Monday, February 1, 2010

Surviving Reviews

For an author, reviews are a double-edged sword. A favorable review can boost sales as well as a writer’s spirits. A negative review is hard on the ego and on the bottom line. We writers are a sensitive bunch. One nasty comment, even in a mostly positive review, can really sting. When Mrs. Giggles wrote, about Raw Silk: “The first half of the story is awkward, with the characters often reciting corny and cheesy lines that have me cringing.”, I was nearly in tears. It’s true that she continued: “It is those naughty scenes that keep me interested in the story. However, by the latter half of the story things have picked up tremendously.” The damage was done. It didn’t matter that she is famous for her snarky, overly-critical reviews – we all want everyone to love our work.

At the same time, I find myself a bit annoyed by the superficial quality of some romance reviews. I am grateful, of course, that anyone is willing to read and comment on my books. With hundreds of romance titles released each month, getting a reviewer’s attention can be tough. However, many of the reviews that I see are little more than a rehash of the blurb along with some general summary praise.

Obviously, I’m happy to have even that. Sometimes, though, I wonder whether the reviewer has actually read the book. As a reader, I expect reviewers to focus on what is special about a book, what makes the book worth reading – or not. I’d rather receive a review that mixes positive and negative commentary (though mostly positive of course!) than a vague blanket endorsement.

Boy, I’m hard to please, aren’t I?

I may think about the question of reviews more than most people, because I am a staff reviewer for two major erotica sites, the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA) and Erotica Revealed. Every month I tackle two to four books, some of which may be the work of friends and colleagues. My reviews are generally longer and more detailed than the typical romance review. They also tend to be more critical, though I earnestly attempt to avoid snarkiness.

When I review a book, I try to take a reader’s perspective. The main purpose of a review, in my opinion, is to let readers decide whether or not they want to buy a particular book. My objective is to convey the essential characteristics of the book – its genre, initial scenario, main characters – without retelling the story or giving away the plot. I also work to articulate the book’s best qualities while pointing out any serious weakness.

I’m very aware that different readers look for different things. Sometimes I’ll review a book that doesn’t really “grab” me, but which I believe will appeal to readers with other perspectives. It may be impossible to be truly objective, but I do make an effort to identify my personal reactions, my fondest fantasies and pet peeves, and admit that they influence my evaluations.

As I mentioned above, I often review work by authors that I know, literary friends (though usually we haven’t met in the flesh). This can be extremely tricky. I know how we all yearn for rave reviews. If I can’t honestly point out more pluses than minuses, I normally won’t review a book.

Even so, I worry that I will offend friends and colleagues, or induce the pain that I know comes from a less than stellar review. So far I believe that I’ve managed to avoid alienating anyone.

I do hope that the authors whom I review can live with some negative commentary in return for more in-depth exploration of their work and its merits. I typically spend about half a day planning and writing each review. I know from personal experience how important it is that I get it right.

Speaking of reviews, the February issue of the ERWA site includes the first review of Necessary Madness that I've seen. Go to and click on the “Smutters Lounge” link. I’m hoping for more reviews soon. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to be content reading over what reviewers have said about my TEB titles Raw Silk (“There was an innate exoticism in every encounter that was so intense, so erotic, it turned me inside out! I would honestly give this story six ribbons, if it were possible.” - Romance Junkies) and Incognito (“Lisabet Sarai’s writing style is in depth and emotionally stirring with a surface of deeply erotic love scenes.” - Fallen Angels Reviews).

What can I say? We’re all sluts for praise.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Nedma1, please contact me at lisabet [at]! You're my randomly chosen fantasy birthday party winner!


Treva Harte said...

Mrs. Giggles did a review of my very first book ever and, the way I remember it, it was my very first review. I thought she was probably right and only regretted I missed getting 69 by one measly point.

Chloe Waits said...

Great post Lisabet,

By the way I read Thieves Honour, and thought it was fabulous---I really enjoyed it

Valerie Mann said...

Great blog, I shared it with the reviewers in my review group, Got Romance Reviews. Thank you!

Valerie Mann

Victoria Janssen said...

I know I am REALLY GRATEFUL whenever a reviewer gives me in-dpeth commentary, whether they liked it or not.

Great post!

Christina said...

"I do hope that the authors whom I review can live with some negative commentary in return for more in-depth exploration of their work and its merits."

Oh yes. Thank you for the two thumbs up on Sweet and Dirty at Erotica Revealed, and for your thoughtful criticisms. Deeply appreciated.


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