Writer's Life

The Unforeseen Impact of Book Reviews

Authors and book reviews, book reviews and authors—the never-ending entanglement of conflicting emotions, eliciting everything from exuberance, passion, and pleasure to sadness, fury, and sometimes humiliation. No author, no matter how well received, is safe from the biting sting of the disparaging critique.

“The unflattering reviews are painful for short periods of time; the badly written ones are deeply, deeply insulting. That reviewer took no time to really read the book.” Toni Morrison

The wide range of emotions generated by having your work and creativity publicly judged can make some authors cringe while others jump for joy.

“For me, one of the most challenging aspects of being a published author is reading reviews,” explains Romance/Sci-Fi author Kelly Jensen. “I want everyone to love my books as much as I do, and it can be heartbreaking when I come across a reader who didn’t. But every writer will realize (and sooner is much better than later) that not every book is for every reader—and not every reader is for every book.” Nevertheless, organic reviews have the indisputable power to boost a book’s visibility while generating sales and creating a buzz to excite larger audiences.

Crime/Mystery fiction author Evelyn Infante compares landing reviews to a carnival ride. “Hoping readers give an author a good review is like riding a roller coaster. When we get a wonderful one, we are elevated to the highest point of the track, but if we receive a bad or no review, we careen full speed to the bottom.”

While publishers and authors use rave reviews to help market content on author websites, social media, press releases, and book covers, an underlining fact remains: book reviews are undeniably written most for the reader. Sometimes, however, it takes a gentle but innovative prodding to encourage book lovers to share their thoughts and perspectives.

“You will find a review request at the end of all my books,” says Belinda Gordon, author of the Romance/Fantasy series, The King’s Jewel, and the Findale Fae Mysteries. “Reviews are the lifeblood for any author to get their book noticed and in the hands of more readers. So sure, in that way, they are good for the author, but reviews also serve potential future readers. This is one of the best ways for people to gauge if they will enjoy the book. In the end, that’s who I want to buy my books, readers who will enjoy the story.”

Readers who write introspective reviews also provide a critical assessment of the overall content of a story. Jensen concurs. “Thoughtful reviews, whether complimentary or critical, can be really helpful to authors. I’ve taken many tips from reviews written by readers who might not have loved my book but still took the time to point out what they liked and didn’t work for them without making me, the author, feel like I should never write another book.”

Other reviewers focus on highlighting the broad perspective of a novel, while others concentrate on how the story or characters made them feel. Some reviewers analyze a novel, dissecting the purpose of the content while contrasting and comparing this work to others read. Regardless of the reviewer’s approach, their shared viewpoints are equally relevant, as they are essential.

But what about that other book review—the one that inadvertently contains an insight into the author’s work or intent that the author purposefully included but didn’t know if anyone else would pick up on? — The underlying message the writer worked hard to include, eager for the meaning to seep through the layers of the story to grace the reader’s soul and resonate in the reader’s heart. Authors hold these analyses or criticisms close because they are the windows into how writers think, feel, and express themselves. These reviews are also what makes writers feel seen. And sometimes, if the writer is indeed fortunate, the reviewer will provide a vision of the work the author didn’t realize existed—an extraordinary gift.

“In my ‘literary’ novels, most of my characters connect strongly to music, usually classical music,” explains Mystery/Literary Author Susan Moore Jordan. “I’ve included passages in these books describing the music they either hear or perform and the feelings this music creates in the character. Some readers let me know I’ve succeeded: “… the music found its way into the story, and yet I found myself imagining it.” “Jordan’s ability to convey the subtleties of classical violin and piano, as well as contemporary guitar, is nothing short of masterful.”

As a reader, I have enjoyed many books during my lifetime that have been inspirational, thought-provoking, and transformational. I like nothing better than when an author’s message challenges me to grapple with truths, uncover new ideas, realize opposing viewpoints or long-held biases and face blatant falsehoods. Most of all, well-written, multi-layered stories have encouraged me to think beyond the superficial and assumed, stretching my critical thinking skills.

As a writer, however, I am forever humbled and appreciative when a reader graciously shares how my work has impacted this depth of reaction or when they tell me how my story has resonated in such a way as to trigger further thought or questions, providing direction, hope, clarity, and transparency to an otherwise perplexing issue. Travel/Mystery Author M. A Moore agrees. “A friend who is not a big reader of novels read one of my more recent endeavors just because it sounded interesting. She shared with me how she and her husband (who rarely reads) spent quality time talking about it, discussing several aspects of the plot. Many of my novels are historically based. Her insightful questions about some details made me feel as though I succeeded in my role as an author. Not only should my stories entertain, but they should also open the reader to new worlds of experience.”

The power of insightful book reviews is irrefutably vast, but a reader’s shared unexpected perceptions are what most authors cherish. There is a profound beauty in having your words understood and treasured, making the painstaking process of writing and publishing even more worthwhile.

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