don't even know what a review is. Sometimes they post a diatribe against the author (in my case it can be virulent since my book is a memoir). I've been "reviewed" by a handful of people, mostly strangers, who personally HATE me, who think I'm an awful person. I was stunned after the first ones, but now I just take in stride, and lately just ignore those attacking reviews :) Ah yes, you really do have to develop a thick skin if you put yourself out there in your writing for public scrutiny!!!!

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  16. You know what I ask ~bad~ reviewers, my friend? I ask them this question, point-blank: DID YOU FINISH MY BOOK?

    Yeah, they say.

    Every page? I ask.

    Yeah.

    Why? I say. I never make it more than a few pages into a bad book. I toss it across the room, or I delete from my Kindle, or a set it in a pile next to the bed and bury it beneath better books. I never, never, NEVER finish a bad book. I certainly wouldn't take further time to post about it online, or talk about it, or waste anymore mental capital thinking about it.

    I go on: So, with that said, I have to imagine it wasn't ~that bad~, else you would not have finished. It was readable, yes, and clear, and well-written, if not your cuppa joe. Thank you for reading. Maybe my next one will appeal to someone with your taste.

    Bad reviews shmad reviews. No such thing. Only silence is bad, and only silence is to be feared.

    That means they couldn't finish the book, eh!

    - Eric

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  17. I agree, someone who posts such negative reviews is saying more about themselves than the book. Not that people aren't entitled to their opinion.

    ......dhole

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  18. I so agree - every review can tell us something. I had one (for Over the Hill) which said she wished I wouldn't go on about being older than most other travellers. I'm not sure if I hadn't made the point clearly enough that that was what the book is about, or has she just not got it (maybe she's young, and it will all look different when she's over 50!)

    Difficult reviews do hurt, but if we can't stop and think about them, then we never take our writing forward.

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  19. Well said, Karen. It's vital to know your target audience and accept that they're the people you write for.

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  20. I loved this, Karen. I had a review that said something like, I hated that minor character of the girlfriend. She was so shallow and fickle.

    Well, guess what? That's exactly what that character was supposed to be. So I guess the reviewer responded the way I intended, but she gave me three stars for my shallow, fickle character? Very confusing.

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  21. HI Karen .. it's interesting how people are so opinionated - while even not understanding, not reading, or not thinking about the effect of their words ...

    Fascinating to read and your approach .. while also the comments give us other perspectives ... Writing a review is really difficult - to be fair all round ... I'd rather write nothing, than make a hash up ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary, Your comment brings up a valid comment, like Inger's does, about a reader feeling too nervous about offending to leave a review. Really, as writers do we want that? I'd rather get a nice mix of reviews-- good, bad and mediocre--than just a friendly collection of 4 and 5 star reviews. And I really do mean that! Like I said in the post, writers can learn a LOT from reviews.

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  22. Writing a review is no excuse for writing a rant. A review should be constructive and honest. Those comments were unnecessary, possibly because the reviewer could remain unknown.

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  23. The Mormon "cult" comment was amusing.
    Karen, my granny always used to say that are a lot unhappy people out there who only really feel good, when they are making, or trying to make other people unhappy. I think some of the off the wall type reviews fall in that category.

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  24. Great post. Sometimes it's hard to see the good in negative reviews, of course. But they do prove your reviews are real and not fabricated...

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