20 June 2014

Guest Post ~ Mining for Gold: Putting Reviews to Good Use By Jo Sparkes

“Don’t you just love it when you take on a novel …
and find a hidden gem!”
The Birr Elixir: Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

There’s a free tool available to authors brave enough – or smart enough – to use it. It’s those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

True, many of us prefer counting the five star ratings and ignoring all else. After all, if the reviewer didn’t recognize our talent, what use is the opinion? And some tend to despair over a bad review to a point where they can’t bear to look at them.

Yet these thoughts from a reader’s perspective are valuable mirrors of our craft. They can be turned to good account. All it takes is realizing that every writer, even a New York Times bestseller, gets criticized. The difference in professionals and amateurs is not the criticism received – it’s the way they handle it.

Let me repeat. The difference in professionals and amateurs is not the criticism received – it’s the way they handle it.

Here’s how to get the most out of a review.

First, look for logical points that could be addressed. If someone writes, “the main character was inconsistent”, you may or may not agree, but it is fixable. On the other hand, a review saying “it sucked, sucked, sucked!” says nothing. There’s no meaningful information to do something about, or even prove the reviewer read the book.

It’s useless. Toss it aside and move on.

Notice common threads. When multiple reviews hint at the same thought, you’ve got smoke from the proverbial fire. Perhaps one review talks of the book ‘dragging in the middle’, and a second mentions ‘hooked me right on page one, almost lost me when they got to the castle, but then the ending really caught me in the twists and excitement.’ The second review feels much better – but don’t they both hint at shoring up the middle of the story? When different people identify the same idea, chances are there’s something to it.

Once you’ve identified these logical points, consider them. They don’t mean you must change the book – in fact they may not even be valid. But take the time to really think about each point before dismissing it. Often the points that feel a little painful have some core of truth.

Don’t despair – address them. Read a book on characters, take a good class that catches your eye. Read a book by someone considered great at this point, and see what they do. Use what you learn in your next book.

The last step is the most important. Once you’ve mined any logical points, once you’ve weighed them and chosen what to do, you’re finished. Move on.

There’s a tendency to cling to bad reviews. We want to punish ourselves, especially if we perceive we ‘made a mistake.’ Having learned from it, however, it’s time to let it go. Start looking for your next opportunity to grow.

Because ultimately, there is no better way to improve your reviews than to improve your writing. 

Jo Sparkes

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About the Author

A well-known Century City Producer once said that Jo Sparkes “…writes some of the best dialogue I’ve read.”  Her  body of work includes scripts for Children’s live-action and animated television programs, a direct to video Children’s DVD, commercial work for corporate clients. She won the 2012 Kay Snow award for her screenplay, Frank Retrieval.
She’s written numerous articles for internet sites. As a member of the Pro Football Writer’s Association, she was a contributing writer for the Arizona Sports Fans Network, where she was known for her humorous articles, player interviews and game coverage. Jo was unofficially the first to interview Emmitt Smith when he arrived in Arizona to play for the Cardinals. 
She served as an adjunct teacher at the Film School at Scottsdale Community College, and wrote “Feedback  How to Give It  How to Get It” for writers, actors, and other artists. Find out more at Jo's website http://josparkes.com/ and you can find her on Twitter @Sparkes777

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