Monday, January 22, 2024

The Most Common Reasons a Book Gets Negative Reviews

We're pleased to welcome Andrea Moran, Book Reviewer & Blogger at Kirkus Reviews. Be sure to see the special offer by Kirkus for the IWSG audience at the end of this post. 

Bravely putting a book out into the world is difficult enough without fearing a slew of unfavorable reviews. While you can’t please everyone who picks up your book, there are reasons many readers may have a negative reaction—and the good news is that most of those reasons are avoidable. Here are a few of the most common ones to consider when you’re writing and editing a draft.

1. The book is categorized in the wrong genre.

Readers don’t like to feel as though they have been tricked. So when a particular book is marketed as one thing but in reality is something completely different, there is probably going to be backlash.

This is particularly useful to keep in mind when choosing your book cover and other promotional blurbs. After all, you want to ensure that a gut-wrenching character study doesn’t have the color palette of a romance, or that a book that is 99 percent science fiction doesn’t have back cover text emphasizing a hard-boiled detective. Despite the common wisdom to the contrary, many people do judge a book by its cover—and are more than willing to share a bad review based on that judgment.

2. The main characters are unlikable.

While you can develop a protagonist who possesses a few character traits that are less than stellar, sometimes characters can be too unlikable. Obviously no one is perfect, but readers will have a hard time relating to (never mind rooting for) someone who is so full of flaws and negative traits that their common humanity gets lost. So go ahead, make some people in your central cast of characters delightfully marred—just don’t forget to imbue them with an occasional redeeming quality.

3. The ending is too abrupt.

No one likes reading a book that’s cut off before a proper ending. You may alienate readers who don’t like investing time in a book that never really ends or frustrate them with an ending that answers only some of the questions they have.

Even if this is the first book in a series, leaving it on an all-out cliffhanger is a risky move, and readers may refuse to invest more time reading the next book. It’s perfectly fine to leave some ambiguity, but there should be enough resolution to the main storyline that readers don’t feel slighted—or else they’re likely to air their grievances via a bad review.

4. The book hasn’t been edited well (or at all).

Nothing can derail a good book faster than lots of errors. Typos, punctuation mistakes, inconsistent formatting—these can leave a bad taste in readers’ mouths. Errors tend to distract readers from the main message of the book. This means all your hard work developing characters and a plot will likely be overshadowed if readers are continually pulled out of the story by a set of missing quotation marks or a misspelled word. Luckily, this is one issue that is easily avoided by hiring a qualified editor.

5. The stylistic choices are off-putting.

Everyone’s taste is different, but going for a less popular choice can sometimes backfire. The use of second-person narration—“You walk down the hallway,” for example—is rarely used in novels, which means it’s a bold and perhaps not highly advisable option when choosing your book’s point of view.

Similarly, readers tend to find choices like the excessive use of ellipses more annoying than illuminating. And if you’re going to use creative line spacing or other alternative formatting, make sure there’s a good reason for doing so. (If you need an example of how to do it well, look no further than House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.) Readers are likely to leave a bad review if they feel the style is too out there or makes the book confusing—of course, whether that’s a fair assessment is another matter entirely.

6. The characters are inconsistent.

Readers become invested in a story’s characters, and that’s a good thing! But they can’t get invested when characteristics change from one chapter to the next. If someone’s whole personality revolves around a particular trait and that trait is forgotten about or betrayed simply for the sake of moving the plot in a different direction or throwing in a surprise twist, you are going to have some pretty annoyed readers. Characters are supposed to be complex, nuanced, and layered. They shouldn’t go against previously established trait markers that helped make them who they were to begin with.

7. The ending is unsatisfying.

Often, the hardest part of writing a story is nailing the ending. We’ve all read at least one book that was humming right along until the final act that, instead of sticking the landing, turned into one giant clunker. Readers who are left feeling unsatisfied with how the situation resolves (or doesn’t resolve) will likely feel motivated to leave a bad review that vents their frustration.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have an ending that is sad or unexpected or even a little ambiguous (but see number three!). It just means that the ending should fit the tone and lesson of the book as a whole. A romance novel pretty much requires a happy ending, for example, while a gritty character study should offer some semblance of personal growth at its conclusion—even if that conclusion isn’t necessarily a joyous one for all involved.

Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville with her husband and two kids. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books. Find her on LinkedIn.

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Monday, January 15, 2024

Setting Writing Goals – Keeping it Simple

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The new year is a chance to start anew. It’s when people make resolutions. Many people set goals. So, today we are going to discuss writing goals.

