There are three things you can do when it comes to reviews of your book. The popular advice is that you should not read them. This saves you from getting discouraged if readers bash your work. You can also read the great reviews only, which requires you to have a friend willing to look up reviews and send you the links to only the four and five-star reviews. Or you can read the reviews (the positive and negative) and learn from them. Here’s how I analyze reviews to allow it to improve my writing, and how you can do it too. But first things first…
- Read reviews when you are feeling your best. There’s nothing like reading a hate-filled review when you’re already having a bad day.
- Go into it with an analytical eye and a blank doc (or pen). Think of it like an important assignment, you’ll want to take notes.
- Focus on the common praises and complaints among several reviews. What’s the popular topic readers are commenting on? This is what you’ll have to address most importantly in your future works.
- Focus on the things you CAN improve. No need to stress over the character’s names when you can’t change them in the next book of the series.
- Be prepared to do the work. If it’s too easy, you’re not doing it right. A motto you’d want to pick up if you haven’t already (can be applied to anything too).
- Remember reviews are highly subjective. Know a reader may love the very thing another reader hates. So take caution when making changes, and modify what feels right to you and your vision.
- Understand this technique may not work for every author. Sometimes success requires a bit of luck. Still, don’t give up yet.
Must NOT do:
- Respond to reviews, especially the negative ones. Don’t invite confrontation or bullies by publicly “defending” your work. Also, some readers are afraid to be honest when they know the author is watching.
- Try to explain your intentions or correct the reviewer. Each person will take something different from your story that you may not have intended. Remember, that’s the beauty of books, it inspires discussion.
- Don’t take it personal. Sure some reviewers attack the author. However, they do not know you personally and their words are just assumptions and accusations. Remember that.
- Don’t focus on things you can not change. Your voice and writing style is unique to you. Don’t change what’s natural to you and what makes you stand out.
How to use book reviews to your advantage
When reading reviews ask yourself these questions:
- What does the majority of the reviewers like? Discover what you’re doing right and continue to do it.
- What does the majority of reviewers NOT like? Find what you’re doing not-so-good and stop doing it.
- What specifically did the reviewers comment on? What topic dominated the review? See what readers think of your characters, plot, dialogue, etc., and improve it in your next project.
- Were the reviewer’s expectations met? What did readers expect from your story or writing, and how did you deliver or drop the ball. Then correct it in your next project.
- What do readers hope to read in your future books? How can I deliver? Do they mention they want to see more of a certain character, etc.?
- What do readers want to read less of in future books? How can I axe it? Do they mention what they can do without?
How reading reviews worked for my series
The First Book
In 2012, the first book of my Refuge Inc. series was released. And the very first review was a two-star review from a reader declaring she wouldn’t be following the series. Okay. That was just one reader, right? I mean, the betas loved it. But as time passed and more reviews came in, I realized that although most reviewers liked the story, it wasn’t what they had expected.
So as the reviews continued to pour in. I began to take note.
What was the majority of readers saying? Well, one common interest most of them shared was their fondness of the four-legged companion in my story. One common criticism was my characters being intimate too soon.
So even though I had an outline for the entire series and knew where the story was headed, I knew I had to listen to the readers and alter a few things.
The Second Book
One of the major changes I made in book two was to axe the sex and up the action. And reader’s appreciated the changes. In a lot of cases they actually missed the intimacy! Since the dog was well liked, the dog became the characters’ chief motivation of book two.
As we speak, book two of the series is highly favored (estimated from current reviews and ratings).
The Third Book
So I repeated my actions for book three, which was released late 2013, taking notes from reviews of the previous books. In most cases, readers enjoy it equally or more than book two! (I got this data by comparing reviews of the three books by the same reviewer. In most cases, the reviewer enjoy each book more than the previous.)
To balance the “two much intimacy” in book one, with the “lack of intimacy” in book two, I added one intimate scene in book three. And so far, what I’m getting from reviewers is that it was just right.
I owe a big chunk of the series development to the readers, especially those who reviewed the series or publicly stated their opinions. If they liked the series or not, in a lot of ways, they helped me write it. From the mention of the character’s behavior, to the demands of an epilogue. I listened.
I constantly remind myself that reviews are just opinions, and the fate of the series can change drastically in the future, but (as of today) those opinions helped me write a series that the fans enjoy. And that was my mission.
I still get giddy when a reader says, “I’m disappointed that Adam and Elliot’s story has come to an end.” Only because it feels like I accomplished what I set out to do … create a world and characters most readers would enjoy.
Image credit [Emily Conwell]