by Lisa Trovillion
When my book came out I compulsively checked the reviews on Amazon, tracking the number of stars. Phew! Still in the 5-star range...that's good. Or is it? Star ratings are highly subjective, and like a numbered score for a movement in a dressage test, they are an artificial indication of what the rater wants to impart. You've got to read the narrative.
I've seen star ratings range from very low to five without much written to support the score. And that's where the real meaningful information is found. A less than five rating in Amazon may be accompanied by one of the best reviews your book has ever received. There is something to be said for a book that is receiving ratings that run the gamut; It's more likely they were written by real readers and not just "friends and family." Like it or not, we can't please them all!
Similarly, I would snatch my dressage test after a ride and immediately run my eyes down to the bottom right corner to check the final score. Okay, that's human. But what I was missing was the insightful and often helpful comments accompanying the score for each phase of the test. Those comments, often complimentary, may have received only a luke warm score. The horse showed promise and was executing the movement correctly--only lacking impulsion or some other fine point that could be corrected in the next go around or the next show opportunity. Same as the criticism of a story. Take heed, because sometimes the more critical comments have something to offer (as much as we all hate to hear it.)
Although dressage judges are professionals who have studied in order to wash away all subjectivity and to produce scores based on a standardized ideal, since they are human we know this standard does not really exist. How many of us have chosen to show before a particular judge because she likes your type of horse or because she is generous with the "nines"? I'll admit it. As for readers, well, there's no real standardized ideal story, but there are elements of each and every novel that a reader will look for: conflict, characterization, pace, setting, making them care, etc. If they don't find it, they might call you out on it, and sadly, we can't always pick our readers/reviewers like we pick our judges.
I'm giving myself this lecture because I know I need it. I need to grow a thick skin and possess a brave heart. Putting a novel out there for any and all to review is scarier than riding down center line for a tough judge on a horse fresh off the racetrack.