It’s easy as an author to react in horror to bad Amazon reviews. Oh no! The inner doubt voice goes, Someone has realised that you are not very good after all, and now they’ve said so in that most sacred of formats, an Amazon book review, the rest of the world will agree with them. It feeds the nasty little voice of that most common of syndromes among fiction writers – imposter syndrome – and makes us fear that one negative voice will put everyone else off.
But here’s the thing: OK, I write books, but I buy vastly more books than I write. And never ever ever in my life have I been put off a book that I actually wanted to read by a bad Amazon review. In fact, I have often picked books because of things that negative reviews have said.
The one that comes up most commonly in books written by women, from a female point of view, and set in the past is (in a disparaging manner) that the book is a “bodice ripper”. Aside from the fact that, actually, I love a good bodice ripper, I’m also unsettled by the trend that these tend to be made about historical fiction books that feature a female protagonist and some sex. It seems to be a way of belittling female experience by suggesting that a book is no more than its sex scenes, but often books by male authors that contain a decent amount of sex are viewed differently. So I’m not only positively swayed by the promise of some sex – aren’t we all? 😉 – but I’m also suspicious of the reviewer. Romantic love, sex, a combination of the two are not things that make me think less of a book, nor is the fact that something is just a good old middle-of-the-genre romance, and I find reviews that criticise books on that basis deeply suspect.
On that note, I have never ever ever not bought a book because there was a review that said ‘too much sex’. I find that this is rarely ever written about books that are packed with it. I was either interested in the book, or I wasn’t. Sex is a part of life, and I’m not afraid of it, or embarrassed about it. It’s usually obvious from the cover and/or the genre description the level of romping that’s going to be going down (as it were) over the course of the novel.
I’m also put off reviews that go on long, meandering rants, criticising everything about the book, author, cover etc. These are deeply suspect to me too as they don’t seem to be aimed at helping people decide if something is for them, but rather seem aimed at attacking someone or something. They also, perversely, make me intrigued to read the book, and see what it was exactly that got this particular individual (whoever they were) so hot under the collar in the first place. There must have been something engaging about it to merit a rant.
At the end of the day, reviews are what they are; peoples’ opinions. If someone gave a book five stars because it was full of really detailed information on how ships were built in the 1780s, it would still not be the book for me. If someone gave something one star because they thought it was a frivolous romance, I would almost definitely still buy it. It’s hard when, as an author, you are so invested in your own work, but I take comfort in my own readerly habits, and trust that all bad reviews do is guide away people who wouldn’t enjoy my books anyway.
What is other people’s experience with reviews? Do you use them much to choose what you’re going to read?