Go to goodreads.com or amazon.com, and find five books that are similar to the kind of book you’re writing. Read through as many of the reviews as you can. Here is what you’re looking for:
These reviews were from people that were not the target audience. Jeff recommended that you print them out and tape them to your wall. Then when you’re feeling down you can read them and tell yourself “That book was a best-seller, and someone still hated it.” Everyone looks for something different in a book. If you haven’t disgusted a few readers then your work probably isn’t very original.
This happens when a book didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the reader. Take a hard look and ask yourself if anything in this review applies to your own work. Ask yourself if there isn’t something you can do better, some new twist you can try.
These reviews tend to be the most useful, because they come squarely from the target audience (especially true if the book is the first in a series). Pay attention to what these readers liked. Pay attention to what they didn’t like. Look for trends, and make sure you don’t follow the same mistakes that the author made. Emphasize in your work the things that these readers praised.
For most people this means that they liked the book a lot. You’ll get good info here, too.
Mom, is that you?
The series effect
Here is another exercise you can do to understand what your readers are looking for. To illustrate, go to Amazon and take a look at the Recluse series, by author L. E. Modesitt Jr. Here is an analysis of the first five books in the series (there are currently 16).
- The Magic of Recluse: 131 reviews, 3.5 stars. Very few people are in the middle. Most reviewers either liked it or hated it.
- The Towers of the Sunset: 49 reviews, 3.5 stars. The trend is sort of flat, with an even distribution of likes and dislikes.
- The Magic Engineer: 40 reviews, 3.5 stars. By this time the positive reviews are definitely more numerous than the negative reviews.
- The Order War: 18 reviews, 3.5 stars. Trend is similar to book 3. People are beginning to comment how the writing has improved.
- The Death of Chaos: 20 reviews, 4 stars. The trend is definitely positive. Very few negative reviews.
Did you notice that each successive book gets fewer and fewer reviews?
The first book in a series is always going to have lower reviews because it’s the one that everyone reads. The author is going to get a mix of people who liked it and people who detested it. Those who didn’t like book 1 will not buy book 2, so when book 2 comes out there will be fewer reviews but more of them will be positive. This trend will continue as the series progresses until book 5 when you see only a handful of reviewers, and they are overwhelmingly positive.
In short, only fans review the later books in a series. By this time the author has established themselves with their target audience. Pay close attention to what the reviewers praise. There will still be bad reviews. These are from fans who got let down. What didn’t they like?
As you write your own stories, keep in mind that book 1 is your most important work. This is the vehicle for introducing your writing to new readers. It will always sell the most copies. Some people will love it and some will despise it. Don't try to please everyone. Know your target audience, and write specifically for them. Your later books will always get better reviews.