The Perils and Wonders of Reader Reviews

In the indie author forums, authors talk about good and bad reader reviews, and new authors often ask about how to respond to the bad ones.

There’s a universal answer: Authors don’t reply to reviews, no matter what the reviewer says. You don’t offer explainers; you don’t try to set things straight.

For example, I recently saw a review from a reader who didn’t catch a basic plot device in Gunners, that the nature of Rand’s peculiar connections to others is that he can sometimes see briefly from the perspective of a different person in a different time.

I suspect the reader flipped through the first chapter and wasn't really reading. And as with many books, if you skim over the setup and miss what’s going on, the story won’t make sense. I wanted to reach out: “But wait. Rand is not doing random things. Read the first part of the book.” But the review is what it is; authors don’t post comments to reviews.

That said, authors do ask for reviews (repeatedly, in spite of the bad ones), because:

Reviews are good. Even bad reviews like that one are good. Each represents a reader making an effort, and that’s all any author can expect.

Even a short review is good. Details are valuable, but “I enjoyed this book” is much, much better than silence. Any author should be happy with that.

People want different things. I like stories that involve characters with dimension and a plot that’s fast and fun, but also interesting. And so I write a kind of complex story, and pay a lot of attention to character. Some readers want something to sort-of read while doing something else—which is perfectly okay, and there’s plenty to pick from—but that’s not what I write.

There are diamonds. Occasionally an author will stumble upon that gem of a reader who will take the time to respond directly, or who will sign up to be an early reader of the next book.

Gunners cover