Listen to Your Critics
Wait, what? No I didn’t typo the title of this blog. I really do plan to talk about reasons you should listen to your critics. Sure there are countless blogs posts about all the reasons you should ignore your critics. I have even written one (or two). There are lots of great posts on how bad reviews and the critics of your work should be ignored. You can’t please everyone and you can’t win them all. But, after careful consideration, I am not sure that is really the best tip to provide authors, or any artist for that matter.
Working in the art industry, and we can’t forget that writing is an art, attracts all kinds of people. You have the people who love just about everything. You have the people who hate just about everything. Then you have the people who really don’t know what they like or hate. And finally you have the ones who know what they like and why they like it (and they usually know why they don’t like something too). One might argue that you can also attract the jealous artist. The one who wants to do what you do (and probably could) but they never bothered to really work at it.
In the past two years I have written a ton of book reviews. I realized that reviewing a book on Amazon and Goodreads really helped authors. Soon I was writing them for Plasma Frequency, and now I am writing them for my own blog. And in all those reviews, I used to feel guilty when I wrote something critical about a book. I felt like maybe I was being a jerk. And I knew how critical reviews bothered me sometimes. But I’ve realized that I am only sharing my opinion. Other readers, and the author, can take it or leave it. It is just my opinion, and I am but one reader.
But over the past few weeks, especially after all the inspiration I got from WorldCon, I have realized that perhaps I am thinking about reviews the wrong way. That ignoring the bad ones, and basking in the good ones, was not necessarily the best method.
First, we should get this out of the way. There is one review that you can always ignore. That is the review that just bashes your book to bash it. There is no logic to the reviews. That would be the “This book sucks because I said it sucks but I won’t tell you why it sucks” kind of review. Any blog reviewer worth your time won’t publish a review like that. But on Amazon and Goodreads you will see those from time to time. When I say you should ignore those reviews, I mean just that. Don’t bother with it. Don’t waste your time getting it removed or asking all your friends to vote the review as being not helpful. I just mean ignore it. It isn’t worth the time you put into it.
Recently I have seen an explosion in sales and reviews for Dissolution of Peace. I was lucky to sell five copies each month in the past six months. And I thought five was a great month. I also seemed stuck at 12 reviews for a long time. But now, I find myself looking at my 18th review on Amazon. And 28 text reviews on Goodreads, which is great in my opinion. I’ve also sold an average of 1.75 books per day (not counting my free promotion earlier this month).
So things are going well right? Yes, and no. There are some critical elements in these reviews.
I’m consistently seeing reviewers that love the story line of my book. There has been a sprinkle or two suggesting better character development, and another sprinkle or two that love the characters. There have been a few that hate the ending. There have been a few that love the ending. But one critical comment has been consistent. They don’t like the grammar and spelling. They seem to find errors that I didn’t catch.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am very self conciseness when it comes to grammar. So my first step in dealing with this was to follow the advise we see across the blogging world. I simply ignored it. In fact, anything critical, I ignored. Anything that people loved I relished in, I noted it for the sequel. I even bragged about it.
But that is a disservice. Not just to the reviewer, who took time to review the book (which we know many readers do not do), but it is also a disservice to yourself.
Every artist can grow. And listening to your readers is a great way to learn where you might want to focus your growth. It also tells you what you can fix to increase your sales. For example, I’ve hired a new editor to review and fix the mistakes in Dissolution of Peace that I simply can’t catch. Once she fixes those, I’ll update the book with a new version.
But grammar isn’t the only critique I have got. I am looking into how I develop my characters and the way I end my novels. I am looking into what it is that people really enjoy about the way I write stories. I’m listening to my readers, even the critics. Because that is how I will grow as a writer. That is how I will become better. And once you think you can’t get any better, you’ve become to arrogant and your readers will eventually notice there is no progression in your work and you will fade out.
So while critics are everywhere, they are also extremely helpful to the arts. You, as the artists, may not take all their tips. I am not saying you have to. But I am saying you should at least listen. You will benefit from that. If the majority of readers have a consistent complaint, I would suggest correcting that aspect of your writing. Either in your current book, or in future works in progress. For those more 50-50 splits, the choice is yours as an artist. It could be something to change, or it could be that your style is not their style.
But if you want reviewers, you have to listen to them. You can’t bash them and ignore them. You can’t accept only the good. You have to listen to your critics.