Orsayor:Thank You Lutisha for agreeing to go One on One with me. As a Book Reviewer, I hear an array of opinions from different authors concerning book reviews. There are some authors that praise readers when they receive a 5-Star review, but once they receive a 3 Star or below .. they have a hissy fit about the reviewer not being qualified. My question to you is... Should an author ever respond negatively to a book review?
Lutisha Lovely: Great question, Orsayor, and I do have an opinion. But maybe I should give a little background first. I don’t remember my first great review, but I definitely recall my first bad one: two stars for the funny, dramatic, and amazingly written (yes, my words!) novel Love Like Hallelujah, the second book in the Hallelujah Love series. I was so proud of the hard work I’d put into the sequel to Sex In The Sanctuary, and knew that I’d hit gold on all levels: drama, humor, and storyline flow and character development.
So when this reviewer for a major literary magazine trashed my novel as something readers should pass on…I was livid. So much so that I googled the name, found a contact email address, and asked the reviewer to explain why they’d given this book—a work that has maintained a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Amazon for the past five years—such a bad rap. I didn’t get a response then but as fate would have it, years later, I met this reviewer and was able to ask the question face to face. The reason given was that they’d been asked to review the book as Christian Fiction (it obviously isn’t) and that was the reason for the low score. Yeah. Whatever.
So what exactly is a book review and how important is it for the author? Wikipedia defines a book review as: a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit…an opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review. It is often carried out in periodicals, as school work, or on the internet. Reviews are also often published in magazines and newspapers.
Its length may vary from a single paragraph to a substantial essay. Such a review often contains evaluations of the book on the basis of personal taste. Reviewers, in literary periodicals, often use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction…some book reviews resemble simple plot summaries. That’s what Wikipedia says. But what is my simplest definition of a book review? OPO, baby. Other people’s opinion.
This isn’t to say that reviews aren’t important. An excellent or starred review in trade publications such as Publishers Weekly and RT Book Reviews can directly impact an author’s sales. Libraries, independent booksellers and others often refer to these “bibles of the industry” to make inventory choices. Likewise, respected online review sites such as Urban Book Reviews, Rawsistaz and APOOO can at the very least spark a higher level of interest in an author’s work based on praise given to the novel’s overall appeal.
Reader reviews are on a level separate from industry reviews and, I believe, are viewed more so as an opinion based on that reader’s particular point of view, literary acumen and personal taste. As an author, keeping this fact first and foremost is one of the best ways to navigate this sometimes tricky minefield. I’ve read reader reviews that were informative, constructive and absolutely on point. I’ve also read reviews that are intentionally (or perhaps unintentionally) spiteful, hateful, and unmindful of the fact that authors are real humans who bleed red. I’ve been the subject of both types of reviews and while I’ve toughened my skin and now balance the glowing reviews with those that are demeaning, I’m still not happy when my hard work is slammed.
Finally, a bad review doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad book.
A perfect example of this in my body of work is the controversial contemporary fiction: Reverend Feelgood. While I love all of my babies and at one time or another they are all my favorite…I consider this novel to be an example of some of my best work. Still, it received several scores of one on a scale of one to five. However, the primary reason given for the low score had nothing to do with the writing, storyline, character development or any other technical aspect. The ones were given by people who were offended at the actions of the main character, who believed that the story was too unrealistic (even though it’s partly inspired by true events) and/or felt the subject matter was a slam to the Christian community.
In these instances, I’m more than happy to accept the low score. That I emotionally moved a person to act is proof enough of a job well done.
So at the end of the day, how to I feel about reviews, and should authors respond to a negative one?
My former actions aside, no, I don’t believe an author has any need to respond to a negative review. Why give it the energy that I did all those years ago, energy that would have been better served thanking someone who enjoyed my work. I feel reviews are necessary, but that they should be taken with a grain of salt and never taken personally. I’ve grown a lot since blasting the reviewer for their opinion of Love Like Hallelujah. And, for the record, this person and I are now friends in the biz. Proof positive that other people’s opinions are just that…their opinion. Everybody has one.
Our job as authors is to write the best possible story that we can, stand behind our work, and let the chips—and reviews—fall where they may.
Lutishia Lovely is the award-winning, best-selling author of the Hallelujah Love series and The Business trilogy. Her next novel, Divine Intervention, drops in September. Visit her online at www.LutishiaLovely.com.
Should an author ever respond negatively to a book review?