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Negative Reviews = Great News!

The fundraiser for rape crisis centers has raised more than $1000 as of 9:30 this morning.  Y’all are wonderful!!!  To celebrate, I’m adding an autographed copy of Heroes in Training [Mysterious Galaxy | B&N | Amazon] to the prize giveaway.  Thank you all!


Over the past few weeks, Google Alerts brought word of a number of new reviews of my books.  At least half were wonderfully positive (thank you!), but some of them were … less flattering.

This is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong — I’d much rather see more reviews describing the books as the best books ever.  I’d be lying if I said the negative reviews didn’t sting.  However, there’s no such thing as a book that appeals to everyone.  If you expect absolutely everyone to love your writing, you’re gonna be mighty disappointed.

“Wait a minute,” you protest.  “That’s probably true, but just because you know it’s pretty much inevitable that someone’s going to trash your book doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”

Excellent point, imaginary reader.  Let me explain where I’m coming from by describing a random author who recently spammed a discussion group I was reading.  He was advertising his book, and included the line “Only 5-star reviews on Amazon!” as a selling point.

I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but I clicked over to the book’s listing anyway.  Call it morbid curiosity.  His claim was absolutely correct.  He had a handful of 5-star reviews, all praising this book to the Heavens.

The thing is, almost any book is going to get a few good reviews.  At the very first signing for my very first book, my friends and family were there to support me.  They bought copies, and some of them (not all, sadly) even read the book.  Those that hated it, well, I’m someone they know — they’re unlikely to trash me online.  Meaning the only reviews from that group are probably going to be positive.

Call them first circle readers.  It’s great to get those positive reviews, but I don’t give them much weight.

These days, I also have what I’ll call second circle readers — people who’ve read my stuff and are loyal to me as an author.  They already know they like my style, and are therefore fairly likely to enjoy my new books and post positive reviews.

Then there’s the outer circle.  Readers who don’t know my fiction.  Sadly, this is the biggest circle for most of us.  Here’s where things get risky.  Some of them will love it, and some won’t.  Statistically speaking, this is where most of the negative reviews are usually going to come from.

The fact that more reviews are cropping up for my books, and that these reviews are a mix of both positive and negative, suggests to me that I’m reaching that outer circle.  New readers are picking up my stuff and giving it a try, and that is a very good thing.

(That said, if those of you who like my books want to run out and post 5-star reviews all over the web, I certainly won’t object!)

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC)
I have noticed your increasing popularity at our local Barnes and Noble. Both of your current princess books are well-stocked. There's some anecdotal evidence you're getting to that third circle of readers.

You're right. We can't please everyone. We can, however, please those erudite people who choose quantity of fiction over what the rest of the masses are reading. *sniff*

Wait. Sorry. Been hangin' out in the break room with some of the snobby professors. Gotta go clear the palette.

Apr. 9th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
B&N seems to like the princesses more than they did the goblins. They've ordered more, and my agent tells me they've modeled both the books, at least in some of the stores. (Meaning the computers automatically keep X number of copies in stock -- if someone buys the book, it triggers an order to replace that copy.) Of course, that X number is probably 1 in most cases, but still ... I'll take it!

Erudite. Um. You do remember my second book opened with a nose-picking injury, right? ;-)
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Apr. 9th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 9th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
"Sadly, this is the biggest circle for most of us."

Don't you want it to be? It proves you have a wider readership.
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
To clarify, I meant the biggest circle is the circle of people who don't know who I am, haven't read my books, and so on. In a perfect world, this would be a minuscule circle ... more of a dot, really ... because *everyone* would be buying and reading my books!!! :-)
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
*g* You picked a good week for that subject. L's book is finally hitting the third circle with some interesting results.
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
Is this the Amazon review nastiness that seems to be directed at a particular contributor, or something else?
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Apr. 9th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 9th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rarelylynne - Apr. 9th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
In a way it's great news, yeah!
Big congrats on reaching the third circle and getting review.
I don't tend to review what I don't like, but that's personal, really.
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I wrote this as much to remind myself as anything. It's too easy to get stuck on the depressing "Someone doesn't like my book," and forget the flip side, that the book is continuing to reach new readers.
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
I love it when the reviews aren't all "this book will give you a spontaneous orgasm and buy you a kitten." Over-inflated expectations are dangerous.
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
Wait, books can buy kittens? I could totally use some kittens. Do they clean out the litter box too?
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 9th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ardentdelirium - Apr. 9th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - finnyb - Apr. 10th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
I've been seeing your books at the local B&N in what I call "customer-facing layouts", where the covers rather than the spines are pointed at the shoppers. "Red Hood's Revenge" has a cover that lends itself very naturally to that sort of thing, shall we say.

