Saturday, January 18, 2014

What Reviews Mean to Me

In case you missed it, the lovely people at HarperTeen made The Art of Lainey available on Edelweiss a couple of weeks ago. That doesn’t mean everyone can read it for free, but it does mean if you’re a book blogger, book reviewer, bookseller, or librarian who is a registered Edelweiss user, you can probably access the text of the ARC.

If you are one of those people, and enjoy contemporary YA books, I would love for you to read and review my novel. I am grateful for every single review: the glowing, the critical, and all of those in between. I can’t speak for other authors, but here are a few reasons why reviews are so important to me:

1. Reviews provide helpful feedback. This isn’t the most important reason, but it’s the most obvious. If a lot of reviewers enjoyed the book, that tells me I did something right. If a lot of reviewers despised the book, that tells me that maybe I didn’t execute the story as well as I would have liked. It stings a little bit to read bad reviews, but they inevitably fall into one of two categories—the ones I agree with, which can be helpful in my future writing, and the ones I don’t agree with, which is simply a matter of different strokes for different folks.

True story: my very good friend Christina, who happens to be a book blogger and reviewer, was one of the first people to read The Art of Lainey. “I love it,” she said. “There’s only one thing I didn’t like.” She told me what that one thing was and it turned out to be something my publisher had concerns with too, something I thought I had addressed but maybe not well enough. I thought about Christina’s reaction. I went back to the MS and took a hard look at it. And I made a couple more changes because ultimately I agreed with her. My book is better because my friend had the guts to say “Hey, maybe you want to do this a little differently?” Thank you, C.

By the time you write your review, it might be too late to make changes to the book, but it will never be too late for me to consider your comments and use them to grow and improve as a writer. So please, please, if you know me in real life or online, don’t refrain from posting an honest review of my books because you don’t want to hurt my feelings. My feelings can take it, I care what you think, and also because…

2. Reviews sell books. When I stumble across a book on a website with tons of reviews, my initial thought is “Wow. This is popular. How come I’ve never heard of it?” It doesn’t matter if the average rating is 3.0 or 4.5—I’m immediately curious to find out what I’ve been missing. I don’t usually read indie published books (nothing against them, I just prefer to support the traditional publishing industry because I'm a part of it) but I bought a copy of Susan Ee’s Angelfall** when I saw how many reviews it had.  And I loved it--I’m buying the sequel. I never would have given that book a second glance if it only had 20 reviews—even if all 20 were 5-star ratings. No one expects a book to have only glowing reviews. Your middling or negative comments legitimize the positive reviews, if that makes sense. Also...

3. Reviews sell books to the right people. Sometimes I’ll read a negative review that says “This book had too much swearing and underage drinking” or “I hated that this book had a love triangle.” Readers are totally justified in not liking those things. However, those things don’t bother me, so those reviews they don’t affect whether I’ll buy a book. Other reviews says stuff like “This book was really slow-paced and took 250 pages to get to the inciting incident” or “I hated that the heroine’s pet kitten died a brutal death.” When I read that, I’m less likely to pick up a book, and that’s actually a good thing for everyone involved. Maybe it means that I don’t buy a book I was thinking of buying, but I am much more likely to buy the author’s future books if I haven’t labeled her or him in my brain as slow-paced or “Violent Kitten Killer Author.” 

I’ll be the first to tell you that if you don’t like funny romantic books or movies like Clueless and Easy A, that you probably won’t like The Art of Lainey. Maybe you think that’s me harming my sales, but I am looking at my long-term career, not just maximizing sales on one book. My second contemp, Liars, Inc., is much darker in tone and context, with dead bodies and plot twists galore. I am not sure how much reader overlap I will have between LAINEY and LIARS, and that’s okay. But I would rather not alienate potential LIARS fans  by encouraging them to buy LAINEY if it’s "not for them." So in that way, I see the critical reviews I get for LAINEY as possibly benefiting my overall career. Finally...

4. Reviews motivate me. On those days when I'm banging my head against the wall and wondering if the writing life is really worth it, I sometimes flip through my emails or reviews. When readers say stuff like "I loved this book!" or "this book helped me through a tough time" it reminds me of why the writing life will always be worth it.

**Angelfall is now being published by Amz/Skyscape. My copy was purchased before that sale happened.