To be honest, I thought this one would be easier. I have thousands of reviews on Amazon alone, and a pretty good average. I should be able to dismiss the negative ones as outliers, or shrug and say, “can’t please everyone,” right? Alas, it’s not so easy. It’s like somebody telling you your baby is ugly. It still hurts. Here’s what I’ve found:
People love it or hate it for the same reasons. For example, JUST FOR NOW is a tender, funny story about family, without a lot of external drama. It is many readers’ favorite of my books. But other readers haven’t been crazy about it, for the exact same reason. Too much family, too much about the kids, not enough excitement. It’s personal taste.
Is it helpful? It’s one thing to examine your negative reviews, or negative comments within positive reviews, for anything that is truly HELPFUL. Was the ending rushed? Do you have grammatical errors that need to be fixed? That’s helpful. That your book didn’t appeal to someone’s personal taste—not helpful.
Your mileage may vary. I’ve written 14 books, and just in my little critique circle, everyone has a different favorite! My readers share the same diversity of opinion, because everybody brings their own tastes and life experiences to a book. When I think about my own favorite authors, I don’t love all their books equally. Some of them I don’t even care for very much. I’ve never been a huge fan of “Mansfield Park,” because Fanny Price is kind of a drip, isn’t she? And she and Edmund seem set to have a mighty virtuous and boring life. And yet I’ve read it at least three times, because Jane Austen writes so well.
It goes double for sex and violence. Think people’s opinions differ about your heroine? Get reviewers going about the sex or violence in your book! I’ve had people say, about the same book (that feel-good one above—the one with recipes in the back):
“Nothing but sweet gentle loving with not much described.” (and they weren’t happy about that!)
“A kinky sex-fest.”
Bottom line (so to speak), there is a huge variation in steam levels in romance, and violence in thrillers and mystery (and literary fiction, for that matter). When your books are just getting known, people are finding out if they like the way you write. You’re finding your audience. And that ain’t everybody.
The acid test. I realized, after wrestling with the “ping-pong ball” effect, where I’d think: “It’s good!” “No, wait, it’s bad!” “No, it’s good!” after every review, that the REAL question was, “Did I write the book I wanted to write?” And in all 14 cases, I answered, “Yes, I did.” That is all I can do. And it’s all that matters. On to Book 15.
Rosalind James, a publishing industry veteran and former marketing executive, is a contemporary romance and romantic suspense novelist published both independently and through Montlake Romance. Her first book, JUST THIS ONCE (Escape to New Zealand) is a 2015 Audie finalist for Best Romance Audiobook, and her latest, JUST IN TIME, has just debuted as part of Brenda Novak’s SWEET TALK collection for diabetes research. Rosalind started writing down one of the stories in her head on a whim three years ago while living in Auckland, New Zealand. Within six weeks, she had finished the book, thrown a lifetime of caution to the winds, and quit her day job. She attributes her surprising early success to the fact that "lots of people would like to escape to New Zealand! I know I did!" Website: http://www.rosalindjames.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rosalindjamesbooks Twitter: @rosalindjames5