Reviews And How To Take Them

A recent post on Musings Of An Aussie Writer that made direct reference to me and reviews of my work got me thinking about reviews. A lot of people react badly to reviews, even when they’re primarily positive. I don’t know why.

As far as I’m concerned, as an author, once I put my work out there I have no right to tell people what to think of it. I always make my writing the best I think it can be before I let it go public. Often that’s the only way it can or will go public.

After that I always remind myself of that old adage: “You can’t please all the people all the time.” I just hope to please as many people as possible as often as possible. I at least want to please more people than I piss off.

There’s another old adage that’s more writing related: “The reader is always right.”

If a reader interprets something I’ve written differently to how I intended, that’s my fault. It doesn’t matter what I want the reader to experience, or what I meant by a certain passage, the reader is always right. The way they read something and interpret it is their reality and there’s no point in me saying, “But you don’t get it! You don’t understand my genius!” It was my writing that resulted in their interpretation. If that’s not what I wanted them to think or feel then I need to learn from that and improve my craft.

When I send out a book for review I’m asking for that reviewer’s honest opinion of it. I’m not asking them to tell everyone how great it is. I’m asking them to tell everyone what they thought of it, and I desperately hope that they think it’s great.

I’ve yet to have a really scathing review for either RealmShift or MageSign. I’m very pleased and humbled about that. It’s become pretty evident from many reviews that my second book is an improvement on my first. I’m really pleased about that too – it’s much better than the other way around.

Certainly reviewers have had issues with a number of things in both books. They’re right about that. Other people might disagree with them. They’re right too. I genuinely mean it when I say that I’m happy if a review is overall positive and pretty much says, “I was a bit disappointed by this and that, but on the whole this is a good read and you should check it out.” Obviously, the more glowing the review the happier I am, but anything that brings attention to my books without downright slamming them is invaluable as far as I’m concerned.

BT’s Horrorscope review of RealmShift finished this way:

“Still, it is definitely worth the time spent reading it as Baxter manages to work with an intriguing list of characters, throws a thought provoking explanation of religion at the reader, and keeps everything moving at a rapid pace, while making some nice observations about today’s society and those within it. I look forward to reading the second instalment, MageSign, to see where the authors goes from here.”

His Horrorscope review of MageSign finished this way:

“Baxter has delivered a book which is better than the first one, which was pretty good to start with. If this trend continues, I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment.”

Regardless of various issues he had with the books (you can read the full reviews by clicking the links), these are the final thoughts that will resonate with people that read the review and they are the final thoughts of BT as a reviewer. I’m really happy with a result like that. One day I hope to get reviews for my work that do nothing but sing the praises of my flawless novels, but I can’t expect that from the outset. I can’t expect that for a long time yet, if ever.

And as for the things that reviewers have raised as issues within the work, things that made those reviews three or four star reviews rather five star reviews, well, I’ve certainly paid attention to those. I’ve thought about what’s been said, why it was said and what I can do to stop reviewers saying things like that in the future. Sometimes a reviewers negative comments will reflect more on the reviewer than the writer – a person’s personal preferences are often going to be at odds with mine. But it’s my job to recognise the things that I can use to improve my craft and work at implementing those every time I write something. If I’m precious about reviews all the time and just huff and puff about these useless reviewers that have no idea what they’re on about then I’ll never improve as a writer.

This is a cross-posting of a blog entry dated 9/13/09 from Alan Baxter Online.