Friday, September 07, 2007

Do Authors Read Your Reviews?
I'm sure a lot of people leave reviews on Amazon.com not realizing that authors pore over those comments as closely as they do reviews in magazines or newspapers or anywhere else. I'm not addicted to checking Amazon, but I'll admit I probably go in there a couple of times a month and click on my books. And honestly, reviews by the public are just as important to me and most other authors as reviews from leading papers are. Maybe even moreso, because this is our actual public, the market that we write to, and not some person behind a desk assigned to review our book when they may not know the subject matter. Think of the news that was made when Anne Rice responded to her bad reviews by blasting the people who'd left them. Yes, even the big authors read their Amazon reviews (don't let any author tell you they don't).

The nature of the Internet in the age of Web 2.0 is that anyone can have an opinion, and can sway the opinions of others if said opinion has been built up to be a trusted one. I'm guilty of it right here, writing every week on my favourite shows and blasting them if I was unhappy, or praising them if I'm over the moon in love.

Amazon.com was one of the first places on board to do such a thing -- allow the general public to become journalists, reviewers, and the ones who will sway the opinions of others. Of course, there's very little monitoring going on. My brother published a non-fiction book, and someone wrote a review saying he revealed that the subject he was writing about suffered from AIDS and was a pedophile. He complained, Amazon looked into the matter, and the review was removed. But if someone makes a claim that sounds credible, but is in fact completely made up, Amazon will leave it there.

Should there be more policing? I don't think so... people always take the reviews on Amazon with a grain of salt. The best-reviewed book I have is my last one, Finding Lost. If you go to the Amazon page, you'll see a lot of 5-star reviews, which warms the cockles of my heart. What author wouldn't love that? Of course, there's the one review that stands out, written by a person allegedly named Jane Tamaras. The review has given my book one star, and says, "You should look elsewhere fro LOST guides. There are so many errors, I found myself wondering if the author has ever seen this televisio show! Better look else where for factual and timely information about your favorite TV show."

First of all, how much do I love that this person criticized the editing of the book, while misspelling three words? But to be honest, the moment I saw this review a few months ago, I was thrilled. Seriously. Because the reviewer is none other than Jim Stewart, a man who published another Lost guide that is apparently terrible (and full of typographical and grammatical errors). But people have caught on: you'll notice 1 out of 22 people have said his review was helpful, so they know it was written by him. If you go to the page for his book, you'll see several positive reviews that were allegedly written by him (some of them signed by him), and then several negative reviews written by others. The really entertaining part is to click on the comments of the reviews, and see Jim responding angrily to them, calling them names, and saying all other Lost books are simply copies of his because he had the idea first (my Lost book is based on the writing model I've been using since 1998). Finally someone said to forget his book, buy mine, and he went and left the nasty review on my page in response. I was one of the last ones to be attacked by him, though; he'd already gone through most of the unofficial Lost books and left his mark. (I was starting to wonder why he didn't think me worthy of attacking!)

I'm sometimes annoyed that his one-star review has dragged down my overall rating, but should it be removed? No... because to police this one review would make it difficult for anyone who legitimately thought my book (or any book) really did lack grammatical merit. And that's a fair assessment of any book. In my case, he's just made it up, but I know I've read books where I've thought that about them.

I've gotten a lot of reviews on my other books, good, bad, and otherwise. Some people don't like that I include a bloopers or nitpick section in my book, and think I should just praise the shows without pointing out things that were wrong. And that's a fair thing to say. Is it true that authors remember praise-worthy reviews as good things, but could probably quote you the bad reviews word for word? Absolutely. It's ingrained in us. I've worked with so many authors over the years who have sold lots of books, gotten heaps of praise, and then one tiny, insignificant review comes along and it shatters their world. I try my best, "Hey, any publicity is good publicity!" pep talk, but the truth is, I'm exactly the same. For instance, there's a review of my book, Once Bitten, where the reviewer says that I went on and on about how there's an empath demon but it doesn't look like Lorne (I read that review a couple of years ago, and still remember it; I didn't have to switch to the page just now). In the actual book, it's a minor nitpick, where I say something like, "The demon in this episode is an empath demon, but interestingly doesn't look like Lorne." But this reviewer made it sound like I was shrieking on a mountaintop like a banshee about it, devoting endless space to this one point. Then the person says one other thing about it and based on two things I wrote in about 350 pages, she says don't buy this book. Another review says the name "Lindsey" is spelled "Lindsay" in a photo caption, and not to buy the book based on that. There was nothing more in the review than that. (The name was spelled correctly by me, and was mistyped at a production level and then not caught at the proofreading stage.) I remember being annoyed that after everything I'd written in the book, it would be written off for a bad cutline.

But what these reviews do is help shape how I'll handle future books. In one review for Angel (or maybe Buffy... I think it was Once Bitten, though), someone goes on at length about my nitpicks, and how they don't care about my opinion, and then they say something like how I don't give plot summaries. Yet in all of my books, I include an introduction that says exactly that -- this book will not contain plot summaries, but will assume you've seen the episode and then will discuss it indepth with you afterwards. And that the nitpicks are simply my opinion, and I might be wrong on some of them, and if I am, here's my email address and please let me know what you thought instead.

So for Lost, I took that bit out of the introduction (which apparently everyone skips) and put it right into the book, and voila, no one has complained because they go into the book knowing that I am not going to rehash plots, and that the nitpicks could have an explanation, I just haven't found it yet. Without these reviews pointing out that I wasn't making my point strongly enough, I wouldn't have known to do that.

No one likes a lousy review. But they make us stronger in the long run, I think. But hey, good reviews are SO much better. :) So please let us know what you think... because we're all reading what you write, just as you're reading what we write. And whenever I get another good review, it makes writing these books completely worthwhile.

4 comments:

sir jorge said...

I wish people read my book reviews...especially authors

Corey Redekop said...

Any author who says s/he doesn't read reviews is lying, there I said it. I mean, did you read my review in the LRC? WHOO!

I liked this piece, very precise. And shame on Jim Stewart.

Chris in NF said...

Jimmy Stewart didn't like your book? I am SO not watching It's A Wonderful Life next Christmas ...

Brian Douglas said...

Hey, who's this Brian Douglas guy who reviewed your book on December 1? :-)