You may have already set yours. That’s awesome. If not, it’s never too late (and certainly doesn’t have to be at the beginning of the year) to set some good goals for your writing. And I’ll keep it simple for you!

There are a lot of different types of goals that pertain to writing:

  • Improvement – honing your craft and research
  • Writing – what you want to achieve as a writer
  • Publication – when and how
  • Marketing – your strategy and plans

Now, when setting these goals, you have to consider these particulars:

  • How much time can you devote to writing and all it involves?
  • Are the goals specific? Don’t be vague—get into the details.
  • Are the goals realistic? If not they will only cause frustration.
  • Have you set little goals that lead up to a big goal?
  • Are the goals your own or are you trying to keep pace with someone else?
  • Have you given your goals deadlines? No deadline, no finish!
  • Are you really committed to these goals?

Once you’ve set goals and honed the specifics, there are a few other items you need to take into account:

  • Distractions – sometimes they are out of your control and sometimes you can set goals to eliminate them
  • Rewards – when a goal is achieved, celebrate and reward yourself
  • Disappointments – sometimes a goal is missed, but it’s not the end of the world—just reset the goal and don’t beat yourself up

As promised, simple! Setting writing goals isn’t brain surgery, but they have to come from both the heart and the brain. You need passion but you also need common sense.

So, set goals in those areas, consider those particulars, and take into account those final items. And believe you can achieve them.

After all, you’re the creator of worlds, wielder of the mighty pen—you can make anything happen!

What specific goals will you be setting this year?

Monday, January 8, 2024

Conquering Writer Doubt

We’re writers. We have an innate fear of criticism, a desire for validation, and we tend to compare ourselves and our work to others. It's a battle with the self, constantly measuring our worth against an ever-shifting standard.

Yet, within this turmoil, there's a strange kind of beauty. It's in the struggle, the vulnerability, and the relentless pursuit of improvement that the true essence of a writer's journey emerges—a quest to silence the inner critic, to discover one's unique voice, and to forge ahead, one word at a time.

Let's get one thing straight: those insecurities, that nagging self-doubt? They're not the adversaries we often perceive them to be. They’re there for a reason. They're the part of us that drives us to refine our craft, scrutinize our work, and aim for nothing short of excellence.

Conquering the relentless sense of doubt that plagues a writer's mind is a lifelong endeavor, but it's a journey worth embarking upon. You are not alone in this struggle. Every writer—from the greatest literary icons to those just starting—has faced moments of insecurity and imposter syndrome. It's an integral part of the creative process, a shadow that often accompanies the light of inspiration.

Remember, writing is a craft that can always be honed and improved. Write poorly—just keep writing. Embrace your failures as opportunities for growth. Set small, achievable goals and celebrate every step forward, no matter how incremental. Writing is a journey of self-discovery and self-expression, and with each sentence you craft, you become a better writer.

The world of book publishing has evolved, and the road to becoming a published author is no longer a one-size-fits-all journey. Traditional publishing, once the revered pinnacle of literary accomplishment, has become a fiercely competitive arena. Rejections and waiting periods can make us question our abilities (and sanity). Self-publishing offers creative freedom and the chance to present your work directly to the world, but it's not without challenges, and shadows of doubt are often cast on the perceived quality of self-published works. And then there's hybrid publishing, sitting in the middle ground, combining the best of both worlds. Hybrid publishers like Atmosphere Press provide structure and professional support while granting you almost total creative control.

Amidst this evolving landscape of publishing options, I want you to remember that neither your insecurities nor the nuances of the publishing world are roadblocks; they're motivators. They're the catalyst for countless revisions, sleepless nights, and the unyielding pursuit of perfection. The doubt that arises from navigating these choices can serve as a driving force, pushing you to refine your craft. Embrace this uncertainty as a source of inspiration, knowing that it's part of the journey toward becoming a resilient and confident writer. In the end, no matter the path you choose, your unique voice and dedication to your craft will shine through, proving that doubt can be the stepping stone to success.

Ultimately, conquering doubt as a writer requires self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and understand that the path to becoming a confident writer is paved with insecurity and uncertainty. It's a process, and the more you persist and persevere, the more you'll see your doubts gradually recede. In time, you'll find what once held you back will be overshadowed by the pride and satisfaction of creating something truly your own.

Your voice, your story, and your unique perspective deserve to be shared with the world. So keep writing, keep growing, and—above all—keep believing in yourself!


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Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at
Atmosphere Press, is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories...or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.