More thoughts on the value of negative reviews

As usual, I had a lot of random thoughts in my head that I had planned to blog until they flew away the minute I sat down and started to type. I had also started to write a post about parallel stories, and how the very similar tales of Drew and Jeff (Closer than Brothers, Call it Forever) and Wake and Cody (Indian Summer, A Family Christmas for Wake and Cody, End of Summer) were influenced by age and geography and privilege and general life experiences.

That’s probably still a post worth writing, but I really don’t have my thoughts organized on the subject, so it’s not going to be now.

I’m often reluctant to call attention to negative reviews, because I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining about their existence. They sometimes sting, but they are part of the territory of a professional writer, and grown-up professionals regard negative reviews as someone else’s valid opinion. Even if it’s a DNF, or seems to be about another book entirely. Or if the reader completely missed the point you were trying to make, or never seems to read anything that they like enough to give it more than two stars.

Not only are negative reviews completely legitimate free speech,  even if the review is scathing, sometimes you get a valuable take-away from it. Possibly particularly if the review is scathing, because then you are looking at someone else’s unvarnished truth. They are not trying to be diplomatic, and they are definitely not telling you what you want to hear.

And yes, they may be turning some readers off.

Sometimes though, a really good negative review, by which I mean a scorched earth, take-no-prisoners breakdown of exactly what that reader didn’t like, quoting chapter and verse, can influence readers to pick up your book.

Because their curiosity has been piqued. Two gay men and a lesbian in bed? Really? How does that work?

Or those readers are wondering just how bad the story really can be. Or why some people love it and some people hate it. Or they notice that the reviewer used the word “free” and they’ll download almost any freebie that catches their eye. Or something that was a big issue for the reviewer is something they love to read about. Or who knows what.

I don’t quite subscribe to the idea that any publicity is good publicity, but reviews can be pretty darn close to that. Even if they sting. Even if the reviewer perceives something you didn’t intend, and you then beat yourself up over whether it’s really coming out that way. Even if you wonder about the wisdom of having freebies available, because they always review lower on average than the ones you charge six bucks for (and not, I think because people don’t value what they get for free, but because only someone who really wants to read the book will shell out the six dollars, and plenty of people will download any freebie that might have gay sex in it).

I’m not linking to a particular review, because I can see the potential for mischief and misinterpretation (and while I did have a specific one in mind when I wrote this, it certainly wasn’t the only one I was thinking of). I’m not even linking to my free title, much as I love an opportunity to plug it, because I don’t want to be perceived as posting obliquely to any particular review (and to repeat, even if you think you’ve found the one that got me thinking this morning, this post isn’t only about that review, or even only about reviews of my books, and I would be horrified with a capital “H” if someone challenged a reviewer on my behalf.)

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but I don’t think you can say it too many times. Writers need to be philosophical about negative reviews. Even from other writers, people who are reading out of genre, and furry green pandas. The real underlying reason is the value of free speech, which I think authors have a particular obligation to defend, but the silver lining is the intrinsic value of dissenting opinions.

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