Mile 36: Reviews

“You can make some of the people happy some of the time, but there ain’t no way you can make all of the people happy all of the time.” – Arlo Flynn, Western Author

Recently, the January 2019 issue of True West magazine showed up in my mailbox. I was thrilled, surprised and honored to find that the fifth book in the Brock Clemons Western series,Battle on the Plateau,” had been selected as one of the 2018 Best of the West in the e-book category. It was very exciting and something I will readily admit to being proud of.

Three days later, the December 2018 issue of Roundup, the official magazine of Western Writers of America, an organization I am a proud member of, arrived. The very same book, “Battle on the Plateau,” was reviewed. At best, my book was damned with faint praise.

“Taking characters from his previous books, Scott Harris places them in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. While the story chugs along nicely, readers new to these characters are confused. Brock Clemons, with Sophie and Huck, leave Dry Springs, venture to the Grand Canyon, meet up with the Paiutes who eventually befriend them. A battle at novel’s end sets the tone for a sequel, which according to the author, is in progress. Confusion in tenses and first/third person makes the novel seem “amateurish,” which it isn’t, and typographical errors take away from the writing.”

Let me be clear — it hurts. The temptation to point out the mistakes in the review (factual mistakes, not challenging the opinion) is strong, but worth resisting. It is important to walk away from an experience like this with a few things in mind and your confidence and dignity intact.

First, different reviewers will see your books differently. One person’s “Best of the West” is another person’s disappointment. And they both may be right. Maybe you caught one on a good day and another on a bad day, or maybe they simply see your book differently. The key is to neither get too high at a great review nor drop too low from a bad one.

Second, be flattered that they’ve taken the time to review your book. It means you’ve reached a certain level of awareness in the Western writing community, and while I would certainly prefer a rave review, I like that this Roundup reviewer took the time to read it and then write about it.

Last, be willing to learn from reviews, but stick to your guns if you believe strongly in something the reviewer does not. For instance, my books are written in first and third person, which is unconventional, and this reviewer is not the first person to point it out or to dislike it. However, it’s a conscious decision I’ve made. It’s the way I enjoy writing my books, and for those who find it distracting, they simply do not have to read my books. It’s not possible to make everyone happy, and you’ll make yourself crazy trying to do so.

One of my earlier books had two back-to-back Amazon reviews that highlight how people can — and will — see your books differently. The first read …

“It had a lot of dialogue that I didn’t think did anything except add words to the book.”

The very next review said …

“I like stories with a little more dialogue between the characters.”

I suppose, in a way, they were both right.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

4 Comments on “Mile 36: Reviews

Gaby Pratt
February 19, 2019 at 7:57 am

Your honesty is refreshing!

Phil Truman
February 19, 2019 at 9:24 am

All true, Scott. While we’ve all suffered through slings and arrows, I try to keep in mind what some “expert” once wrote (forget who) — Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t critique reviews, it just looks at the numbers. I kinda take solace in that. Still, it’s sometimes hard to swallow certain posted reviews. Example of a one-star I received: “I didn’t order or receive this book.” Despite my efforts to get Amazon to remove it, it’s still there. What the heck, it’s part of the all-important count, I guess (speaking as an Indie).

I would be interested in hearing your opinion on Editorial Reviews – the purchase of same from such as Kirkus, BlueInk, etc. Perhaps a blog post idea?

Thanks for this one. Great job

Frank Kelso
February 19, 2019 at 3:39 pm

Been there done that – got the T-shirt to prove it. My share is an Amazon review of a “short-story,” which had over 10,000 words, where the reviewer’s only complaint was “it was too short” and gave it a one-star?
An aside to Phil Truman, Kirkus Reviews aren’t worth their high cost vs more sales, but supposedly Libraries follow them when ordering new print books,

Phil Truman
February 19, 2019 at 7:52 pm

Frank – Sort of a left-handed compliment, the one star notwithstanding. Maybe the reviewer thought it was supposed to be a novella. 🙂


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