A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it ~ Danielle Steel
If you follow my Facebook page, you know I sent a draft of my current manuscript to several beta readers yesterday. I’ll rely on their feedback to help me shore up the flimsy spots in my story, whether it relates to character development and credibility, plot and pacing, or any other weaknesses those readers report.
During the next few weeks, I’ll nervously anticipate their comments. Naturally, I want a reader to fall in love with the hero, root for the heroine, and empathize with the conflicts. At the same time, I do appreciate and desire constructive criticism. Ultimately, I view the process as practice for the inevitable day when, once my books are published, I’m hit with a “bad” review.
Book reviews sell books, which is one reason why professional writers have such a vested interest in readers’ opinions. Earlier this week, Dear Author, a lively, informative reader/writer community, instigated a thought-provoking discussion (generating over 100 comments) about the ethical and professional obligations of authors who choose to publicly support or review other writers’ work (When The Personal Becomes Professional).
I opted not to join the discussion because, after reading through all the comments, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the topic, or if my opinion might change once my own work is published. But it did raise a lot of questions for me, especially considering the inherent defect of every book review: subjectivity.
Of course, certain objective criteria apply to all books. At a bare minimum, the story should be written without grammatical errors and gaping research holes or mistakes. The basic plot should follow a credible story arc, as should the evolution of each character’s development. But so many other elements are subjective. Did you fall for the hero? Was the heroine relatable? Did you enjoy the pace? Did you enjoy the author’s “voice?” Did the story make you think differently about its theme?
Any two people could read the same book and come away with entirely different opinions based on their own preferences and perspectives. So if there is no correct answer, then why place so much value on a review in the first place? Fifty Shades of Grey’s commercial success versus its critical failure perfectly illustrates the dichotomy. Clearly, bad reviews didn’t hurt the sales of this trilogy.
It seems the critical thing for readers, then, is to find those reviewers who share their same taste and can point them to books they are likely to enjoy. Maybe grading the books isn’t as helpful as simply writing a very articulate review describing why a particular story did or didn’t work for the reviewer.
As a romance reader, I’ve realized I can overlook plot credibility problems or even an unlikable character in a book as long as I’m completely invested in the characters’ emotional worlds (both their inner and outer relationships). That’s the critical element for me, and what makes a book a winner. A perfect example is Sherry Thomas’s Ravishing The Heiress. Oh, I wept. I got angry. I felt hope. I rode that emotional roller coaster even though the hero wasn’t particularly swoon-worthy (in fact, was often callous or obtuse). For much of the book, the romantic love was so one-sided that I couldn’t claim this is a “great” love story, but it was such an emotional journey for me, I would recommend anyone read it. That said, I’m sure my personal bias (I’m a sucker for unrequited love stories) has much to do with my reaction.
How about you? What makes you love a book more than others? Which book review blogs do you follow and why?