Criteria for Reviews

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First of all, happy holidays! I hope you guys enjoyed whatever holiday you celebrated!

Now, onto business.

I received this great review from Kelly Smith Reviews! It’s not a five star review, but it’s got great criticism that every author should consider when reviewing their first book. Every reader will have it. I do not care who they are. Your next door neighbor is going to have criticism about how you look, dress, the words you say, how you conduct yourself – the list goes on.

With this said, authors, please keep this in mind:

Readers who review your work do not hate you personally.

This is such a profound statement that needed to be italicized and pointed out, because new authors are crushed when they do not receive a perfect review.In fact, some give up when they receive one or two stars. Some do at three, and three is acceptable for a first book.

If you’re not in the five star club, it’s okay! That means they liked it enough or cared to leave you one, or wanted to tell you what needed to be addressed in your next novel.

However, because I’ve got some new indies on my Facebook and friend list, I felt the need to address what a good review should consist of. The last few months were demoralizing for some of my friends, since they were crushed to not receive instant five-star reviews.

Now, most of the time, people are told not to answer reviews. This is true. You do not answer reviews on Amazon and such. However, in this case, I’m aware of what I need to do for writing growth and I’m open to crit. I don’t take it personally as a person, because the circle of people I’m around have given me thick skin from the beginning. This is why I can do this and share as a learning experience for others.

And I’m not “answering a review”. I’m sharing what you should “look for in a review”. The things inside this review have already been discussed with several people, so these aren’t new problems for me to address in the next manuscript.

(Plus, this reviewer and I are on good terms with each other, so she’s already addressed several of these issues with me. She knows I’m not taking this personally and she’s already mentioned wanting to read number two.)

When you’re looking for a person to review, you want someone who’s honest, even if the review may not be “glowing” or “five stars”. Sometimes, you may even get a negative review, and I know people who can sell those like promo gold. But please, keep this in mind: If you get five stars on a first book, that means the book is almost perfect. (And, let’s be real here – on a first publication, it’s never usually perfect.) Somewhere along the line, you’re going to do something wrong. 🙂

While the review in question was a pretty good review, there was some legit criticism in my case, which involved dialogue. The reason I say it this way is because several people pointed out the same issue in a different context, but it lead to the same character after four different people looked at it. Therefore, it’s a valid point.

In my next manuscript, I’ve taken precautions to make her a little more grounded, such as different word usage, keeping her more to her roots, maintaining core parts of personality and her intellect.

Now, another issue occurred that ever new writer suffers from: crutch phrases. And, again, valid point. 🙂 She is not the first to point this out – no one is more anal about this than my beta read. I swear, if I let her edit this before the editor, she’d annihilate every instance of BUT inside this manuscript.

However, these are things new writers take so personally that they instantly give up and throw in the towel. You cannot do this if you’re going to write. Writers cannot catch everything and if this is your first book, YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES. That’s how life works. We did not learn to ride bicycles our first time, or cook our favorite meals perfectly. The same goes for writing a novel. It takes a few tries.

Now, why am I happy over a review that I consider four stars? Because for me, publishing the book was the greatest success of the year. Four stars is great for a first book. Here is the rating system for books past two stars:

Generally, three stars means the person liked it, but it wasn’t spectacular and you have some stuff to work on. It could be sentence structure, setting, timing and plot issues, or characterization. It could be well structured, but some loose ends came up that made people lost, or a character was out in left field and a reader isn’t sure why they exist.

Four stars means it was great, they liked it, but there was something quirky about it that kept them from rating it a five. It could be something small, as shown in this review, or a character that someone just can’t get over (I’ve had books like this myself). Or, it could be something smaller, like the book was great, till they killed off someone you liked or for no freaking reason at all other than “just because”. Something like that.

A five star rating is where they will probably spread it to their friends, their family, their dog, mother, social media, and become your biggest fan. If you get those, that will make your day. However, those are hard to earn, and you should not expect these on every review you see.

Realistically, you should expect somewhere between a 3.5 to 4.5 on your first book if you did it right. Expect some criticism. Take it as you will. If it’s something you’ve heard a bit of feedback on, perhaps work on it in your next manuscript. No one is perfect on their first book, no matter how many times you edit the stupid thing. Going back and re-editing the first book will not make it perfect (unless you really need to, which…you’ll be doing it for a long, long time.)

Unless you’re getting a ton of one or two star reviews, take the reviews as you will. If you’re getting 3 or higher on your first book. be humble, jump up and down with glee, do whatever it is you do when you’re excited someone loved your book. (Evidently, I’m told I’m like a zooming kitty when I read a good review according to M, so I guess that’s okay?)

But honestly? Let the reviews grow, and work on your next thing. You’ll get better with time, but you won’t know how to grow if you don’t let people review the work you did before. Stop correcting, let people enjoy and take the honest crit without taking it personally. 🙂

And, if you feel the need to ask them more details, don’t do it publicly. Send them a message, PM or email. It goes much smoother, especially if they’re reading your ARC or are a beta reader.

(They won’t bite you, even if you write something they disagree with you on, I promise. If that were the case, I imagine my poor editor would have tossed me to the fishes by now.)

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