Respect the effort and the work, even if you hate the result

Earlier today, I came across a post in a forum I belong to that really irked me. This particular person read a book that they didn’t finish and gave the author a 1-star review on Goodreads.com, with no other comments. The author wrote back, attacking the reviewer personally, insulting her child.I can admit that the author went about dealing with this the wrong way, but the reviewer went on to make fun of him and just generally degrade him, and that is what I have problem with.

I understand that, to many, what we authors do seems like a really cushy job. We sit on our butts all day and type, creating fantasy worlds and playing with fake people. And while, for the most part, I love my work, it’s not the easy peasy thing that others imagine.I spend hours a day writing. At the end of the day, my hands hurt. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for things that I couldn’t make work while I was writing that day. I have to come up with 50,000-150,000 words that make sense, have proper sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and tells a good story. I have to go back and edit that, and then edit it again.

It may not be the backbreaking work of construction, or the tense work of a receptionist dealing with the public – but it is work. And unlike those jobs, it’s work that has a part of me in it. One person said “Once you put it out there, it’s not yours to control anymore.” Well, actually, it is. It is always mine to control, to change, to no longer sell, if I wish.

But it’s also mine to be hurt if someone doesn’t like it, and to want to know why they don’t like it. While I think the author in the scenario above should have handled this much differently, I can’t blame him for his irritation. I would be irritated, too.

But understand something: I wouldn’t be irritated by the 1-star review. Oh, it might sting a bit, and of course I think my work is good, so I’ll disagree with you. But I’d be irritated that you took the time to give the 1-star review, but couldn’t be bothered to give any explanation. Here’s why that would irritate me:

  1. It’s no help whatsoever to readers. So you rated it with 1 star (or 2, or even 3). So what? What does that star mean? For all I (as the reader) know, you’re a woman and you were having a serious case of PMS that day, or a man whose boss laid into him for no good reason. Or maybe the book actually has something “wrong” with it that might make me not want to read it. But I have no idea because all you did was leave a star.
  2. It’s no help to me as a writer. I write the stories I want to write, sure. But I want to write them so you’ll read them. If you thought my book really deserved only 1 star, fine! Give me the 1 star, then. But be helpful and explain why. Otherwise, I can’t figure out where I went wrong and write a better book next time. Even a reason as simple as “I just didn’t like it.” is helpful. It tells me that if you are my target audience, maybe I need to change my target audience because my books aren’t suited to the one I’m currently targeting. But if you don’t tell me something, then I can’t do anything. It’s kind of like shouting “Stop doing that!” in a room full of people all doing different things. Who’s doing wrong, and what are they doing wrong? No one knows what to do because you haven’t given them anything to use.

I’m no expert at giving reviews, either. So don’t misunderstand me and think I’m trying to tell you exactly what you should do. But as writers, we do rely on you, our audience, to tell us how we’re doing. Of course, we all want nothing but glowing 5-star reviews and to be topping all the bestseller lists. But we all know we’re going to get those bad reviews. But we need those bad reviews to be helpful – to us and to the reader.

I can give you an example of one bad review that I gave once. I won’t name the book, because this is truly not intended to be a slam against anyone, but I hated the book. I couldn’t even finish it – in fact, I think I maybe finished half, if that. That’s why I think it’s the ideal example here, because it’s a very similar situation to that person that prompted me to write this. Here’s the review, that was given with 1 star:

(Book title) looked like a very promising book from the jacket. Set in both the current day and the not so distant past (just fifty years ago), in India, it’s the story of a young man learning the story of how his parents met and fell in love – while he himself is falling in love.

Once I began reading however, I found myself disappointed. The author jumps from past to present in chapters. But there is no consistency to when the change happens ( it’s not one chapter in the present, the next in the past, then present, and so on, for example), and no indication that the change has happened (no mention of the year, the location, etc.). Also, the chapters tend to start with location descriptions that also make it hard to tell whether we’re in the here and now or the past.

Speaking of description, I found there was more description of locations, clothing, foods, and music than there was dialogue or action. For me, this was rather tedious and made the book drag. When there was dialogue or action, it wasn’t something I could sink my teeth into.

I will admit, I did not finish the book. It may have improved the further I read, but what I did read simply couldn’t capture my attention enough to continue reading. Other readers have given this book 5 stars, so it’s entirely possible I missed something here. But I could not bring myself to finish – although I have kept the book and may try again in the future.

As you can see – I was very unimpressed with the book. But I tried to give information that would help not only other readers, but also the author. I’ve never read another of his books, but maybe he read my review and started adding hints of whether you’re in the past or present when he writes that kind of plot in the future. And maybe other readers read the review and, knowing that they don’t like tons of description, decided to skip over it – or alternatively, knowing they love descriptions of those things, picked it up. Who knows?

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here is that, to you, it’s just another book you read. But to the author, it’s several months, if not years, of hard work, of thought, of agonizing over every word to decide if it was necessary, if it got the point across, and if the reader would enjoy it. We then put it out there with the hope that you’ll enjoy it – and if you don’t, it disappoints us.

So while it might only be another book to you, if you’re going to take the time to review it, keep in mind that it’s important to the author. If you’re leaving less than 3 or 4-star review, since you’re taking the time to do that, why not take a couple of extra minutes to explain why?

Most authors are not like the one that prompted this. Most of us won’t respond to you with harsh words, or personally attack (with words) you or your family. In fact, you’ll find in many cases, you won’t even hear from us. But if you take the time to tell us why you didn’t like the book, we’ll listen (well, we’ll read). And you just might find that you enjoy our next book, because we listened and made the necessary changes.