Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trying to Please Everybody

"I don't know the way to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." - Bill Cosby

I love reading reviews of my books!  I was honored to receive a new 5-star review recently from a kind reader who enjoyed the way I intertwined physics and elemental energies.  I've read others, too, that weren't all rated at the top but did make great points about my writing and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  What I'm doing matters!

Then, of course, there's the other side of the review scale. Barlow and Moller told us that A Complaint is a Gift in their book of that name, and I agree.  Totally.  One hundred percent, especially at my day job, where that book is one of the central tenets of our customer service lore.  Except, of course, when that complaint is directed at my babies on Amazon's e-shelves, but, well, you know....

Reviews of 1, 2, and 3 stars have been the topic of much debate, hand-wringing, and other (usually vitriolic) stuff.  From the author's perspective, I can agree that it's hard sometimes to objectively receive criticism of the work we've done.  From the reader's perspective, meanwhile, I can agree that the ability and responsibility to award reviews at the lower end of the spectrum are the only reasons the higher reviews mean anything.

But back to Bill Cosby's words for a moment.  A book review, when well- and properly-written, tells us the story of a reader's experience with the book.  That's a very subjective thing, and boils down to whether or not the reader was pleased by it.  As, I admit, I had to remind myself a few days ago.

Here's what happened, in a nutshell: I found my first 2-star review.  Owie, right?  But I read it with as open a mind as a human can muster after being told his baby is ugly, and found it to actually be quite well-written.  What the reader didn't like, for the most part, was that the book "felt like a soap opera."  Okay, I can see that.  Really, I can, especially when a couple other reviews agree.  Fact is, I wrote the book to be that way.  I know most books in the genre are dead-center fantasy books, with the barest of nods to a little bit of emotional conflict leading to the meat, lots of fiery magic shows.  I--didn't write that, though.  I had fun with the emotional trauma, and the magical drama clearly came second.  Some like that; some don't.

Regardless of all that, though, this review--a complaint, of sorts--really was a gift.  It told me rather firmly that I hit where I was aiming.  Hey, I offer what I offer.  There's a reason most of the seasoned authors I've spoken with recommend not reading reviews, or at least not getting hung up on them. 

Same thing happens in business, though, both with what we do well and what we don't.  While I worked at a previous employer, we did extremely well at educating and training students to not only pass their IT-related certifications but also to perform at their real-life jobs thereafter.  As a result of that success I remember hearing, quite often, that it would be nice if we'd open a training program for professionals to come enroll in day- and week-classes.  After all, it was the same curriculum.  Only problem was, it was a different scheduling system, a different marketing system, and a different delivery system.  Nope, sorry.  I'm gonna continue doing what I know how to do well.

And then, we went and started an online school--same curriculum, but different scheduling system, different marketing system, and a different delivery system.  Go figure.

Anyway, as Mr. Cosby said, you can't please everybody, nor should you try.


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