When I sent my first book out to the reading public in 1984, there was no Internet. Most offices didn’t even have computers. (Shocking to realize that wasn’t so very long ago!) There were very few periodicals or newspapers where books were reviewed, and mass market romances were seldom selected for those publications. There were only two where most romance novels could hope to be reviewed; Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur.
Back then, there were also only two ways to hear back from readers about a book. One was to meet them in public, most often at a book signing. The other was fan mail. You know, hand written notes that arrived in the mailbox.
I remember what it felt like when I got a fan letter for my first book. I earned about 17 cents for every copy of that book that was sold. But when I got that fan letter, I went to the bookstore and paid a dollar for a special bookmark to send to that reader. Obviously, I couldn’t continue to spend over four times my earnings just because a reader said she liked my book. LOL!
Today, there still are a very limited number of publications where a book might receive a professional review, especially when you consider there are 15 million books for sale on Amazon alone!! But because of the Internet and social media, the opinions of readers have taken on an even greater importance. Reader reviews on Amazon, BN, CBD, and Goodreads have become a large percentage of today’s “word of mouth.” And positive word of mouth for a book is very important to the author.
Reviews from readers can be wonderful. They can lift a writer’s spirits and encourage her creativity. Reviews from readers can also send a writer into the pit of despair. And I doubt there is any writer who wouldn’t agree that it’s the negative reviews we tend to remember most.
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In our society today—and especially when it can be done anonymously—some people seem to go out of their way to be cruel. Sometimes they don’t just criticize the book; they take personal potshots at the author of the book. I’m sure it is a sad commentary on modern day Western culture. I’m also sure psychologists and psychiatrists would be able to expound on said commentary for hours.
Recently I stumbled on something that actually made me shake my head rather than despair over a few one-star ratings of A Promise Kept on a social media site. This novel has generated some of the best reviews of my career, and because of the personal nature of the story, I have followed reader reactions closer than I usually do. So when a few one-star ratings showed up (no reviews, just ratings) after the book had been out a couple of weeks or so, I decided to see for myself what books these readers both liked and what books they also hated.
- One man had rated over 1900 books, all of them added on the same day and all but 5 of them receiving only one star. Now, how seriously can I take that?
- One reader gave one-star ratings to pretty much any Christian book she’d supposedly read, including anything by Beth Moore, anything by Billy Graham, the King James Bible, and one of my all time favorite novels, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Hey, if my book is ranked the same as those books, then I think I’ll just take it as a compliment. Thank you very much.
- And two more had given one-star ratings to over 90-95% of the books they’d read. Which made me think I would quit reading if I hated almost every book I opened. Seriously. There are other things I could do with my time that would bring me pleasure. If reading just made me miserable, I’d quit.
An author cannot expect every reader to love her book. It may be that the very word “divorce” in a back cover blurb can generate such a negative reaction that a reader will give it one star without ever reading it. Maybe her husband left her. Maybe her daughter was traumatized by divorce. Every reader brings their own past experiences into their reading. An author never can tell how someone will react to the words she writes. A book that is thought brilliant by one reader for one particular reason may be detested for the very same reason by another. You just never can tell.
Whether or not an author reads reviews, I’m sure most would tell you how very much they appreciate it when a reader takes a moment to leave a rating and/or a review. So, thank an author today. Especially let others know when you have enjoyed a book because, as stated above, there are 15 million other books listed along with that book on Amazon and other sites.
And may all the books you read this year be a blessing to you!