Responding to Reviews

This past weekend, I was at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona. On Saturday, I was on a panel called “Responding to Reviews.” The authors and artists gave some great advice and I thought it was worth sharing some highlights. The panel is below. In the photo below you see Educator KellyAnn Bonnell, yours truly, writer and game designer Shanna Germain, Jennie Breeden, writer and artist of The Devil’s Panties, and game designer Ben Woerner.


Of course, as an author or artist, when you get a review, positive or negative, it can be problematic to respond with much more than a very polite, “thanks for sharing your opinion.” This is pretty common advice and the panel generally agreed with it.

The panel moved on to discuss what constitutes the most helpful reviews. The panelists cited reviews that give clear examples of what worked for them and didn’t work for them in a book. Also helpful is when the reviewer can cite why something worked or didn’t work. I noted an example of a reviewer mentioning an element of my novel Children of the Old Stars that didn’t work for her. That inspired me to create an important plot point in Heirs of the New Earth that addressed the issue.

The panelists also noted a frustrating tendency of some reviewers to review the artist rather than reviewing the art. As an example, a person might see a statement by a character in a story and assume that reflects the author’s politics or personal preferences, then attack the author’s perceived philosophy. Unfortunately, these reviews are never helpful because they’re never about the work. They’re just a case of the reviewer having their buttons pushed and then venting.

Related to this, KellyAnn discussed the issue of evaluating reviews. She noted that she generally ignores the top 1% of positive reviews and the bottom 1% of negative reviews as outliers. It’s the stuff in the middle that often has the best constructive criticism you can use to help you evaluate your own writing.

Another aspect of the panel was simply coping with poor reviews. Ben noted that there’s an actual physiological response that causes us to look at bad things and remember them vividly. It makes sense as a survival instinct. Don’t go back to the place that hurts. It’s one of the reasons bad reviews tend to sting so badly and stay with us. Shanna noted that she keeps one of her favorite positive reviews handy and reads it over any time a bad review comes in. It helps her to remember the good work she’s done and move on. Jennie noted that sometimes a bad review comes in and if you sit back and think about it, it’s clear the reviewer is having a problem in their own life.

I finished up this part of the discussion by noting that I like to look at the reviews of my favorite authors and remind myself that very successful authors get bad, good, and neutral reviews too.

Are you a writer or an artist? If so, I’d love to hear what you think is helpful in a review. Likewise, I’d love to hear how you cope with the bad reviews. Are you a reader? What do you look for in reviews when you buy books? Do you look at the reviews?

Science and Horror

Science and horror have long gone together. Often, it’s in the sense of a cautionary tale, such as Frankenstein, where humans are advised to take care what natural forces they tamper with. Occasionally, a scientist is brought in to actually solve a problem, such as Professor Van Helsing in Dracula.

David Lee Summers Vampire-Scarlet-Order-800x1190

Writers are advised to write what they know, so as a scientist, when I wrote Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I wrote a tale of scientists who became vampires. I also had some commentary about scientists tampering with things they don’t understand in a deliberate homage to Frankenstein. The important and fun part was that having scientists become vampires allowed them to explore what becoming a vampire actually meant. In one chapter, physicist Jane Heckman writes her observations of what its like to gain vampiric powers and attempt to understand what they’re for.

In my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, I also pit scientists against dark forces. In this case, I don’t really give them time to try to understand what the dark forces are. However, I do work to uncover scientists’ underlying humanity that so often gets left out of a lot of fiction and movies. We often see scientists portrayed as cold, or maybe thoughtful, but we sometimes forget they are humans who experience joy, fear, and sadness as well.

One of the reasons “write what you know” is so important is that it allows us to share those experiences which are unique to us. On recent panels and interviews, I’ve been touting the importance of writers having day jobs they love. Besides allowing a writer to assure they have an income better than minimum wage, it allows a writer to chronicle a wider view of the world.

If you’d like to meet my scientist vampires, you can find Vampires of the Scarlet Order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or All Romance Ebooks.