Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Writer Sees Stars

As writers go, I have a skin of average thickness. I am pleased by a good review, disappointed by a bad. None of it penetrates far enough to influence the thing I write next. (Rachel Cusk)

Book reviews have been around as long as writers have been writing books. I'm guessing that even before books were printed, storytellers around the fire pits got reviews, and they probably weren't any happier with listeners spitting in their fire to show they didn't like a story than writers today are with bad reviews. Even famous writers don't like bad reviews.  Danielle Steele says, "A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it."

I've gotten bad reviews and I try to be like Rachel Cusk and let them slide off me. As much as I want to, I can't write a book every reader is going to love. But that sure would be nice. When I first began writing, any review a book received was a printed review in a magazine or newspaper. The average book didn't get many reviews. Now the internet has changed all that. Reviews are everywhere and anybody can write a review. Amazon and Barnes & Noble e-mail you and ask you to write reviews of the books you buy or download. And of everything else you buy too! A reader can join up with Goodreads and review every book she or he has ever read. On there you don't have to say anything. You can just click on a few stars and either make a writer jubilant with five stars or be in despair over the one star slams. 

All this to say that my free book, Scent of Lilacs, has been getting a lot of new reviews on Amazon. (By the way, it's still free if you haven't downloaded it yet or know an e-reading friend who might enjoy the story.) The reviews have all been surprisingly positive which is great. Sometimes with free books, the readers can slam the book because it isn't the type of story they would normally buy. I had one reviewer say about one of my Shaker books when it was offered free a while back that "free was too much to pay for this book." The very fact I remember that points out the problem with reading reviews. I can get a dozen glowing reviews and not remember a word of any of them, except maybe those lovely works "I couldn't put it down." But let me read one of those one star reviews and the words flash like a neon sign inside my head. 

But tonight, I'm going to share bits of some of the 5-star remarks about Scent of Lilacs with you. 

"A beautiful heartwarming story. I loved it. It is so human and full of love. Some beautiful lessons about God's love for all of us." (E Carlson)

"I loved the voice of Jocie, the thirteen year old pastor's daughter who tells most of the story."  (Breiann)

"Loved, loved, loved this book! I laughed and cried. I'm so glad I read it." (Cindy)

"It is clean, funny and good. I enjoyed it so much I bought the next book..." (Dianne)

(I love those that say my story made them smile or laugh. I've always wanted to be funny. Always!)

"...a moving mystery of life including narrative arcs for each of the characters." (IJ Palmer)

"Lots of unusual, imperfect characters add to the great story line." (Book Addict)

I could pull out lots more excerpts. To date, Amazon has 185 reviews for the title, including the one where the reader said she "tried and tried" to read the story but just couldn't it was so dull. Had to throw that bad one in to balance the  others. But most of the reviews have been kind, even enthusiastic and lighting up all five stars to make this writer happy to see stars.    

A good, sympathetic review is always a wonderful surprise. (Joyce Carol Oates)

It's enormously cheering to get a good review by someone who seems to understand your work. (Kenneth Koch)

I am glad to get good reviews, but I try not to dwell on those any more than on the ones that aren't so good. I just have to try to write the next book better. 

If you wrote one of the reviews on my books, thank you. Reviews matter. On the internet a review is sort of like word of mouth and everybody knows that having a friend recommend a book is the very best advertising a writer can get. 

Have you ever written a review online? Or told a friend about a book you've read?


