Getting and Giving Reviews

I got a review for my contemporary romance, The Widow:

what a wonderful story! i’m not normally into contemporary stories or “internal” stories (ones that deal with emotions and thoughts). i blush to admit that if something’s not exploding every five minutes or if there’s no dragons/spaceships/time travel/etc, i just can’t hold my focus.

but this story kept my attention through to the end.

one quibble: normally i truly appreciate things to be kept down to the need-to-know. by that, i mean i get impatient with the type of writing that goes on and on and ON and after fifteen minutes’ reading, the character has managed to get in the door and take off his coat. in the case of The Widow, however, it’s a bit *too* spare. i can see her as the 1920s model – but only as a faceless mannequin. same with the other characters – i cannot visualize them. not sure what’s missing, but something is.

the other thing is that the last bit, describing how his art finally takes off, is rushed. there was no hint that their relationship was evolving – i’d gotten the impression they’d parted ways. perhaps a mention of, for example, “she clapped wildly as he was presented with [something or other]” or “after yet another wildly successful gallery show, they collapsed onto yet another hotel bed” or whatever.

i think otherwise it was wonderfully done – the line about being stuck in a moment is fantastic and really encapsulates the book, like she’s trapped in a bubble that finally goes “pop!”

I’m really pleased, because I must confess that no one read this story before I published it. Normally I consider that a cardinal sin, but I don’t actually know a lot of people (none, really) who like contemporary romance. In fact, I never read contemporary romance and this is the first such story I’ve ever written.

Then why did I write it? Because it was there. I used my tarot-plot cards, laid out a plot, and instantly came up with the story. So, given that it was all a big experiment–from using the tarot-plot cards for the first time, to writing contemporary romance, to publishing something without first getting feedback off the record–I’m pleased that it did so well.

The reviewer makes some valid points–and I may redo the ending (ah, the benefits of an e-book!)–but overall, it seems to be a win. (And if Ms. Hare is reading this, be sure to get my debut novel, Acceptance, which is coming out in October; there are vampires and a very large body count. I think you’ll get your fill of action.)

The more I read about marketing, the more conscious I am of providing reviews/feedback when I read, because that’s so important both to help the author sell a book and–when the book sucks–to help them improve it and/or the next one.

But question for the other author/reviewers out there: I know people can feel guilty about giving a bad review to something you’ve been asked to review (been there, done that), but do you ever feel paranoid that an angry author will come back and give you a bad review just out of revenge? Is it something that makes you hesitate to leave a review? Do you hold back comments that you wouldn’t hold back if you were just a reader (and not also a writer)?

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3 comments on “Getting and Giving Reviews

  1. I hate to admit it, but I’ve always been a reader who never went back to Amazon (or anywhere) to leave a review. Now that I’m writing books, and I realize how important reviews are, I’m rethinking this behavior. I recently left a review on Goodreads for a couple of books I enjoyed. But I haven’t been asked to review a book that would encompass more than a simple comment as to why I enjoyed it or not. My experience doesn’t qualify me for more than that – at least not yet. 🙂 … Congratulations on your nice review!

  2. Wallace says:

    I do make reviews of products. Mostly on Amazon.com for things I buy there, but also on my FB and blog page for things that strike my fancy. I read you short story and left a review for it on Amazon. I feel sure that I didn’t say anything I wouldn’t say to your face, or behind your back. If I like or dislike something, I’m usually not shy about saying so. I might say it in a roundabout fashion if I want to spare someone’s feelings ( imagine damning with faint praise ) but I’m not going to say I liked something I really didn’t just to be polite. As the adage goes: If you can’t say anything nice, then say nothing at all.

    I’m not sure most book reviewers take that adage to heart. Since they’re paid to review books, they have to say something, so if they don’t like it, they can let their wit and cleverness unleash itself on some poor unsuspecting first author’s maiden book. Even if they don’t want to be mean, a bad review in the politest way will still crush the spirit of the person who thought their ghost story was the second coming of E A Poe.

    In all fairness, I did start to read your Romance story, and it did start out well. It’s just that I have no interest in Romance stories and, after I put it down after reading a little, I just never picked it back up again. And if I don’t read all of it, I’m not going to write a review of it.

    I’m glad you liked the review you got from the lady. It did start out very well, she thought it was wonderful, and you can’t get much better praise than that. Of course, it did have that: it’s wonderful, but… quality to it. She might have a point about the character description being “spare”, but that was not my impression from your short story, and I would think you’d be even more descriptive on a novella rather than less.

