As a writer, you will be familiar with the rush of emotions that come with engaging with book reviews. There's an initial mixture of excitement and anxiety when you look at your book online and see that a reader has taken the time to give you feedback. What follows can be anything from elation, disappointment, indifference, or, in some cases, annoyance that a bot has written a review directing readers to another source. And that doesn't even begin to consider what happens when a professional critic takes a look at your work.
Even though it can be difficult to hear at times, genuine feedback is a really crucial part of self-improvement. Here at The Urban Writers, every member of our team provides feedback to their colleagues, whether it's writers and editors or a supervisor with a new team member. Allowing for feedback is an important part of establishing a healthy working relationship with others and developing our own personal skills.
But not every piece of feedback is valuable, is it? We don't need blind praise or negativity for the sake of it, and feedback from people without an understanding of what you are doing is, well, pointless! So how do we know who to look for feedback from and how to react when we get it?
Here we are going to delve into reviewer outreach and look at the best ways in which we can seek out constructive assessments of our work and how to know what parts of a review to take seriously.
Asking for feedback and book reviews can be anxiety-inducing, but they're very important. Here are five reasons we need genuine feedback:
- It helps us grow.
- If the feedback is positive, it boosts our confidence.
- Negative feedback that is genuine is constructive and helps us improve.
- Accepting feedback shows people that you care.
- Hearing the thoughts of others makes us more well-rounded.
Have you ever been scrolling through reviews online when you stumble upon one that points you somewhere else? The review will have one or two lines on what they thought of the book in question before suddenly drawing attention to another resource, like a different book or website.
The internet is full of fake reviews that are there purely to promote something else entirely. These are not real reviews; they're just a ploy to get eyes on what they are selling. Some common themes in fake reviews include:
- Formal introductions where the reviewer begins the review like they are writing an opinion piece for a newspaper.
- Repeating keywords over and over.
- Links to an external website.
- The reviewer spends more time talking about a different book, product, or resource than the one they are supposed to be reviewing.
- Multiple similar reviews are posted at the same time.
Fake reviews can be reported on most websites as spam and obviously don't contain any genuine feedback.
Some people will give you feedback without your asking! But when it comes to seeking out constructive feedback, it's important that you ask the right people. Just who exactly the right people are really depends on what you are writing about and what type of feedback you are looking for.
The type of feedback you want can vary from feedback on the topic itself to comments on grammar, structure, or design. If you're looking for feedback on grammar and spelling, you want to make sure you go to someone who is not only fluent in the language you are writing in but also has a strong grasp of the rules and vernacular of the dialect of your text. The Urban Writers, our editors and writers, are masters of creating excellent manuscripts in American English.
If it's feedback on content, then there are two ways of approaching people to solicit genuine feedback. First off, you can get feedback from someone who is an expert. You could ask someone who writes book reviews about the genre of work you are doing and get their thoughts. This way, you know that you are hearing from someone who is well-versed in your topic of choice. Their feedback will be appropriate and backed up with examples. Alternatively, you can go with someone who is not an expert. This may sound strange, but the idea is that you are asking somebody who doesn't know everything about the topic of your book (particularly if it's non-fiction) whether or not the point you're making is clear and can be understood. It can be beneficial to get advice from someone who isn't an expert to see if they can follow what you are writing.
Regardless of the expertise of the person who is giving you their thoughts, an important part of reviewer outreach is approaching people who will tell you what you need to hear. Not what you would necessarily like to hear, and not criticism for the sake of criticism. It could be a trusted friend who isn't afraid to tell you the truth or a mentor who knows how to give you feedback, but the main thing is that you ask people who will give you constructive feedback.
So, you know who to ask, but how exactly do you go about reviewer outreach? It can be an uncomfortable experience asking people for their thoughts on your work and sitting there listening to them, but it's important to embrace that uncomfortable feeling and take advantage of the opportunity to get good feedback.
When you're asking for feedback, have some set questions in mind. Before you go about reviewer outreach, think about what parts of your book you would actually like reviewed. Keep questions open so they don't just involve yes-or-no answers. Here are some ways you could ask for feedback:
- "Which part(s) of the book did you find funny, helpful, sad, or informative?"
- "What characters did you like, and why?"
- "What did you think about the part where...?"
As well as having things in mind, be open to hearing the unexpected. When seeking genuine feedback, it's important to allow the person to give their true opinion. Allow the reviewer to point out things that struck them and ask them follow-up questions about their comments.
It's important not to get carried away with good reviews and not to beat yourself up over bad ones. Genuine feedback is constructive and will help you improve. So, when you read your book reviews, don't obsess over what the tone is; try to take the relevant messages away. What is the person giving you feedback saying? What did they like, and what did they dislike? Were they able to see the message you were trying to get across?
It is beneficial to try to get multiple people's feedback so you can see what the themes are. If there is a recurring piece of criticism or praise from reliable sources, then it is worth taking it into account.
The online world means anybody can comment on anything, but that doesn't mean the comment is valuable! While many reviews consist of genuine feedback based on subjective opinions, there are some that are not worth taking into consideration, such as:
Some people will leave mean reviews for the sake of it. If somebody is giving you feedback that is overboard with criticism and veers into the territory of personal insults, they are just looking for a fight. The best thing to do is just ignore the trolls; they are only looking for a reaction, and in all probability, they have been spending all day online trying to bother people.
As we've said, anybody can comment, and some people who possess very little knowledge of a subject love to think of themselves as experts. You'll probably get some reviews from people who stuff their feedback with big words to make themselves sound like intellectuals while spouting criticism in a condescending manner. These reviews are not worth taking seriously; like trolls, they are written by self-conscious people who just want to sound like experts. If somebody is so determined to put others down in their pursuit of appearing intelligent, then they have their own problems and are trying to make them yours.
On the other end of the scale, there are those who will just throw out heaps of aimless positive feedback without being specific. While it might be nice to read, if somebody can't pinpoint what they actually liked about your work, then they don't really have much to offer you that can help you improve. It's important that feedback that is positive is still genuine.
You'll get a lot of feedback as a writer, and knowing what to take into consideration and what to ignore is important. And in some cases, the best thing to do with negative book reviews is not to respond.
Book reviews that contain genuine feedback are valuable to us as writers because they allow us to improve. Reviewer outreach can feel a little bit awkward, but ultimately, if you ask the right people the right questions, you will get helpful answers. You can ignore the unhelpful fake reviews and embrace the constructive comments that will help you further your writing.