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Feedback, Criticism, and Reviews

Karin Kallmaker Awards and Reviews, Craft of Writing

In the wake of increased scrutiny and limits on anonymous review posting at Amazon, I can’t help but notice that overall there are fewer reviews of my books than before.

Anonymous No More?

On the one hand I’m chagrined to think that a few people may have been responsible for more than one glowing review each. But on the other hand, I’m glad that restrictions have been increased. Reviews on Amazon and similar sites are one of the few ways that I get feedback; one opinion per reader means the feedback isn’t skewed, for good or bad.

The readers of any given novel number in the tens of thousands and I hear feedback from not even 1%, so I must acknowledge that what I do receive by way of feedback is automatically selective; it reflects the opinions from readers with the strongest feelings about any given book. I can’t help but pay attention. I do read e-mails from readers and reviews where I can find them.

Yes, There are Trolls and Sock Puppets

Sometimes, sure, anonymous reviews seem penned by someone who didn’t read the book, or hates that particular kind of book. Hence, their feedback was about something other than the book. The only time I’ve asked for a review to be removed at Amazon was when it contained incorrect plot information that indicated that person had not read the book, but had based the review on other people’s reviews.

I’ve gotten pretty good about ignoring that kind of commentary and don’t waste my time wondering why someone would choose to say bad things about a book they never read or should have never forced themselves to read in the first place. Though, honestly, I don’t know what would motivate someone who dislikes mysteries (for example) to spend their money on one and then blame the book and/or the writer when, of course, they don’t care for it.

[I am as human as the next person and can’t help at times but agree with a theater director who opined that a dozen great reviews were written by a dozen highly intelligent people, but a dozen bad reviews were the work of one malcontent.]

When a reader takes the time to articulate any opinion about my work and adds the magic words “and this is why I think so” that is always helpful to me.

Though I appreciate “great book, loved it” as much as anyone, a reviewer who consistently, honestly and directly outlines the pluses and minuses in a book is far, far better for my growth as a writer.

I am especially appreciative of any review that gives other readers an idea of the nature of the story without giving away the key plot elements. I really don’t want anyone to buy a book they’re not going to enjoy and a review that provides useful information to help a reader to buy – or not buy – one of my books is definitely a good thing.

Critical Doesn’t Mean Negative

The fear of being “critical” I know is one reason why readers don’t post more reviews and/or don’t get in touch with a writer—how well schooled we women can be in “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Some of us were taught that if we can’t say everything nice to keep our thoughts to ourselves as well.

To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with being “critical.” A critical review is one that analyzes, puts a work in its genre and context, and provides examples that support the critic’s opinion. Criticism isn’t necessarily negative or positive; it is a process of thoughtful opinion. I’m a big girl; I can handle any kind of feedback if it’s provided in a critical context.

One of the losses I’ve felt over the past decade is the network of women’s bookstores, and with them their local newsletters that devoted anything from a few words to full reviews of new titles. Some of the best criticism I’ve ever received was from articulate booksellers who were well aware of the contribution of popular fiction to their local community.

Today there are a few major magazines and some television programming for lesbians, but they seem to define their coverage of “popular culture” in a way that doesn’t include popular fiction. Hence, “print” reviews for popular fiction have become scarce.

Reviews on My Site

For my most recent titles I’ve taken to (with permission and accreditation where I can get it) posting some or all of various print reviews on my site. So if you’re not sure one of my books is what you’re looking for, each one has a “What People Are Saying” section to help make up your mind.

The idea for this post came from an exchange with a reader who wrote me about a recent book. In just a few short paragraphs she explained what she liked about it, and the elements in the story that touched her and why.

When I asked her if she’d be willing to post her comments on Amazon her reply was “But it’s just my opinion!” Exactly!


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