A View on Reviews

Hello! My name is Sam E. Kraemer, and I’m an independent author. Never heard of me? I’m not surprised. In 2018, over 1.68 million books were self-published. The chances of anyone reading one of my twenty-one, self-published novels are pretty slim, but I’m happy to say a few people have found me, and some of them have even offered their opinions of my work through a review. Let me be clear: not all of them were glowing.

It’s an intimidating thing to offer up a piece of my heart by way of publishing a book for public consumption and scrutiny.

Anyone who subjects themselves to the hell of waiting for reviews can commiserate, and yet, many of us continue to embrace our masochistic sides by continuing to publish.

Any therapist worth their salt would say my fellow authors and I should probably seek counseling for this particular behavior, but it’s doubtful it would change us. I’ve become addicted to the rush of putting out my work into the universe in the hopes of entertaining someone with a new story I’ve nurtured from a fleeting thought. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

The worst part of my addiction is that when the reviews come in, I live and die by each one. Or at least, by the one that comes in because I’m new to the public stage. It doesn’t mean I don’t know the pain of receiving bad reviews; I’ve had my share of that from the days before I began publishing my books for sale.

I was one of those people who wrote fanfiction.

Yes, it’s nerdy, but it was a great way to cut my teeth when crafting a story I wanted to tell. I’ll admit that using another author’s set of characters made it a lot easier when I began writing because their personalities were already established.

Some of the stories I wrote back then received good reviews, but as a chapter-poster, when a bad review popped up, it was devastating. That first negative commentary on something I’d poured my heart into left me a crying, self-doubting mess.

The next day, I stepped back and reread the negative review to give it an objective perusal. After that, I decided there were three types of negative reviews.

The first type of negative review is the constructive one.

Sometimes, the reviewer pointed out some confusion on their part as they read the chapter. They weren’t mean spirited, thankfully. Those reviews prompted me to reread my work with more detachment to ensure I was telling a full story.

More times than I’d like to admit, the reviewer had a point. I’d taken for granted that my reader couldn’t read my mind to know what I was trying to convey, most of the time not offering enough detail on the page to flush it out.

For those reviewers, I will be eternally grateful.

They made me a better writer because I had to actually craft the story more thoroughly so I could take the reader on the trip with me, not just assume they knew the direction I was trying to lead them.

The second type of negative review is the proofreading one.

In my defense, when I was writing free fiction, I didn’t have a friend who was willing to edit my work for nothing. I was offering free stories for public consumption. Most people were kind when critiquing my less than perfect prose, but some pointed out mistakes along the way. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to those reviews. I should have because they were making a point as well.

It doesn’t matter if the story is free. If it’s poorly written, it isn’t worth the reader’s time. What’s the old adage, “Time is money?” I wanted something from my readers: a review.

They spent their time reading my offerings, and they deserved a better-written story if they were giving me their time.

When I began writing original fiction and decided to independently publish my stories, I quickly learned how critical it was to have an editor if I wanted to be a successful author. The problem? It’s an expensive proposition for a new writer to hire someone qualified to edit their work.

My attempts at self-editing were futile.

My eyes were the only ones on the story and after reading it numerous times, I became blind to the mistakes and the missing details that matter when offering a well-crafted tale.

I was able to find people who were willing to alpha and beta read for me and I’ll always be grateful that they were ready to commit their time to my projects, but none of us were professional editors. Eventually, I was able to contract with qualified editors, and I’ll be eternally grateful.

The third type of negative review is the narcissistic one.

They seem to delight in tearing down anyone who offers their imagination and ideas for entertainment. I don’t understand the motivation behind mean reviewers, but I know they exist.

I can’t understand why someone would commit their time to tear down another human in the way I’ve witnessed some do when it comes to another’s creative works. I’ve come to the conclusion that there must be some deep-seated need to make themselves feel better by trashing others.

The best way to handle those people is to ignore them.

I recently attended a conference and during the Q&A, the question was asked of an author panel, “How do you deal with bad reviews?”

One author took a second before answering, and I’m paraphrasing,

“I read the reviews until I get to the first negative one, and then I stop.”

I decided it was the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Don’t let one negative review dampen your desire to tell your story. It might be exactly what someone needs to read. Cheers!

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