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Sunday, February 15, 2015

What WRITERS want to read in your reviews


I think most writers I know are a little obsessed with reviews. They get all excited about a new positive review, all conflicted about new "bad" reviews. 
Review ratings also drive notice on Amazon. A high star rating can attract a new reader. Some promotion sites have a requirement for a certain star rating in order to qualify for their site. 

But yeah, we all like to be told our work is good. Some of what we want to see is gushing and flattery (OMGOSH! Best book EVAH!), but there are other phrases that carry real meaning to an author.

(I actually reached out to some author friends while making this post. I attributed them where they desired it, but the full disclosure is these are NOT all from reviews of my books.)

A friend/coworker/etc recommended this book to me:

Why we like it: it means people are talking about our books. It means people are buying based on recommendations. It means my stories have feet. Word of mouth is always the best marketing for things like books. You want to be the answer when someone is asked, "Read any good books lately?" And in this case YOU WERE!

I can't wait for the next book!

Why we like it: it means someone liked it enough to want more and also that if we keep on keeping on, someone will be there to buy the next book. Other versions of this include "I will keep following this series" or "I can't wait to see what this author comes up with next." 

Flattering Comparisons to Other Authors

Yes, this almost falls under the "BEST BOOK EVAH!" category, but it is still pretty nice. To quote author Cynthia P. Willow,  I love when someone says my writing is similar to another series. I've had reviewers say they were taken back to their childhood when they read the Narnia series for the first time. One series has been compared to The Box Car Series as well as Harry Potter. 

That you handled a specific issue sensitively/well

Why we liked it: because it means we did something right. Sometimes this is an issue/subject we intentionally wrote about in order to make a difference. Sometimes it is something that we maybe were a little nervous about. A personal example: I've shared (here) about my anxiety writing my Deaf character for Beggar Magic, and how I didn't want to step on any toes in that community by "writing what I don't know" as a hearing individual. I did my best to get feed back and do research, but I knew I could be stepping on an emotional landmine, so the first review that referenced this character in a positive light from someone with hearing impaired family was a big relief for me. At least for that one reader, I did okay. 

I can't wait to share this with. . .

Be it their family, friends, kids, next door neighbor, or that crazy woman living under the stairs with 2000 cats and a gopher, it's nice to know people want to keep your books moving. Sometimes this means extra sales, but sometimes it just means someone hands their paperback to someone else after their done with it, which doesn't mean a financial gain, but it is still a major win.

This kept me up all night!

Unless your book is about heartburn relief or how to cure insomnia, different versions of "I couldn't put it down" are a clear winner with many writers. Though the flip side is, "Dang, they read it in an hour. . . I wrote it in 2 years. . . I either need to write faster or longer."

I made them laugh, cry, think . . .

Emotional response was a very popular answer when I asked about reviews. I remember when someone told me the end of Dragon's Debt had them in tears, I felt like I'd unlocked an achievement. We authors are a sadistic lot. Dragon's Debt (The Dragon and the Scholar Book 2)

Reasons . . .

If you really feel like you have to give a negative review, for the sake of the author's sanity, try to be specific. There's nothing more annoying than two stars paired with, "Meh, I didn't like it." or some other not really telling statement. It doesn't help other readers decide whether the book is "for them" or not (which is the main purpose of a review), and leaves the author going, "What? WHAT didn't you like? Was it the plot, the pacing, the writing style? What!?!?!?" And yeah, sometimes it can be hard to see actual, deserved criticism (the beginning was too slow. This particular character was annoying. This writer doesn't use enough contractions.), but it is better for our sanity, and if the point is a good one, who knows, maybe we'll write it differently next time. 
Also the same goes for positive reviews. "BEST BOOK EVAH!" is nice, but "I felt the characters were well rounded and interesting, each with their own voices, and the descriptions really painted a picture of the world" is better. 




Some specific instances listed by authors:
From the grandfather of a reluctant reader who didn't put the book down till she had finished it: "Keep writing, our kids need you." . . .  As a children's author, I love the thought that my books might help a child discover the joy of reading. Cynthia Port

I always like it when it's obvious from the review that my book has stirred an emotion--enough to elicit a reaction. Whether that is in a favorable or unfavorable review, it lets me know I've done my job.
Bruce A Borders

"This book is my story too" is a reader comment that brought me to tears (my Alzheimer's book)
Marianne Sciucco

My book was dedicated to my best friend, my Golden, who died in the spring of 2013, so I was elated when the following review appeared: This is an easy review for me to write. Several years ago I got a Golden Retriever puppy from a pet shop. The puppy had been mis-treated and neglected and I paid $5 for the best puppy ever!! So, for me, reading this joyful story was fun and it gave me memories of our "Jiffy"! This story has twists and turns and certainly kept me immersed in the story which I did not want to end.I did want to know who' the bad guy was' but I wanted more stories about this super-intelligent Golden Retriever. If you are a dog lover you will really appreciate this story which is well-written and with 'down to earth' characters.
Richard Houston

My favorite thing to see is when readers state that my books have strengthened their walk with God.
L. N. Cronk


"This made me laugh out loud and scare my cat!" I liked that one...
Lia London

I guess the reviews that made me happiest elaborated on what they liked: "characters were rich, multi-layered and complex", "vividly rendered settings", emotions "realistic and deftly shown" though my fave is definitely "recommend to Christian and non Christian readers alike" because it can be so easy to be pigeonholed when your work has a strong faith element. Anyway, the more readers help me see specifically what worked (versus broader experiential "loved it," "kept me up late," "made me cry"), it's somehow loads more encouraging. Not that general praise is bad at all, but it doesn't drive me to work on my craft to the same degree.

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