Monday, March 05, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Book Reviews

 I’m about a month away now from the launch of my debut novel, Royal Street, and for the past couple of weeks, reviews have been popping up around the print and web review spots—including, thanks to the placement of the book on NetGalley, to a lot of Goodreads reviewers. I know the pace will pick up as the magic date of April 10 approaches.

I'm truly humbled by the people who take the time to read the book and post their comments. But seriously--I need to get a grip.

Everyone warned me. Everyone said, “Don’t read the reviews.” But about two weeks ago, I found myself obsessively checking Goodreads on the average of, like, four times a day. How many people have “added it” to their “to read” lists (as of five minutes ago, 663). How many have rated it (as of today, 34)? How many wrote reviews (so far, 32)?

It has become a sickness. The first nasty review jolted me. How embarrassing! What did I do wrong? How could my publisher have made such a mistake to release such an obviously horrible book as mine? I slinked around the office all day, sure people would flock to the review by M*** on Goodreads who couldn’t even finish the book because the two-dimensional characters were bland clichés with no personality.

I've been blessed with really good reviews from the book trade journals, so why am I obsessed with Goodreads? It's a sickness, I tell you.

Then I saw an exercise on another blog that resonated with me—I wish now I could remember where I saw it, to give it due credit. (If it was here and one of you guys wrote it, sorry. Remind me!) But the author did some funny review excerpts that really brought home the message…and put it all into perspective. Not everybody’s going to “get” us. Not everybody’s going to like what we write. It's amazing that they take the time to read our work, and maybe they'll like it and maybe they won't. The world will not end.

So, here’s some early Goodreads yin and yang for Royal Street. It makes me laugh, and if I can’t stay away from reading those darned reviews, I might as well laugh, right?

"Amazing characters in a unique setting."
"The characters were two-dimensional and underdeveloped."

"The plot developed and unfolded at a snail's pace."
"The plot moved along at a fast pace, keeping me so engaged I couldn't put it down."

"(DJ was) boring and indecisive, and pretty much devoid of emotion."
"Sympathetic, entertaining DJ is the perfect narrator for a lively tale jam-packed with action, magic, and intriguing plot twists."

"Relationships are juvenile and lacking any kind of sexual tension."
"The book is edgy, with complex relationships full of love, mistakes and subtle 'friendly malice.'"

"While (pirate) Jean Lafitte is supposed to be a colorful, larger than life character, I found him dull."
"Jean Lafitte was a riot. Really great secondary character I developed the hots for."

Well, you get the picture. Now...gotta go check the numbers on Goodreads. *tiptoes away*


Louisa Cornell said...

Laughed out loud at this one! Now THIS is the proper take on reviews! I hope you keep this posted near your writing desk to remind yourself of the mercurial aspect of opinions and their place on this strange journey we are all taking.

What a great post!

Lexi said...

Oh, Suzanne, how I feel your pain! Reviews are another form of rejection for writers, only this time they're viral. Ouch! It stings. You want to take a swing at the person(s) who belittled your baby. But, you can't. It's part of it. It sucks, but there you go.

My suggestion is to get a friend or family member to filter your reviews so you don't get sucked into the black abyss of the negative ones. The last thing you need as a writer is more negative voices in your head! Writing is hard enough, with time constraints and a recalcitrant muse.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who's done this!

Dawn Chartier said...


Remember what I suggested. Read your favorite authors reviews and see what people say about her/him.

I know you'll find bad reviews for them. (you did didn't you?)

We don't love all best selling books, and we can't believe that everyone will love our books either. Right? The sooner "we" accept that then we will stay away from those terrible review places. :-)

From your #1 fan!

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL, thanks Louisa. I had fun compiling these because it really does keep it all in perspective.

@Lexi...I keep telling myself "Publishers Weekly loved it, so why get bent out of shape over Marge from Goodreads." Just can't help reading them, though :-)

@Dawn...I wish I could bottle you and carry you around with me, my friend! You always make me feel better.

Liz said...

I have taken an opposite tactic: avoid them at all costs, especially good reads and amazon. That said the majority of mine are decent to really great but as an example, today I toddled over to goodreads, wincing before I even opened up one of my books listed because I heard there was a new, 5 star one there. I found a 2 star one written last December or so that was extraordinarily mean. I'm ruined for the rest of the day. sigh

Suzanne Johnson said...

I know what you mean, Liz...yet I can't seem to stay away. I've put the really good ones from Publishers Weekly and Booklist up near my computer to remind me that a two-star review on Goodreads has to be kept in proper perspective. :-)

Chris Bailey said...

I've read similar yin-yang reviews posted by members of one of my writing loops about a bestselling author. You'll never escape the snotty remarks. You can only recognize that you love your characters and your fans do, too.

Your obsession is completely understandable. While I've never been in the enviable position of having readers diss me (except, say, when I've paid them to do it by entering a contest) I suspect that, with subsequent books, the desire to walk on coals of derision will diminish. I read a discussion not too long back about folks posting nasty reviews of books they haven't read for no apparent reason.

Bottom line: Writing would be a lost cause without readers. I can't wait for my copy of Royal Street to arrive!

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL. Thanks, Chris! We'll see if that desire to "walk on coals of derision" (I have to remember that--brilliant) diminishes over time.