There’s a lot of debate among authors about how much you should read your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (although there’s a definite consensus that you shouldn’t respond to reviews). Some authors say they never read their reviews and I can understand that. It can drive you crazy if you feel like you have to satisfy every reader. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like your work.
At the other extreme, I have a friend (who writes in a different genre from me) who I think must have read every review ever written about her book. She’s looked up other reviews of the people who gave her one star so she knows what other things they don’t like. While I can totally understand that impulse (wouldn’t you want to discredit or at least discount someone who didn’t like your work?), I don’t think it’s a good idea to get that worried about reviews. Like I said, someone will always dislike your work. Does it matter who they are? Plus, I simply don’t have that kind of time. I’d rather be writing my next book.
That said, I’m not in the camp that says you should completely ignore reviews. They are particularly useful when there is a consensus of opinion. In the reviews of my last book, a couple of comments cropped up in a number of reviews and I thought they had merit. It’s not as if any book is perfect or any writer can’t improve his or her craft. One of the ways you get better is to get feedback. And readers are a great source of feedback.
I come from a playwriting background, which is pretty unusual in this business. When you write plays, you have staged readings where you invite an audience to a reading of the play (in which the actors read from the script rather than have it memorized) and then ask for their feedback afterward. Getting that feedback is very valuable. It tells you when the pacing of the play is dragging, when you’re confusing the audience, or if they find a character unsympathetic. Of course, you have to discount some of the audience comments you get — not everyone is going to like everything about your play. Sometimes you say, “thank you for your comment,” and move on. I know that if Shakespeare had a reading of Hamlet, there would be people telling him they didn’t like the main character because he was too indecisive or that they thought the language was too hard to understand.
Readers’ comments are similar. They can help you figure out what really works about your book and when you’re confusing or (God forbid) boring your readers. I’m grateful that my readers’ comments have been overwhelmingly positive. I’m grateful that people are buying my book 🙂 Yeah, the negative comments bother me. But just about everything helps me become a better writer.
What do you think? I’m interested in other authors’ opinions as well as readers’.