Perhaps I should begin by emphasizing that I appreciate all my reviewers immensely (even, or possibly especially the critics). I know the time it takes to assess, formulate, and write one’s feelings about a book. A book is a complicated blending of thoughts, actions, and emotions, many of which often conflict. Reviews are not judgments; they are reactions. Just as writing a book (fiction, in my case) is a very intimate experience, so is writing a review. It takes a long time to sort through these feelings and thoughts, and then to present them to the public.
I must confess, I read all my reviews. Many authors do not, and I understand why. It can be a traumatic experience. Some critical reviews can be very harsh. I have carried the toughest ones around in my head for days. But to be fair, I have carried the most complimentary ones around even longer.
I have never failed to learn from a thoughtful review. Once I have overcome my emotional reaction (after I carry them around for a few days) there is always something to be learned. Anyone who takes the time to write a review must feel strongly about it, and the points they make are worth considering. Not that I will necessarily make changes, but I do consider the possibility.
I have a writer’s appreciation for a well-written review. I don’t mean great writing; I mean a concentrated effort to present specific points or feelings. Some reviewers dash them off, with missing words and misspellings, even while critiquing an author for the very same thing. It’s a bit ironic, but it is a review, and appreciated none-the-less.
Some take less time, with reviews like “Good book. I liked it” or “Not my thing”. Such reviews are not helpful to the writer, except to add to the plus or minus column. But in Amazon’s eyes, a review is a review and is included in their algorithm.
A real conundrum for me are the reviewers who appears to describe an entirely different book. One or two reviewers speak of many editing errors, so many in fact that the book “appears to be a first draft” and “is almost impossible to read”. Certainly errors can occur, even after numerous edits; software (I use Microsoft Word) may unnecessarily “correct” a word during the final edit, or if the sentence order is changed during the process of correction, there sometimes can be a domino effect of unintended changes, and so on. Indeed, I have seen such errors in books from major publishing houses with teams of editors. It happens, and we are always very eager to locate and correct all of them.
These reviewers (they are few – a distinct minority) employ hyperbole, but their claims do damage. After reading such a review, we have reread the book looking for the multitude of errors they describe, fearful that somehow drafts were switched with the finished manuscript, but have failed to find the basis of their complaints. I remain puzzled. In one instance, a reviewer described not one, but three of our books this way in precisely the same words.
The majority of reviews are constructive, and in one or two cases even life changing (for the characters). The intimate knowledge and empathy some reviewers manifest for the protagonists can cause their creator to think twice about the direction of the path of their lives, or the significance of elements in the story or the impact of the environment that surrounds them. For an author, it is wonderful to know readers engage at such a level.
The author who does not read his reviews misses all of this, for good or ill. To my mind, they participate in just a part of the journey. Yes, they may avoid the sleepless nights, but they also miss much evidence of success.