Reader reviews–How much do they really matter? Perhaps you’re like me, and you don’t buy anything online without first taking a peek at what customers have to say about the product. Maybe you’re my polar opposite, and if something online looks good to you, you go for it. You couldn’t care less what anybody else thinks of the item. It would be interesting to compare product satisfaction levels–and number of returns–with and without having taken a look at reviews before making the purchase.
A Different Use for Reader Reviews
As a writer, I read reviews all the time. Not just people’s reviews of books I’ve authored, though those are generally very helpful and beneficial. And not just reviews of books I’m considering buying and reading.
I particularly like to read the reviews of other books in the genre I’m currently writing in. Reviews often tell me what readers like or don’t like in their Westerns or thrillers, and that’s tremendously valuable to me. I believe what I glean from reader reviews has the potential to help make me a better writer.
From reviews, I can pick up on stylistic features, character types, plotting techniques, and a host of additional factors that transform a book from so-so to spellbinding. I can also discover faux pas that can sink an otherwise good story. Knowing both sides of the coin is priceless to anyone trying to improve the quality of what they write.
Reader Reviews and the Inner Muse
You may ask, “Hey, if all you’re trying to do is give readers what they want, doesn’t that smother any creativity or uniqueness you might otherwise have to offer?” And I’d answer, “Sure, if all I ever did was try to cater to this reader’s crowing and that reader’s whining.” But then I might flip the question on you: “Isn’t commercial or popular fiction largely about having an enjoyable and entertaining reading experience?”
So what I do is write the story first. The little muse inside is by no means prematurely asphyxiated. But as I’m editing, I try to avoid those things that are a turn-off to the majority of readers–according to what readers themselves have stated in their reviews. And I’m on the lookout for those things in the story that I can capitalize on, knowing that such elements typically delight the reading public.
Like many other writers, I can’t be bothered by the stand-alone criticism of that lone voice who says a certain book was the worst thing he ever read. Not when dozens of other readers praised it as thoroughly entertaining. So that old adage still stands–you can’t please everyone. No writer should try to please everyone. Just as some folks don’t like peach ice cream, some people simply won’t like your kind of book. And that’s fine. There are lots of books to choose from (understatement of the century).
I’m sure there are many other useful reasons for studying reader reviews. Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter using the comments box below.