Over the years I have read plenty of reviews left by readers. On Goodreads. On Amazon. On social media. On various websites. Some of them have been positive: “It’s the kind of story, the kind of author, which this reader can thoroughly recommend.” Others, far more sour: “Overall, I was not pleased.” Whether these reviews are just or warranted is not the question I am interested in tackling here. Rather, what I want to help answer is this: Should authors be reading reviews, good or bad, left by their readers?
Surely there is a pros and cons list that can be drawn here, because there are positives that authors can take from reading reviews, but there are certainly plenty of negatives as well.
Upfront, I should mention that book reviews can be particularly beneficial to authors. Reviews help promote books, make it more enticing for a bookstore to carry a book and help readers decide whether or not a book is really what they are looking for. Reviews typically give overviews of the plot as well as noting strengths or weaknesses of the book. They almost always include a recommendation as to whether the book is worth a reader’s time.
As I said, these book reviews can be very beneficial to authors (or detrimental). They can carry significant authority. But should authors read these book reviews of their own books?
Why Authors Should Read Reviews
Like any other profession, finding success as an author without the help of others is nearly impossible, despite writing being such a solitary craft. Editors and proofreaders help polish a piece of writing for publishing. Readers offer feedback about what works and what doesn’t, what engages and what bores.
With this point, we must differentiate between critics employed by major news outlets and the common reader. While some of the book reviews with the highest profile are from these paid critics, it can be beneficial for authors to read reviews from readers. These are the people who buy the books, the very reason we continue writing books. It’s important that their feedback, good and bad, continues to be heard. This feedback should be read in moderation, of course, but I would argue that writers falling out of touch with their readers can be entirely detrimental.
Why Authors Should NOT Read Reviews
By and large, the answer to the question “should authors read reviews of their books?” is a resounding no. As I mentioned previously, there are times where it can be okay for an author to read reviews, but this should be practiced in moderation. The vast majority of the time authors should not be reading reviews of their books. But why?
1. Unnecessary Distractions
Book reviews are much of the time simply unnecessary distractions to authors. They serve an important role for readers and publishers, but for authors they shift the focus from writing to falling into an emotional trap, whether happy or angry. As an author, your job is to write. Editors will edit. Marketers will promote your book. Publishers will sell it. Authors also have a very focused job. Do not let readers or critics divert your attention, particularly with negativity.
2. Always Going to be Bad Reviews
Let’s take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as an example. This book has more than 6.8 million reviews on Goodreads. The overwhelming majority are 4- and 5-star. However, there are still over 100,000 reviewers who gave it a 1-star rating. Do you think J.K. Rowling spends her time trying to appease those 1-star reviewers or instead focuses on the positive feedback from the other millions of fans?
People are not afraid to speak rudely on the internet (I know, shocking revelation, right?). So the reality is that bad reviews are unavoidable. You cannot please everyone. In fact, some people just live a contrarian lifestyle, purposefully rejecting whatever seems to gain popularity. For these people, do not allow their negativity to detract or distract from your work as a writer.
What if authors DO read a bad review?
At some point, all authors read a bad review of something they have written, whether purposefully or accidentally. My advice for those authors is to ignore them. Better said than done, right? You pore over your work, dedicating years to writing your books. When someone steps in and criticizes something so personal to you, it can be difficult to hear. I understand that. But that’s why it’s all the more important to ignore these bad reviews.
Never respond to bad reviews. Nothing good will come from that. Rather, spend your time listening to your fans and focusing on positivity. Change those negative reviews into positive reviews with the next book you write.