How can you spot a good review?
An honest review doesn’t always mean a good review.
Let me give an example: With my novel, When Chicks Hatch, one of my reviews made me cry for two days straight. This particular reviewer said I curse and, even worse accused me of blaspheming God in my novel. I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine how she could come to such a harsh conclusion.
Let me be clear: I'm not bashing this reviewer and don't want you to think that I am. That's just where I was when I first read her review. Hear me out though. I want to share how I have learned from her and grown to appreciate her perspective.
Here’s how it went: My character in question is a Christian man who has waited at a hospital with a girl he once loved. She is pregnant by a married man who is not returning phone calls that are crucial to the health of the unborn baby. Watching his friend flounder in her faith, fall on her face and struggle so hard to stand up again he is enraged when the father of the baby finally bothers to show up. He responds by shouting at the man “Where the hell have you been?”
Okay, personally in that situation I can honestly say that I would probably respond that exact way. Fear and emotion would take over. I can’t say I regret my choice because I found it true, however, my reader did not and I have to consider that in future writing. Instead, I could have shown his anger by clenching his fist or had him mutter under his breath. I could have made different choices that would have affected this particular reader better.
On the second charge: I found the place she referred to and discovered a very broken unsaved character who would think nothing of using the lord’s name irreverently. We are not talking “GD” here. It was an OMG. I would argue the authenticity of this scene to the death.
I hate the trend in Christian literature that almost demands that unsaved characters not act authentically or be "too bad". Too often, the unsaved characters don’t look all that different from the Christian. In my writing I want to distinguish this spiritual difference in my characters, to expose the need for Christ-- or I feel there's just no point.
When I finally got over myself and wiped my tears, I actually found two very beneficial things in this review that help me be a better writer.
1. I learned I can say things differently and have the same effect. My personal strength as a writer is in my dialogue. This review showed me that I rely too much on telling. Sometimes I need show not tell.
2. I learned who I am as a writer and revealed a big belief I have when approaching Christian fiction.
I’ve received several very positive uplifting reviews since then, however, there are none I’ve learned so much from.
Writers: Be open to even the "negative" reviews and pray to see them through God’s eyes. Do not miss any opportunity to grow.
As an author, it doesn’t help us if everyone responds like our spouse or parent saying “It’s perfect I wouldn’t change a thing”. We all know we aren’t perfect. There is something about our work that could be improved.
A good reviewer will mention but not accentuate our weakness. They will call our attention to the areas we could become better without slandering our attempt. They provoke us to greatness. They find the beautiful, the things that are good, and make them sparkle to our potential readers. If it isn’t for them, they say why and they recognize that they don’t speak for all readers. They take the time to address your audience. They don’t highlight themselves in their reviews or cut you down to elevate themselves, but stick to the task at hand.
A good review makes you better. I have to admit, in spite of my initial feelings, this reviewer has.