Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reviews: 10 Tips to Surviving the Scrutiny

by Ellie Newmark, Author of The Sandalwood Tree
The Sandalwood Tree: A Novel
**Guest post is part of Ms. Newmarks blog tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotions**

Reviews: 10 Tips to Surviving the Scrutiny

1. Be prepared for people who just don't like your book. They don’t like the setting, the characters, the story, nothing. Zip. Nada. They won’t have a reason; they’ll just say they didn’t like it. Then there will be some who have a reason, and someone else with a different reason and a bunch more with other reasons. If they all have different reasons you can ignore them; if they all have the same reason, it would be worth your having a second look at what they’re saying. Then there are reasons that don’t even have anything to do with your book. The reviewer was in a bad mood; she just had a fight with her husband; her teenager is driving her to the brink; the car broke down, again; the mortgage payment will be late... And then there are all those people who are just plain nuts or just looking for something to criticize.

2. Be prepared for people who don't like your characters. We want our readers to like our characters so that they will care about what happens to them, but one person's darling is another person's pain in the ass. Luciano, the main character of the Chef's Apprentice was generally considered a sympathetic character. A Dickensian urchin trying to stay alive on the mean streets of Renaissance Venice. He catches a break from the chef and we all want to see him make the most of it, right? Wrong. One reviewer said quite plainly, "I didn't like Luciano." She didn't give any reason; she didn't have to. It's the chance you take when you let a total stranger read your book and give them permission to let the world know what they think. No one asks how this person is qualified to review books. The Internet has created a place for is a self-appointed reviewers and we are at their mercy.

3. Be prepared for people who don't like you. Some people have trouble separating the author from the work. Everything that comes out of my characters' mouths is assumed to be a reflection of my own belief system. If that were the case, I would simply write an autobiography, but it's not. It's a novel. I make these characters up. I make up the story as well as the things the characters do and what they believe and how they behave. But there will always be those who insist on finding autobiographical material where there is none.

4. Be prepared for people who will go out of their way to set you straight on some historical detail that the copy editor missed. Apparently, there are people out there who read historical novels just looking for mistakes. I can feel the excitement in their e-mails as they deliver the news that a Chinese doctor would not wear his hair in the way I describe at that period in history. It is particularly unpleasant when the tone they take is contempt for having uncovered such an important detail. To them I say, get a life.

5. Be prepared for people who will ask you why you have written a book AT them. Why, they ask, did I decide to mess with their most strongly held beliefs. Why am I questioning their values? Why, they ask, can't I write a book that confirms and validates what they already believe? Six thousands religions in the world, and they want to know why I am not in perfect lockstep with theirs. I'm not kidding. Be prepared for people who really think this is a reason for a bad book review.

6. Be prepared for groupies, hangers on, people who want to know you personally and will try to establish some common ground. Am I Italian? Oh, what a coincidence! They are also Italian. Do I like to cook? They do too! I prefer being a traveler to being a tourist? Oh, of course, them too. I'm right-handed? I'm a mother and a grandmother? I’m a brunette. The similarities keep on coming. I've been married for 30 years? Them too! I mean, what are the odds?

7. Be prepared for extravagant praise from people for whom you have touched a nerve. They, too, think you wrote the book AT them, but in a good way. These people found a legitimate commonality and they want to push it into a personal relationship. They want to be girlfriends. As flattering as this is (in a sick way) it just isn't advisable to start making friends with fans. I have few friends scattered around the world and it took a lifetime to establish the rapport I have with them. Enjoying my book does not qualify for friendship.

8. Be prepared for people who simply missed the point but go ahead and write a review anyway. They don't even know they missed the point so they have no problem with writing a review.

9. Be prepared for people who don't even finish reading the book before they write the review. I have one on Amazon in which the reviewer actually admits to not having liked the book well enough to finish so she abandoned it halfway through, and then she wrote a book review. Is it just me, or is that just wrong on oh so many levels?

10. Be prepared to be nice and polite to people who don't deserve it. There are people who cross the line that separates a civil book review or email in which the rules of polite society are observed, and the hysterical emoticon with red, sweaty skin and bug eyes that rotate in separate directions. Be prepared to meet them both and yes, you have to be polite to them too, no matter how whacked they are.
Thanks for the tips Elle!  I'm sure many aspiring authors will appreciate your feedback.  I'd love to hear comments from this post!  What do you think?  Are these tips helpful?  Have you experienced any of these?  Reviewers, how does this enlighten you in regards to the authors end of the author/reviewer relationship?


  1. This helps me when I have to write a bad review...I hate doing it, but Elle's tips showed me that it happens. I also like the tips that you gave about being constructive in criticism and not just mean.

  2. It was a pleasure to write the Ten Tips. All the anecdotes are true, as in, yes, that really happened—but my sarcasm made me forget to include the most important caution of all—Be Prepared for a rush of praise and gratitude from readers around the word.

    Meanwhile, I hope The Sandalwood Tree will provide you with hours of literary entertainment. This book is a work of love; a gift, from my heart to yours.

    with gratitude,
    Elle Newmark

  3. The fact of the matter is: Not everybody will like your book. I have come to accept this as both a writer and reviewer.


  4. Thanks Elle! @Chica Latina: I agree! One of the most important things to remember as an author is that you cannot control your audience. Writing is very personal. You have a story, characters and book that have become so much a part of you, yet when it is released it is release to all. You cannot be in every BN or monitor every internet site and choose who buys your book. The same goes for reviewers. While most choose to review a book that interest them in hopes they enjoy it, you cannot expect to love everything you read. It is best when writing a bad review to be honest but give positive and helpful feedback along with the negative. For authors it's best to go into it knowing that with the good reviews come the bad. Take it in stride, learn what you can and ignore the ones that are just angry or totally not someones style book. Mostly enjoy your success and writing...focus on the fans that also enjoy your work! Keep in mind those who didn't and have valid and helpful options. ( :


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