So often we writers fear the worst about our work, the dreaded four letter word that seems worse than an expletive: “suck.”
We seem to jump to this conclusion all too easily and without any real provocation. If someone buys and does not read our book (as though we actually know when that happens) we assume it is because our book probably sucked. If someone reads the first one in a series and not the second one, we assume again it is because the first book basically sucked. If no one buys it in the first place, we know it is because it sucks and if someone gives it less than a 5 star review we assume it is because some part of it probably sucked.
Well, in this post I am going to show you how your book does not suck.
First lets tackle the subject of reviews, since these things are supposed to tell us if our work sucks or not. Pretty much everyone I know, when they get a review, wants to get a 5 star review, myself included. I mean, this is kind of a no brainer since who would actually want a 4 or 3 star review? And certainly no one, but no one would want–actually want–a 2 star or the dreaded 1 star. Right?
Now, reviews are an interesting subject in that they seem to show “proof” that something is either good or bad. They pretend to know something. They act like experts in their field.
The truth is that reviews are opinions of taste. They are as factual as the kid who lied constantly in high school. They cannot be anything but a summation of personal bias. I will go so far and say this: there are no bad reviews.
All reviews do one thing: sort an audience.
If you hand your horror novel about a giant monster living in the sewer who needs to eat human corpses to save the world off to a romance reader you are likely to get a “bad” review, though there was a great love story in that one too! Actually, what you got was a statement of taste, and to that degree a sorting of the audience.
When you think of your favorite author and his or her books, I am sure that one or more of his or her books stands out to you as a work of pure genius. Now, go look it up on Amazon or Goodreads and check out the reviews. You will see, I guarantee, that this celebrated work does not have a solid line of 5 star reviews. Not a one of them. Take some of the most popular books of all time like Harry Potter, Stephen King’s The Stand, and the like, and what you will see is a bar graph tilted on its side with the majority in the 5 star bracket, the next highest number in the 4 star bracket and then 3, 2 and lastly, the dreaded 1 star. They all go that way. The books that are slightly less popular will have less in the 5 star and more in the 4 star, but the 5’s will still be leading, in other words, the trend will just be more evened out. You’ll also get more in the 1 star line than in the 2 star line sometimes, but usually, the 1 star line will not go longer than the 3 star line.
Anyway, this is what you want. I will say it again, this trend in the bar graph is what you want. And the reason that this is what you want is because if you have that kind of trend, it means this: numbers of people have read it, it means you have EXPOSURE.
Let’s consider this for a moment.
You have a handful of reviews on a book, let’s say twenty. You have the majority, say twelve as 5 star reviews, the next majority of like six as 4 stars and then some jackass decided to throw in a 3 star and maybe you have one 2 star from some jerk off who really doesn’t have a clue about anything.
Well, you should actually be happy about the 3 and 2 star because it means you’re getting a cross section of people, it means you’re not just getting your mom and your dad and grandma to put up glowing reports about how great you are, and it means you have sorted the audience to some small degree. It would also be the right percentage of “good” versus “bad” reviews. But remember, there is no such thing as good and bad. Those two conditions are opinions. Nothing in this field is good or bad. Things are only in alignment with one’s taste or out of alignment with one’s taste. That’s all.
But 20 reviews also means exposure is next to nothing.
Now, go back to Favorite Novel written by Favorite Author and think for a second: did they have a section in that book which was boring? Tedious? How about a back story of a minor character’s father which you could not for the life of you figure out why you needed to know? Maybe Mr. Favorite Author ended the story by blowing up the characters with a nuclear explosion because he had no idea how to end it. Maybe Mrs. Favorite Vampire and Witch Author dropped in a 400 page back story smack dab in the middle of the over bloated 1200 page novel. Maybe, just maybe, the Best Novel Ever Written had some issues that for lack of a better word “sucked.”
And guess what? Who cares, It doesn’t matter, because there was more good than bad, there was more in alignment with taste than out of alignment with taste, and probably, because you ended up reading the damn thing, there was some or a ton of exposure behind it.
My point is this: without exposure, you can’t know if your novel appeals to the masses or even the many. Without exposure, you cannot assume that people aren’t reading it because it is no good. Without exposure, you cannot measure the novel. Period.
If you don’t have exposure, there is no point in trying to diagnose “what is wrong” with your book because you won’t be able to find out. The thing to do is get exposure.
Only after exposure to the general public can you even begin to make statements about the value of the work.
Now, one could argue that if the book does not generate its own exposure through word of mouth, that that means it sucks. And while this appears truthful on the outside, it cannot be proven true. A book that generates its own exposure through word of mouth is what is called a runaway best seller. Now, obviously a runaway bestseller is a “good” book, but I daresay there are many, many, many good books that are not runaway bestsellers, so the argument falls apart there. Usually, from my observation, books sell because of author name, which means that a brand is now selling the books, so the brand has the exposure, which then extends to the book, but let us not forget that a brand is built over a long time with many books.
So, you have to go back to this: the thing to do is to get exposure. That gives you control. The only control you’ll have in this business: the writing.
Because maybe the way to get exposure is to write the next book. That puts control back into your hands and gives you another opportunity to write a book that not only does not suck, but has the possibility of becoming a runaway bestseller. And if you write a better book enough times, you will get exposure sooner or later.
Now, there is a reverse curve or bar graph trend on books and movies that generally do not succeed. it goes the opposite of the trend I explained above with the majority being 1 star and then gradually tapering off as the stars go up with the 5 star line being the least populated. That indicates usually a work that is not very appealing to anyone. Though, unless it had a solid 1 star line–never seen it–some people evidently enjoyed that piece of crap too.
Now, this post was supposed to tell you how your book does not suck. So, here’s the punchline. If you look at those works with the reverse curve in effect, with the majority being one stars, you will find that the work is seriously flawed, as in whoever produced it did not really seem to try. In fact, those things are usually done just to make a quick buck with no regard for the art–that’s my opinion.
So, I ask you, did you write your book just to make a quick buck, having no or very little care as to the art involved? Chances are the answer to that is a resounding “No.” Therefore, I say unto thee: your book does not suck.