Negative reviews are interesting because they also give you an idea of what kinds of readers like your material that much more. I've had a lot of positive feedback about my work, and most of the people who buy it new -- who join the inner circle, as it were -- come in on word of mouth recommendations.

The people so far who don't seem to like any of it are largely from the fantasy-romance contingent. I had one reader check out my book Summerworld, maybe because someone else had coined the term "existential Miyazaki movie" to describe it and she'd liked what she'd seen of Miyazaki. What surprised me was when she told me she'd gotten two-thirds of the way through and gotten bored.

I was more than a little surprised by this, because I'd like to think that if I'm committing any one writerly sin, boredom isn't it. But there you have it: the things I found interesting, she found boring, and I had to simply accept that with good grace and find out how to reach the people who were that much more inclined to be reached.
Apr. 9th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
Face-out books are a very good thing :-)

It's strange to realize that the exact same thing that some readers love will be a turn-off to others. Humor, characterization, plot ... I can point to reviews of the exact same book both praising and condemning 'em.

Definitely surprising, but I've found it helps me learn to distinguish between "The book wasn't to someone's taste" and "Maybe I did screw something up in the story." (I've had the latter pointed out in reviews on occasion as well.)
Apr. 9th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I think that's a healthy attitude to have regarding reviews. The only time I think negative reviews are bad is when they really have nothing to do with the novel. I've seen people try to use the Amazon reviews as protests against pricing policy for ebooks, and sometimes people try to make political or ideological points with 1 star reviews, things that aren't about the book itself, but about the author or other circumstances. That kind of thing frustrates me to see.
Apr. 9th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
The only time I think negative reviews are bad is when they really have nothing to do with the novel.

Exactly! I have two one-star reviews on Amazon.uk berating Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter for being the US edition of a book the reviewer had already bought in its UK edition (which has a different cover and title). I mean, I feel sad that the reviewers mistakenly bought the same book twice, but... it's not the BOOK's fault, surely?

Also frustrating are the reviews where the person has clearly misunderstood the star rating system, and gives it a glowing, praise-to-the-skies review... with one star. Um?

But I like and admire Jim's attitude about what negative reviews really mean. I will have to keep that in mind in future.
(no subject) - temporus - Apr. 9th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 9th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Yesterday at my day job, a co-worker read two- and one-star reviews of my book aloud to me. I made jokes about them and laughed. A woman sitting nearby was a little amazed that I wasn't bothered by this.

I explained that it was fine for him to read reviews other people had written, but if he'd been sitting there telling my that he thought my book was lame and a Lovecraft ripoff (or whatever) I'd have told him to go fuck himself.

And we all laughed.

Because yeah, that outer circle is vital. It's good covers and "I keep hearing good things about this author" and "Dude, you gotta try this book!" Those negative reviews show the readers who were not good targets for your work, but as long as you're getting a few of those, you know you're also getting people moving into the second circle.
Apr. 9th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
Whatever the actual verdict, at least your book made enough of an impression for them to post a review, right?
Apr. 10th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
Jim--you're still ahead of me with the first circle; I've been BEGGING my family and pals to put up reviews of my (NF) books for years. They've read them, they love them...they just never bother to go put up reviews. Sigh.

And I've gotten a few not so great reviews over the years. The first one upset me (especially because the reviewer literally picked three TRIVIAL isses, including arguing of a word choice, and used those to condemn the whole book). I've grown a tougher skin since then.

And I sometimes find that the rare really dumb bad review has a tendancy to make people go check out the book out of spite :-) Works for me.
Apr. 10th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Given the old adage about 90% of the books being bought by 10% of the people, even the royalty of authors among us have pretty big outer circles. Sure, everyone has heard of them, but I would not say even today that the majority of people have read King or Rowling or even Meyer.
Apr. 12th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
When I see books with all 5-star reviews, my usual first reaction is to think that the author has a bunch of shills who are voting down anything that's less than 5 stars -- this is apparently a very common tactic with snake-oil salesmen of all varieties. A book with a range of reviews means they're more likely to be genuine.

Also, a negative review can be just as useful for me-the-potential-reader as a positive one, if the reviewer provides hard information about why they didn't like the book. It may be that what they see as a negative is something that I'll see as a positive.
Apr. 13th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Or not even shills. I've occasionally come across authors who simply set up multiple Amazon accounts so they can write their own reviews and vote for them as helpful.

Often, it's pretty obvious that the reviews were all written by the same person. Instead of making me want to read the book, I just end up feeling pity for the author.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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