Reader’s Preference, Author’s…Loss? Win? What?

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Been a while since I’ve commented on different responses to reviews, but the recent initiative to stalk bad reviewers is worth noting for a few reasons. (You can read a reviewer’s first-hand experience here, by the way.)

I find the website created to “give reviewers a dose of their own medicine” to be abhorrent, so I won’t link to it here. I feel that reviews now are a reflection of the accessibility to content and the ability to reach a broader market. This means, that it’s easier and more likely in today’s market that someone may buy a book, not like it for whatever reason, and post a bad review. There’s a difference, perhaps not so obvious to all, between a critique and a review. Critiques are what I strive to do because I’m not assessing any work for the reasons “I” might be drawn to it, but what the value of that work is for someone “else” who will. Reviews are more personal in nature and, for many professional reasons, I stray from that as much as possible.

The more popular a book becomes, the greater the chance for negative reviews, simply because you’re looking at the law of averages. That does not translate to best-selling. It just means that that book is being talked about.

Reviews are opinions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are opinions that influence what people might buy. There are popular books with loads of crappy reviews; there are impressive tomes with the same. Reviews can influence someone’s purchase decision but trust me, there are a lot of other reasons why a reader buys (or doesn’t buy) a book. Reviews is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

Because reviews are opinions, when anyone attacks the reviewer, the knee-jerk reaction is (and rightly so) for that reader to get defensive. They’ve bought (or downloaded) the Work. They took the time to review it. They have a right to their opinion and authors have a right to either ignore those views or address them. The difference here, though, is that the author is the Creator of the Work and the reader is the Consumer. Two wholly unique points-of-views that don’t always match up. One person can create Art for thousands, but only hundreds may react positively. Yes, that’s a lot of pressure for any human being to handle, but it goes with the territory. There is no possibly way for anyone to control what anyone else says or does. It just isn’t logical.

Now, here’s the thing that really grates on me. When you bully reviewers to make them feel embarrassed or nervous or scared, you are basically saying: “Well, my book can’t possibly have bad reviews because I wrote it.” There are some fan communities that operate this way as well primarily because they love a property/author so much they can’t fathom anyone else not liking it. Again, all of that has very little to do with the story. That has to do with emotion.

I am fully and wholly against bullying anyone. Period. I am also not a fan of making fun of reviewers because they didn’t like your stories, either. Didn’t enjoy “X”? Well, hope you keep reading. Thanks and have a nice day.

But the question here is: “Why bother?” Why bully reviewers? Well, this goes back to something I’ve said time and time again. Authors not well-versed in marketing books hang their hats on specific avenues they either believe is the end all/be all or because group think said they should focus on “X” so they do. Reviews are part of marketing, yes, but it’s not the only path to take. There are a million different ways to market a book and a million more ways to research your audience and make sure you’re reaching the people who want to read your book. You want to really learn marketing? Then do so, because by the time you’ve caught up to the proverbial leader something (or someone) else will blow right past you. Yes, the field is changing that fast and yes, there’s a *lot* to learn.

Focusing on bad reviews translates to two unintended, negative messages. One: “My readers are too stupid to tell the difference between a good review and a bad one.” I don’t believe that for a second, by the way. And two: “I am so insecure about my books that I will attack anyone who doesn’t like them.”

If you’re that insecure about your work, then I strongly suggest that you hire someone else to do your marketing for you. Focusing on bad opinions is a lose-lose situation. After all, it’s not the vocal (e.g. I LOVE YOU or I HATE YOU) readers you have to worry about. You already know what they think about your work. The ones you should concentrate on? Are the ones who aren’t talking.

I don’t think my post is going to change anyone’s mind about how they treat bad reviews, but I do feel that having to write this seems fairly ironic to me. We’ve all written stories for editors before. Now, the same exact story one editor loves could turn around and be the same exact story another one hates. If we know that, even on a subconscious level, then why waste time on people who aren’t fully vested in your Work? Why bother getting upset over the readers you can’t win over?

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Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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