Six Reasons There's No Such Thing as a Bad Review

My eighth/first (long story) book was published last month. It's called Haven, and it's a gentle tale set in the mountains of North Wales, about how one woman's faith has a profound effect on those around her.

I'm currently in full book-selling mode, and that means I need to encourage lots of reviews on Haven on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, etc. A few lucky reviewers have received advance reading copies, and their reviews are starting to spring up.

I told my reviewers to be completely honest in their review, and I meant it. Even if they hated it, I told them, please still review it, because there is no such thing as a bad review.

Well, the first review popped up, and gave it only three stars. The main complaint was that one of the characters was very irritating and closed-minded, and that the book was too Mormon.

I wasn't disheartened by the review for several reasons.

1. That irritating character was supposed to be irritating. I was making a point with her about the unreasonable attitudes of certain people, and I'm glad that the point got across. When a reviewer singles out one character for criticism, it proves that the characters are distinguishable and fully-rounded.

2. The book being "too Mormon" is quite a selling point for some people. When it was first published fourteen years ago, I got a lot of fan mail (it was a bestseller in the genre) and in general the people who loved it were older LDS women who enjoyed travel and genealogy. They are my target audience, and they will see "too Mormon" as a positive advantage. Something one person is critical of may be the very thing another person sees as the book's strength.

For example, a friend of mine recently self-published a book about a woman who is kidnapped, brainwashed and kept as a sex-slave. Its not my usual fare, but I agreed to review it for her. In the review I described it as being "too dark and disturbing". Guess what? It's selling extremely well. Apparently some people love books which are dark and disturbing. Who knew?

3. Any review at all adds credibility to the book. It shows that people are reading it, engaging with it, thinking about it, and providing useful information for other would-be readers. An Amazon page with no reviews looks almost as sad and sorry as one with 100 five-star reviews (more on that later) but a good selection of varied and genuine reviews is interesting and really helpful to both readers and to the author.

4. Book reviews of any kind bring the book to people's attention. I can tweet and share that review. I can blog about it. I can use it as the vehicle to talk about my book. (Hey, I appear to be doing that right now!)

5. A bad review is very helpful to the author. Haven is the first in a trilogy, and reading critical comments helps me when it comes to preparing the other two books for publication. Maybe I'll want to tone down the religious element. Maybe I'll want to soften an annoying character.  Maybe I'll take note of other suggestions in other reviews for future books, or revise the book being reviewed accordingly. All feedback, good or bad, helps improve the quality of the books you read.

6. Everyone knows people have different opinions, and some will hate what others love. A wide variety of reviews is important in showing that the reviews are genuine and providing balance. When making a purchase, I like to read the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews alike. Anything with only five-star reviews is immediately suspect.

A couple of years ago I self-published (jointly with the friend mentioned above) a book called The
Saved Saint which looked at the conflict between Mormonism and traditional Christianity through a semi-fictional account of a Mormon missionary who becomes an evangelical Christian. It got several good reviews, but two very bad ones. One complained that it made the Christians look good and the Mormons look bad. The other one-star review said, "I was put off by the way Christians were depicted in the book while lifting up Mormons." Those two terrible reviews made us, the authors, very happy, because they proved that we really had struck the right balance and made the book completely fair and neutral.

So please, buy my books (click on the links above), review them honestly. I'm a big girl, I can handle criticism. I know I'm still learning my craft, and your comments really do help me.


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