One of my all-time favorite writing teachers is Randy Ingermanson. Some of you may recognize him as “the Snowflake Guy”. Still others know him for his Fiction Writing for Dummies book.
At any rate, I’m a big fan and loyal follower of his Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. Today I came across an article of his that totally resonated…not because I’m experiencing this stuff yet, but because I hope to some day, and I happen to have some writing friends who might appreciate the advice re-blogged below.
So without further adieu…
Marketing: Don’t Eat the Rat Poison
If you’ve got a book in print, should you read your reviews?
Yes, no, and maybe.
Yes, read your five-star reviews.
No, don’t read your one, two, and three-star reviews.
Maybe read your four-star reviews, if there’s a specific reason to.
Let’s talk about these cases in more detail.
Why Read Your Five-Star Reviews?
The reason to read your five-star reviews is because it puts you directly in the hearts and minds of your Target Audience.
Let’s review for a minute. Your Target Audience is the set of people you wrote your book for. They’re the ones you’re trying to delight. Your primary goal in writing your book was to delight your Target Audience.
If somebody wrote you a five-star review, it’s because your book delighted them. Odds are good that they’re in your Target Audience.
And you need to know what they’re thinking, for several reasons.
First, you want to know if you’re delighting them in the way you intended. Let’s say you thought you were writing heart-warming humorous romance novels. You read your reviews and they talk about how much your readers love the romance in your stories, and they talk about how heart-warming your novels are, but they don’t say anything about the humor. That’s a warning sign. Maybe your humor isn’t quite what you thought it was.
Second, you want to know if you’re delighting them in a way you never intended. Maybe you keep seeing the words “deep” and “thought-provoking” and “philosophical” in your reviews and you had no idea your books were deep or thought-provoking or philosophical. But then you go look at what you wrote, and by golly, it is. That suggests you have an unexpected talent. You might want to develop that a bit. Think how deep your novels could be if you tried. Think how that would delight your Target Audience even more.
Third, you want to look for any “big buts”. Say you repeatedly see your fans saying that they loved your book “but I didn’t like the ______”. Whatever’s in that blank is turning off some fans. Are you willing to keep doing that? If so, that’s your decision to make and your decision to own. Going forward, you will now be doing it consciously. That’s very different than doing it subconsciously.
Fourth, you can use your Target Audience’s words in your ad copy. You may be seeing the same words used to describe your book over and over. If those words are emotively powerful, then grab them and use them in your book blurb. Use them in the headline on your Amazon page. Use them on your web site. You might want to use them in your tagline. Those are the words that speak to your Target Audience.
You are looking for trends here. Things that pop up over and over in your five-star reviews. Those things are gold.
Why Not Read Your One-Star Reviews?
Let’s be brutally honest here. Not everybody is going to love your book.
There are more than seven billion people on the planet. You’re going to be very lucky if seven million of those people love your book. That’s one tenth of one percent of the world. The other 99.9% of the world won’t love your book.
That’s not bad. That’s not good either. It’s just reality.
You’re not writing your book for the haters or the nay-sayers or the apathetics.
You’re writing your book for the people who love your book. Your Target Audience.
Nobody else matters.
That is probably the single most important fact you can know about marketing. Nobody else matters except your Target Audience.
Your goal as a novelist is to delight your Target Audience.
You don’t care about anybody else.
The people who wrote your one-star reviews are not in your Target Audience. They bought your book for whatever reason and it struck them wrong. Wrong enough for them to write you a one-star review. Possibly a very angry and vindictive review.
That is valuable to you, of course. Those one-star reviews will scare off other readers who are not in your Target Audience. It’ll save them the hassle of buying and reading a book they won’t like.
But a one-star review is not very likely to scare off your Target Audience.
A one-star review is more likely to attract your Target Audience.
Let’s say you wrote an apocalyptic zombie novel with lots of blood and gore. And somebody bought your book and read it and then writes a scathing one-star review saying, “I hated this. Way too much blood and gore. And why all the zombies? I hate zombies!”
Your Target Audience is going to read that scathing review and laugh. And then go buy your book. Because that’s what they’re looking for.
I’ve read plenty of one-star reviews that convinced me to buy a book when I was in the Target Audience for that book. And I’ve read plenty that scared me away when I was not in the Target Audience. One-star reviews are a win-win.
So one-star reviews help you home in on your Target Audience, and that’s good.
But they are guaranteed to damage you emotionally, and that’s bad.
Guaranteed. When somebody writes an angry, vindictive review about your book, they’re almost certainly going to be saying terrible things about you, personally.
Think you can shrug that off and go have a nice day?
If you can, then you’re not human, and therefore one-star reviews are not your biggest problem.
Reading a one-star review can make you feel sick, angry, and humiliated all day. If somebody offers you rat poison, you aren’t obligated to eat it. You can say no.
Don’t read what the haters write. They’ve done you a valuable service by scaring off other haters and by attracting your Target Audience for you. So be grateful to them.
But don’t eat their rat poison.
What About the Other Reviews?
OK, fine, you’re reading your five-star reviews and ignoring your one-star reviews. What about the reviews with two, three, and four stars?
I’d say not to waste your time on the two-stars and the three-stars.
The two-star reviews will be only a bit less vindictive than the one-star reviews, but there’s still no joy in reading them. Nobody ever went to bed at night and said, “Wow, I wish I’d read more two-star reviews today!”
The three-star reviews are written by people not in your Target Audience. They don’t love you and they don’t hate you. These are the lukewarm coffees in your life. The apathetics. Three-star reviews are the least-valuable reviews you can possibly imagine. You’re better off reading the ingredient list on the ketchup bottle than these. Really.
The four-star reviews are written by people who are almost in your Target Audience, but not quite. If you want to read these, go ahead, but they are worth only a tenth as much as your five-star reviews. My thinking is that you should only read the four-star reviews if you’re not getting very many five-star reviews. They may give you some insights into why you’re not resonating with your intended Target Audience.
- If you have a book published, go check out the reviews, noting what proportions you’re getting for the five-stars on down to the one-stars.
- Are you happy with your average rating?
- If so, then read only your five-star reviews and take notes on how you can delight your Target Audience even better and what power words you can use to attract more readers in your Target Audience.
- If you’re not happy with your average rating, then read some of the four-star reviews to see what’s missing. Something is missing.
- Don’t even look at the one-star reviews. Don’t even read the headlines on them. They’ll just upset you and cut your productivity today. Why do that to yourself?