Monday, March 30, 2009

Reader Ratings - Feedback for Authors

Most venues allow readers of the books to come back and rate the books they've purchased. I'm sure the viewpoints on whether or not this should be is fairly split from what I've heard around the various horns. I especially love the ones where readers can actually leave a review or comments.

What do you think? Are they helpful to you as an author?

BEKKI - For the most part, I love seeing reader ratings and reviews. Once upon a time, I would have told you that they don't have a bearing on other projects. Over the last few months, I've realized that both the good and not so good comments from readers come into play. You know, the constructive criticism such as what they would have liked to have seen more or less of, what they would have liked to have seen earlier in the story as far as characterization. It's almost like the reader is helping me improve my writing. This is really the purpose of the ratings, isn't it? To let us know what's working and what isn't for them.

LINDSAY - I love to hear from readers. Their feedback is always precious to me. It lets me know if my work is 'in tune' in the deepest emotional terms; if people connect with my characters and their stories. Sometimes a reader suggestion can give me a whole new idea for a novel. This happened recently when a reader said she would like to hear more about Sir Tom, one of my characters from A KNIGHT'S VOW. Such moments are very special to a writer.
Of course readers have busy lives and so the feedback a writer receives from a rating system such as on amazon or on Bookstrand is also useful. In these cases I am glad the reader has rated my novel - such ratings are done from a genuine desire to inform other readers and, possibly the writer, although a bald number rating doesn't tell a writer much, except possibly that the reader enjoyed or did not enjoy the work. Guessing then comes into play on the part of the writer. 'Was there too much/not enough of sex/adventure/quarrels etc?'

One final point is the malice rating. For some reason some authors seem to attract these - very low ratings given before the novel is out and cannot possibly have been read. These are quite cruel. Some sites are working to stop those kind of no-read ratings from being given, which is a much fairer system.

SAVANNA - I haven't had that much experience with reader reviews. However, so far, I really can't complain about the ratings at Fictionwise. It's about what I figured, since my writing has always had those who really liked it, and those who don't. The last time I saw my ratings at Siren-BookStrand, I have to say I was pleased... who knows, now? But, MURDER BY HAIR SPRAY IN GARDENIA, NEW ATLANTIS is doing well rating-wise, if not in sales compared to the other hot-trend subgenres.

That being said, I've gotten some wonderful reviews from other authors, including my two blog buddies, Bekki and Lindsay.

I've also received a couple of top reviews from Book Reviewers, who absolutely 'got' my story. That's always a warm and fuzzy feeling. And I'd love to have more those... like who wouldn't?

Regarding the reviews where complaints were made, I'm not certain how helpful they were, except as a demonstration of what a person's personal preference is, which means other people feel the same way, or have the same reaction. Would I have changed my story to accommodate their particular viewpoints? Nope, not on your life.

If I had, I would have to get rid of Volcano, my Carnal Cherub hero, since the reviewer thought angel sexuality was 'ick'. Or, I would have to get rid of the cover art for RED LIONESS TAMED. I absolutely love that cover ~ no way would I change it. Or, if one reviewer is to be satisfied, Lady Sheridan and Baron Zaggry would never have recovered the sheer intensity of their passion for each other.

From my perspective, reviews, whether from readers or reviewers, are usually a double-edged sword, since some readers only buy books with good reviews while other readers actually only buy books with poor reviews... so, who wins?

Oops, I almost forgot Cindy's wonderful review for two of my books, a reader friend to Siren-BookStrand. Thank you, Cindy.

All reviews are part personal preference. While I would like to have everyone adore my work, I know it won't happen. I hope people will give their honest opinions, and not in an abusive way.

Reviews are alot like customer surveys. People rarely take the time to tell you you're doing a good job but are quick to let you know when there is a problem.

I try to remember that when I look at reader ratings. I mean, I'm tickled pink whenever someone takes the time to let me know they've enjoyed something I've written,
but for the most part, I expect them to be on the low side. I'm always suspicious when I see a book has received a huge number of glowing ratings. All I can think of is that the author has a big family and alot of friends to stuff the ballot box :)

I take negative ratings very seriously. Not as a personal attack, but as an opportunity to grow. Some kind of descriptive feedback is always better than just a number, but any information I get from my readers is a big help to improve my writing.

JUDAH - I actually enjoy being able to look at my work through someone else's eyes. I think it keeps me grounded, so long as I don't rely on what other people say as the eternal yardstick. Writing is like art. It appeals to some and not to others, and I think it's totally unrealistic to assume that everyone out there is going to love my work (a girl can dream, huh?)...

Still, I'm cautious when it comes to reviews. I try to set the emotional response aside and look at them analytically. What is valid? Does the reviewer have a grasp of the book as a whole, or are personal preferences or preconceptions playing a part (reviewers are human after all!)

I think it's important to remember as an "artist" of any kind, to grow in your craft you have to learn to roll with the punches, to take what is positive and use it meaningfully. You also have to learn to move on, and not to lose the spontaneity of the creative process in trying to model yourself to suit others.

Thanks ladies for joining in on March's Round Robin.

Happy writing!


Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating discussion. I'd love to hear from readers directly about this, too, if possible.

Savanna Kougar said...

Excellent points and insights, everyone.

Writing is an art, and it is a craft. Marrying the two, and constantly learning, creates the best stories in my humble opionion.

My goal is to bring my stories to those who would truly enjoy them, and benefit from them.

Lindsay Townsend said...

I agree, Savanna. And your final point - to bring stories to those who will truly enjoy and benefit them - is what I feel all writers must strive for. Reader feedback can help so much with that goal.

Francesca Prescott said...

This is interesting. With only one book out, it's hard for me to have a clear opinion on this. So far, "Mucho Caliente!" has been well received by readers and reviewers, which is a huge relief. What I can say is that, while I was writing it, I did rely on reader feedback, partly because I wanted to share my fun with a group of girlfriends, and partly because I wanted a sounding board for my work. I will never forget that, at one point in the story, I'd had the hero do something that was, well, not very nice, and one of my friends emailed me back as soon as she had read my chapter. She was in a complete huff! "You can't have him do that!" she wrote. "You just can't... Because bla bla bla".

I thought about what she was saying, and rewrote the chapter. Which was a good thing, because the book would have lost some of its rosy, zany, effervescence if the hero had gone down that unforgiveable path.

Basically, it's just about making a connection with whoever is reading my work, and entertaining them for a couple of hours. If my words make a lasting impression, and the book plays on their mind to the point where they want to tell me (and others) about their experience while reading it... well that's just wonderful!

Lee Silver said...

Francesca Prescott said:
At one point in the story, I'd had the hero do something that was, well, not very nice...

I've heard that too, Francesca. A great hero overcomes his character flaws during the story, but you have to be careful not to put too big of a dent in the knight's shining armor :)


Lee Silver
Romance with a Twist
THE TWIST, BookStrand #1 Bestseller