  1. Ann, when I look at a book on Amazon or Goodreads I do read some of the reviews, but I've never been one to let those reviews dictate what to read. Not too long ago Robin Lee Hatcher who wrote a post much like this one back in February. I couldn't respond to her like I am with you (either computer problems on my end or hers, it just wouldn't go through) Yes I have written on-line reviews, but not as often as others and I'm sure of those reviews you could count them on both hands. I read a book and tell my friends about it. I listen to what my friends are reading also. Even better, I get to visit some of the authors through their blogs or socially on FB. OR get to know new authors through fun on line scavenger hunts :) This is how I learned about you Ann. I know if I wrote a book, would I want to read the reviews? I don't honestly don't know! I think I would be happy with my work, especially if I wrote something like "Angel Sister". There is nothing wrong in being happy with one's own work. Bill Cosby said, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

    1. Thanks, Shirley. I enjoy getting to know my reading friends better here on the net. It's always fun to see comments from you and from others so I can see what other people are thinking too. Glad we met on the scavenger hunt. That was a fun week for me on the internet. As for reading my reviews, sometimes it's better if I don't and one other writer had great advice about that. He said to read the three star and above reviews if you want, but not to worry about the one star reviews since those people weren't likely to ever be your regular readers. Like that Bill Cosby quote. You really can't please everybody.

  2. Ann,

    Nice reminding post! I don't usually allow book reviews to turn me away from a book I really want to read. Even if the book turns out to be literature that wouldn't measure up to 'best seller' status, it is still a fantastic idea for writers especially to read both good and bad. (That being said, I do listen to reviews on consumer items like printers or washing machines or big ticket items).

    I just posted a nearly 500 word review on Amazon for a book I would not have picked up on my own. A friend requested it, had the publisher send me a reviewer's copy, and he knew I would do a thorough and honest job, not just 'blowing smoke'.
    Because the book is not something I would ordinarily be interested in, I had to remind myself of what 4-H archery coach certification taught me: the Oreo method. This is simply sandwiching constructive criticism in between two compliments. It was easy to find the compliments for this book, and saying something positive helped me to temper the honest criticism without malice. It also lends credibility to the review. It is so easy to find people who will swing to the polar opposites of positive or negative, but not so easy to find a reviewer who will look on a piece from all sides.

    One good website called has just posted an article that could help reviewers. The article is called 12 Tips for Writing Good Book Reviews.

    And Ann, I have read several of your books that I borrowed from the library, and am reading Scent of Lilacs now on my Kindle. (Thank you, by the way!!) I have to say that there have been numerous Christian authors who I have a hard time reading because the characters, plot, etc, are just too wholesome to be believable. That might sound strange, but that is okay. I am human. I want to read about other people who are also human. Your book Angel Sister, had numerous struggling people who had real qualities and real faults and lived in real grace. And already, I just finished chapter two of Scent of Lilacs, and I want to read more. Jocie is appealing and her father is not over the top righteous. You have presented questions about their lives that I already want the answers to ... that is good writing. Take what you need from reviews and leave the rest. I hope you keep seeing stars. You have certainly worked for them.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Kristy. Love the good advice of your archery coach. The Oreo method is best. I don't write many reviews. First because it's not an easy thing to do. Second, because there are only so many hours in the day, and last, because I wouldn't want to be critical if I didn't like the book. On the other hand, I do very much appreciate those who do write reviews. Reviews can be a great resource and service, but too many bad reviews on a product or book can be damaging. Some people don't actually read the reviews, but just look at the numbers of stars. On one of the book sites, they even have a link for pulling up only books with four or five star ratings. So, if too many reviewers don't like your book for whatever reason, those new readers won't even give your book a look. But I do admire those who can write a good review. That is, tell what they think about the book without giving away the story line. Some of the reviews on Scent of Lilacs have told a little too much and have given away too much of what happens.

      I am glad that you are enjoying reading the story on your Kindle. It's fun having a book giveaway and picking up some new readers. At least, that's the hope. I also appreciate your kind words about my characters in Angel Sister. Loved writing about those Rosey Corner people.

      Any of you out there that write reviews, you might check out the website Kristy mentions. One thing sure, we can always use some new tips. I know I can.

      Again, thanks for dropping by, Kristy. And I'm so glad you let me share your beautiful piece about your Meme last Sunday. I know it touched many hearts.


Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.