The Awkward Review
Sooner or later a writer’s nightmare comes true – a negative review rolls in. The knee jerk reaction is to dig deep and find out who the identity of the reviewer is so you can hunt them down and scream at them…or worse. That moment passes quickly though, and what remains is a jumble of emotions.
As a writer we want everybody to like our work. Unfortunately the universally liked manuscript has not been invented yet. Not only that, but if it was, sales would blossom and then fall away once people stopped talking about it. A negative review can help a book more than a positive one, in fact.
Negative reviews are not things to be feared. In fact, I recommend embracing them. Read and understand the review, then see if there is merit to it. It’s not possible to please everybody, nor should a writer attempt to, but that doesn’t excuse us from wanting to make our work as flawless as we can.
The real problem comes when a negative review rolls in that doesn’t offer any help. I recently had just such an incident occur, although fortunately it came in the form of an email rather than something posted publicly. The reviewer requested a manuscript from me several months ago and I sent it off, then forgot about it as time passed. It came back to me last night out of the blue and, I’ll admit, it took some time for me to even remember who the guy was and what was going on.
He was polite and respectful throughout his review, I’ll give him that much. As a counter-balance to that he was also very condescending, which amused me. This reviewer is not a professional, or at least does not review or blog professionally. Yet he went on to opine about how characters and flow and so on and so forth weren’t right, not to mention formatting issues that were so distracting he couldn’t read more than a few pages of it.
Let me take a moment and expose that more clearly. He wrote up a damning review and sent it to me based upon six pages of text. Six pages out of a 128,000 word novel. Some of his complaints were a lack of depth and a failure to understand many of the concepts of the novel. He read six !#%^ing pages!
To his credit he was correct in some of his assertions about formatting. Such is a bane of all writers who publish in an electronic format. In this particular case I also grabbed an older copy of the book on accident and used a conversion program to make it available to his e-reader. In my experience Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and even Smashwords do a bang up job of converting documents to their various reader formats. Outside of those I haven’t seen much of anything that isn’t rife with flaws. I pointed that out to him but he had no interest even in pursuing a copy off of Smashwords that I could have given him via a coupon code. Instead he hoped I could be honest with myself regarding the book.
The book in question, Voidhawk, is a niche piece. It’s part fantasy and part science fiction. I prefer to think of it as space fantasy, but even then it’s definitely in its own niche. It sells quite well for me, and aside from this one individual I’ve received lots of love regarding it. Or, in the case of my wife and family, they gave up after attempting to read it. Seems the book and its sequels, being such a specialty niche, are either something you love right away or just can’t get into. I don’t blame anyone for that. Wooden ships sailing through space harnessing magical solar wind definitely requires a powerful suspension of disbelief!
This reviewer though didn’t make the connection. That’s not his fault, it just wasn’t his niche. Trying to speak knowledgeably about it without having read more than a handful of pages, however, is just bad form. If you’re going to review something for somebody, read the entire thing. If you can’t, feel free to tell the writer as much but don’t offer an opinion beyond that because all you’d be doing is judging a book by its cover.
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