For authors, reviews are as much a part of a book’s success as a royalty check. In fact, often times a review can create what goes into a royalty check- or not, as the case may be.
I have seven books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently. A couple have a ton of reviews, while others only a few. Mostly, reviews of my books have been wonderful. Each book of The Lives Trilogy has an average of over 4 out of five stars. The Prequel is very close to a 4. Caught in a Web and Betrayed are over 4. Spiral Into Darkness sits just below a 4. But what does this mean?
First of all, lets look at writing a book. For me, it takes nine months to a year from the idea or concept inception to the publication. A lot like giving birth, though I don’t have any physical knowledge of that. Only what my wife went through. While I enjoy my moments or hours or days of writing, it can be gut-wrenching. As an author, we breathe a sigh of relief when we type the last word and affix the period. It’s over and done. Finished. Complete.
Not so fast, actually.
Because then an author has to do the edits. Sometimes more than one pass at it. More than likely, two or three readings and edits before it gets placed between the cover and on the shelf waiting for the reader. What is infuriating is that no matter how many eyes on it or programs the manuscript gets run through, there always seems to be one or two, perhaps more, mistakes that get missed. I found them in a Patterson book, a Baldacci book, a C.J. Box book, a King book. I found it in my own, or embarrassingly, a reader will find it and let me know about it. It happens. It happens to the famous and the not so famous. It happens.
So, nine months or a year later, the book lands on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. People buy it. Most read it without a word. Sometimes, a few will rate it- probably the easiest thing to do. Others, but only a very few, write a review.
I can attest to the fact that when I see a 5 out of 5 and a glowing review, I’m all smiles and I feel lighter, like I’m walking amongst the clouds. When I get a 1 or a 2 out of 5 and a scathing review, I question my abilities. I ask myself, “Why did I put it out there and myself up as a target?” Because that’s how I feel. And honestly, I’ve had both the bouquet of roses and the mud pies.
I wrote a piece a few years ago for my inspirational blog titled The Dot. The story goes like this.
A professor walks into the classroom and using a marker, places a black dot on the whiteboard. For a while, he says nothing. The class is curious. Finally, he asks the class, “What do you see?” The class answers, almost to a person, “A black dot.” The professor asks, “Anyone see anything else?” The class either says, “No!” or they shake their head in answer.
The professor explains no one sees a beautiful, clean whiteboard. They don’t see the assignments in the corner, or the cartoon off to the side. Only the black dot.
Tragic, isn’t it?
Your kids at school or you at work receive evaluations or grades. It hurt me when one of the kids would receive glowing comments and wonderful statements talking about their organization, their effort, etc, but when it is all said and done, it is that one negative comment that they dwell on. As a principal, I had to evaluate my staff. No matter how high I rated them and glowingly remarked about their ability in one area, if the rest of the evaluation wasn’t up to that same level, they left my office feeling somehow less than.
The same is true for the author. My newest book, Betrayed, has 48 ratings. 22 are 5 out of five. 15 are 4 out of five. That 37 out of 48! Pretty darn good. But one reviewer rated it a 1. That hurts, and it causes me to question my ability. One rating of a 1, as opposed to 37 that are fours and fives.
You might ask, “Why, Joe? Why are you looking at that one rating, that one review and not the other wonderful reviews and ratings Betrayed has earned?”
The answer is because we are human. We have feelings and a heart and we know we did the very best we could. We chose the words that went into the sentence and the paragraph. We decided to have this character to that or this and not something else. We did the very best we could. And honestly, a low rating and a poor review hurts. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. After all, we spent nine months or a year working on the book to get it just right.
Another way to look at is as a parent who dresses their son or daughter for their first day of school. We pack the lunch. We make sure the clothes are just right. We get them to the bus stop or drop them off in plenty of time. And then, sometimes, a teacher might make a cruel remark that tears down that child- in essence, you, the parent. After all, you gave birth. You raised that child. What is wrong with you, the parent?
The author gives birth to the book and it sits on Amazon or Barnes & Noble waiting to be read. We want nothing but the best for it. We hope and pray that someone, anyone, will buy it and read it cover to cover. We hope the reader will love the story and love the characters. And when, like the teacher to the child and parent, a reader has something wonderful to say about the book, we are elated and jump up and down and scream (yes, I’ve done that). Or, when the reader has something negative to say about the book, it hurts. Authors hurt.
It’s always risky for an author to put oneself out there. Always. We hope for the best. We pray for the best. And when it falls short in one reader’s eyes, it hurts. We let that reader down somehow. We let ourselves down, too. No matter how many 4s and 5s we receive, no matter how many glowing reviews we receive, sometimes all it takes is one to hurt.
Much like the dot on a whiteboard. It’s all we might see.