While on a panel with other authors at Phoenix Comicon, an audience member asked us whether we read the reviews of our works. At least half of the authors there said no. And I totally get that — kindness and constructive criticism is in short supply on the Internet. It can be hard to read how all your hard work resulted in someone despising the book.
I piped up and said yes, I do read reviews. I don’t really seek them out, but when they’re brought to my attention via Twitter or Google alerts, I’ll give ’em a read. I’ll also occasionally look at what folks are saying when I link to Goodreads or Amazon.
Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe. But then, I’ve been writing professionally for 23 years now, in one form or another. I used to be a journalist, and I’ve been taken to task not only by editors, but by the people I wrote about. I’ve had to defend my work repeatedly. It tends to give one a thick skin.
Yes, I’ve received negative reviews. I’ve had my ability to form coherent sentences called into question. I’ve been accused of crimes against the English language. There have been a few folks who considered the publication of my fiction yet another indication of the death knell of my publisher, or even the entire publishing industry. There have been screeds.
And you know what? All right then. I hope the screed made the reviewer feel better. Catharsis is good.
I’m really, really fortunate that my works have been generally well received — 4 stars or better on Amazon, at least 3.5 or better on Goodreads, with 4- and 5-star ratings well outnumbering the 1- and 2-star reviews. I got a couple starred reviews from major publishing sites. At this point, I’m reasonably confident that I can write enjoyable fiction.
That said, I certainly notice common threads in reviews, and there have been some dings that I’ve no doubt earned. And that’s actually helpful — that’s something I can take away and learn from, and I have. That could be one of the reasons that The Venusian Gambit was the best reviewed book in the Daedalus trilogy, and that early word on MJ-12: Inception has been really positive. I want to get better as a writer, and feedback helps.
I would never fault a fellow scribe for avoiding reviews. Folks aren’t kind sometimes, and having one’s parentage or even existence called into question ain’t a walk in the park. And some of those reviews are by no means reasonable or warranted — fellow beard-o Chuck Wendig was heartily thrashed in some quarters for Star Wars: Aftermath because folks were furious that the old Expanded Universe novels were consigned to non-canon status. It’s not like Chuck forced Disney to do that, y’all. (I shudder to think of what he would actually do with that kind of power.)
He was also ripped into for introducing a gay character into Star Wars, which the worst sort of mean-spirited, specious criticism. It’s 2016, people. Honestly, it’s about time we saw LGBTQ+ folks represented in popular fiction, and I’m proud to call the guy who brought the rainbow to a Galaxy Far Far Away a friend.
Anyway, I digress. I read the reviews, good or bad. The good ones are a nice little ego boost, and give me a nice hit of writer fuel to tackle the next book. The bad ones? Eh. I’ve had Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, rant at me over something or other — and he was six inches from my face. And he was eating at the time. If I could stand my ground then — and I did — I’m pretty OK with someone not liking my books.
And speaking of reviews: I saw a couple that were pretty nifty keen. Rob Bedford reviewed The Enceladus Crisis over at SFFWorld and had some really nice things to say about it. And a fine person named Magilla Gurilla (how awesome is that nom du plume?) over at The Veteran Gamer “absolutely recommended” The Daedalus Incident. Glad you folks liked the books. And I’m glad I read your reviews!