In Praise of Negative Reviews

I love every review my stories get – the fact that they even get any at all is beyond amazing to me and due entirely to this whole ebook/ereader phenomenon of the past few years. I always repeat that before Smashwords, there were 10 people in the world who had read any of my nearly 60 long- and short- novels or hundreds of stories. Back then I would match the friend with the one or two stories I thought they might actually like, and kept them away from the others which I was sure they wouldn’t. Only my very best friend was subjected to reading nearly everything I wrote, as I gladly did the same for him. Of course I was always glad to hear what these people thought, but understood they would be kind and gracious and try not to hurt my precious feelings.

But the people out there in the world – they clearly don’t give a darn about those feelings, and I’m sure glad they don’t. They tell it like it is. Like it is for them! And every review tells me at least as much about the reader as it does about the story – usually more. For example, this recent one-star review of Macedonia on Amazon:

 Didn’t like the flow. June 6, 2012
I did not like the flow of this book. I felt like there was too much going back and forth. It did not keep me grounded.
You see? I had no idea that this person needed to be kept grounded! How inconsiderate. And the flow. Oh no! The flow!
It’s all right. It’s okay. I apologize. I would like to personally apologize to that reader and to the other who commented about the same book on the same day:
 Boring June 6, 2012
I left this book at about 15%. It was just not readable for me. It was like reading a complete nonsence. I was so bored I actualy fell asleep.
I would have told her “YES! YOU GOT IT! A COMPLETE NONSENCE[sp]!” That is part of what I was aiming for. It is an essential ingredient of everything I do. I write nonsense, or at least I try to. And at the same time I would have told this other reader, who wasn’t quite able to see that Humanoid Central was not meant to be taken as a realistic vision of how humans and androids might possibly one day interact (in a high school !!! where androids are sent to learn how to get along with humans !!!) in the future, but was instead meant to be understood as a joke, an absurdist fable, a satire precisely about people who take such things seriously, but I love his multi-paragraph review of how it was not quite plausible. He does say ” I know, I’m missing the point of the story”, but can’t quite get the notion that the author might just be full of shit and writing nonsense for the hell of it.
It’s true. I am.
All the negative reviews do tend to drag down the average ratings which are – surprise! – average, with most  people in the middle, and fewer on either extreme, but it’s all very entertaining, the negative reviews much more so than the positive ones.
It’s like this – the stories themselves are written – but now they’re getting echoes from the world out there, and each and every echo adds to the stories. In that sense, they never are complete.
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6 thoughts on “In Praise of Negative Reviews

  1. Funny post 😀 I don’t relish the thought of getting one star reviews – although I’m sure it’ll happen once I publish! Is it easy for you to tell the difference between honest reviewers and people who are just flaming? I imagine the flamers generally have poorer spelling…

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    • I guess I think that people who are just flaming have only enough imagination to say “that’s so lame” or “that’s so gay” like they do on YouTube. So far nearly all the negative reviews my books have received (especially on sites like Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble and iBookstore) have seemed sincere. I wish I could match up all my readers with a book they might enjoy (or at least steer them away from ones they wouldn’t) but it just doesn’t work that way out there in the wild. I don’t know them and they don’t know me, and if they’re expecting the usual kind of book, well … a lot of them are probably going to be disappointed. I don’t do “normal” much.

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    • Sure, that’s only natural. One thing that’s always reassuring for a writer is to take a look at the one star reviews written about book by super-famous authors. They all get ’em

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  2. I think after awhile we learn to roll with the punches. It kind of goes along with the territory. I get more rejections than bad reviews, probably because I send quite a bit of my work out and most of the work published just isn’t as memorable as it should be.

    Thank you Tom, for this post. We need to be reminded on occasion that he need to keep our sense of humor regardless of what others think.

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    • Thank you, too! I’m basically an old fool who enjoys laughing at his own jokes and thinks it’s funny when other people don’t get them. That’s pretty much what my stories are.

      I also spent a couple decades selling books, and learned a few things about vanity and shelf lives. Writers can be serious, but they’re better off not taking themselves too seriously.

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