    I’m not sure whether she was referring to their physical descriptions or their character descriptions as being spare, but you might go over the text again and see if you thoroughly described the characters look and clothing and mannerisms. If you have, then it must be their personalities she’s referring to. I have no idea how you could fix that without extensive rewriting since a Romance is, essentially, just a big essay on personalities and how they mesh and conflict.

    That may also be what she was referring to when she didn’t know how the relationship ended or evolved. If she didn’t see how the relationship was evolving and changing, then either she read the story too fast or it just wasn’t plain enough. Sometimes you just have to hit the reader over the head with a plot club for them to notice something.

    And as to the ending being rushed, that does sometimes happen once the story is told. Most stories build and build to the dénouement, but after that everything usually unfolds quickly. After all, it’s like sitting around the movie house watching the credits after the movie is over. You might learn something new, but almost never anything interesting or relevant to the story that just ended. If you’ve seen the Maltese Falcon, once the secret of the bird is discovered, everybody just ups and leaves. Most stories are like that since Happily Ever After is a lot easier than going into Cinderella and Prince Charming’s next 20 years of married life.

    Overall, tho, I thought her review was generally positive and, of the critiques she made, I don’t know whether they were valid or not.

    One point tho, if the novella is finished and published and copies have been sold, how do you go about revising the story and changing the ending? Not the actual physical act, I know how you do that, but the, shall we say, moral act of rewriting and changing a story already published. I don’t know how many copies you’ve sold, but what happens to those customers who have already bought and enjoyed your story? Do you give them a new free copy since they’ve already paid for it? Do you just call the story Version 2.0 and leave it at that? Do you keep rewriting it over and over every time a reviewer points out something they didn’t like or understand?

    As an example that is far outside the realm of your novella, but still pertinent to my point, is the rewriting of the end of Blade Runner. I liked the narrative voice over and the happy ending, I hated the removal of the voice over and the new ending. What happens to your readers if you do something similar to your story? Will they simply not buy your stuff anymore if they think you are going to continuously tinker with it, or will they put off buying it till they are sure you’ve stopped changing it?

    I would think, for better or worse, once you’ve put the story up for sale and people have bought it, all the changes should end. Maybe some typos or punctuation corrections, but nothing else. Once you’ve sent it out into the world, let it stand or fall on its own merits. You liked it as it was when you sold it, they can either learn to like it too or just go find something else to buy.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I think she meant that my characters were not described physically. I did mention Danny’s looks once and Carol’s very briefly, but it’s not something I spent much time on. I haven’t decided if I need to go back and do that, though. One thing I don’t like about romance novels is the constant repetition of physical attributes.

      He looked at her with icy blue eyes. She felt her heart still in her ample bosom. He smiled his white, perfect smile. “What would you like me to do?” he whispered in a seductive voice. “Whatever you want,” she replied in breathless anticipation.

      See, that sort of thing makes me laugh. But it’s possible that I went too far the other way in protest, and that I do need to lightly scatter some more physical descriptions in the story. I will readily admit that I am very heavy on the dialog in everything I do; it’s quite possible that I have neglected the description too much.

      The story actually ends–stylistically–the same way that The Last Golden Dragon ended. You have the true end of the story, then you have a sort of summary of what happens after that, just so you can see that yes, things did end happily ever after. While I doubt I will change that, I could rewrite it so that it flows a little more smoothly and you see a bit more of the evolution of Danny and Carol’s relationship.

      Smashwords makes revising your work easy. When you upload a new version, it asks you if it’s a new edition/serious revision (as opposed to uploading formatting or typo corrections). As I understand it, if you tell Smashwords that yes, it is a significant revision, they will e-mail everyone who bought a copy and let them know that a new version is available. They can then go online and download the new copy for free.

      Amazon doesn’t work that way, but when I upload a new version, it will override everything before, so if you went onto Amazon and downloaded it again (you can do that from your purchase list; you don’t pay a second time), it should download the most current thing.

      I wouldn’t really worry about people not getting the newest version because the story won’t actually be changing; it will still end the same way: Carol and Danny together; I’ll only be changing how I show that ending.

      If I was going to do a major change–a major rewrite–I would probably unpublish it all together, do the rewrite, and then start over with a new title. But hopefully I will never have to do that; hopefully all of my work will be fundamentally sound and only need some minor sprucing up or tweaking, at most. Like I said, normally I have other people read my stuff first and give me feedback, so all of this usually gets worked out on the front end. But I don’t know anyone who really likes romance. I mean, I normally wouldn’t even read a story like this. It was quite unexpected!

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