If you’re already a published author, you may not want to do this. It can be painful. Since my novel isn’t published yet, I can do it for you. When my author friends read their Goodreads and Amazon reviews, they often do it with one eye open. Some give up after their first one-star reviews.
Some of the bad reviews from readers will say DNF as in “did not finish.” This is about as crushing as seeing NSF on your bank statement after you’ve bounced a check. Yet there are people who force a bad book down like cold medicine. As if it’s a test of character to endure every book they begin.
Still, we know that every bad review doesn’t equate to a bad book. Maybe the reader was ticked off standing in the 15 items or less line at the grocery store behind someone with 16 items in the cart. When I peruse reviews, I find a more likely answer as to why people dismiss certain books. Bias that has nothing to do with storytelling or literary merit can sink a reader’s assessment of a book fast. For example, they’re pro-life and one of the characters had an abortion, so they abhor the book. That’s an actual critique I saw once on Goodreads. Not a helpful review.
I’ll put my critique partner and beta readers up against yours any day. They are literary luminaries in my admittedly biased estimation. Still, when I’m in revision mode, I turn to book reviews to understand what keeps readers turning pages and reading a novel when they could be doing a million other things. I pore over the reviews for books I’ve read so I can go back to the text and understand why the reader stayed engaged or slogged through or just stopped reading. I wade through poor reviews look for recurring themes and issues raised by multiple people. A silly, errant thought occurred to me: If I can avoid all the things readers hate, they’ll love my book. Okay, maybe not, but I’ve found some valuable nuggets and some doozies, too, in the cavern of comments.
Lack of emotion and poor character development can flatten a book.
Reviewers often say, “I didn’t understand the character’s motivation.” We’ve all heard that the stakes in the story must be clear, urgent, and high. This matters to readers. Even more importantly, they want to connect with the characters and feel something. Often, they point out that highly stylized, experimental writing and story structure can work well, but not if it keeps the reader at a distance, sacrificing emotional intimacy with the characters. Another problem stemmed from characters not growing or transforming over the course of the book. [Read more…]