You Can’t Please Everyone…And Why It’s Pointless to Even Try To

At the moment, I’m selling a house.  We have replaced a sewer line and then put in new landscaping (to cover for our yard being dug up), put in a new dishwasher, new shower (due to a pipe leaking from behind the old tub), fixed the electrical problems, replaced rotting wood under the floor in the dining room, got new tile to replace the old carpet that used to be there, and did other things as they popped up around here.  That was for this year alone.  So when we put our house up for sale, I thought we had a good product (the house) to sell.  Except, none of the prospective buyers cared that we had dropped $30K (not exaggerating) into the house.  They were concerned about the color of the paint and thought the place needed new carpet.  So we just spent the past month repainting and putting new carpet down.  Then a little over a week ago, another prospective buyer came in and complained that the floor in the kitchen didn’t match the floor in the dining room.

And that’s when I thought back to something a college friend told me years ago: You give someone a bed, they want a pillow, too.  In other words, no matter what you do, you just can’t please some people.

Then I got to thinking about writing books.  The sad reality is that you will never, ever be able to please every single person who reads your book.  There will always be something wrong with it.  And I’m not talking about big, glaring errors.  I’m talking about the small insignificant things.  Maybe you use a certain word that bothers someone.  It’s a matter of word choice.  For example, maybe you write, “He strode down the street” but someone hates the word “strode” and wants to see “hurried” instead.  “Strode” is acceptable, but because that person doesn’t like the word, they contact Amazon KDP and complain and the author gets an email in their inbox and has to explain to Amazon that “strode” is not a typo.

Then there are people who don’t like a certain character.  It can be as simple as how the character looks.  I once got a complaint because one of my families in a series has blond hair.  The reader accused me of being narrow-minded since there are people “with different hair colors out there.” I explained that they are in the same family and share the same genes, and that’s why I chose to make them all blond.  An author I know got a bad review because her villain had red hair and the reader happened to have red hair, too.  The author doesn’t know this reader, and yet the reader took it personally.   As for the personality of a character, I’ve found that characters take on a personality of their own, and there’s no use in trying to make them into someone they don’t want to be.  (I assume other authors have found this to be true as well.) So when the characters do or say certain things in a book, it’s pretty much the characters’ choice, not the authors’.   There will always be a reader out there who doesn’t like one of your character’s words or actions.  Well, that really says more about the reader and his/her preference on how to handle a situation than it does the quality of a story.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone who hates a certain type of book will bother reading it.  For example, there is a reader of an author I know who hates sex in romances.  The author is known for putting sex in her romances, and this particular reader continues to read (and give negative reviews) on the author’s books because of the sexual content.  Or someone other author who got complaints because of violent content in their horror novel.  That’s like me going to an R-rated movie and then complaining to the people who made the film that it had R-rated material in it.  I’ve also seen readers give negative reviews on books for being “too short,” and right there in the description is a disclaimer saying the story is either a short story or a novella (and the author usually gives the word count).  I know what happens there.  The reader never read the complete description.  They probably skimmed it.  Even so, that’s not the author’s fault, and it has no bearing on the quality of book they read.  Or maybe the reader didn’t like the plot or the way the story went.  The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t their book to write.  It was the author’s.  I hated the ending to Gone With the Wind, The Giver, and Of Mice and Men, but I still thought they were good stories.  A story that wasn’t written as the reader would have written it doesn’t make it a bad story for everyone else.

My point to all of this is that taste is so subjective that it’s impossible to tailor your book to suit everyone.  That’s why it’s pointless to even try it.  I made the attempt last year, and when I published the new version, I discovered that there were a lot of people who liked it better the first way I wrote it.  And you know what?  Those are the people I focus on these days.  I don’t worry about what others think.  They can find another author to read.  Our concern, as writers, is to write for the people who enjoy the books as they were intended to be.  Unless there’s a glaring factual issue (ex. a car in 1789), a typo, a formatting issue that makes the ebook hard to read, or something else that’s blatantly wrong, I see no reason to chance anything in a book once it’s published.  Now, if you decide you want to rewrite the book, that’s a good reason, but you want to change the book (instead of someone telling you to change it to suit them).

I know it’s hard to get over the urge to try to please everyone.  The “I hate your book because…” and 1 and 2-star reviews aren’t fun (and often are given for the most ridiculous of reasons), but it does get easier to shrug that stuff off the more you go through them.  Then they’ll come a point where you think, “Well, my book wasn’t the right fit for that person.”  My philosophy is that even if no one else likes your book, you should.  😀

11 Comments

  1. Okay! Thanks for writing a great post. 1. I just prepped and sold my house. I know the horror… And I can totally relate to your comparison to reviews. Good luck with the house. Enjoy the good reviews, take a breath after you read the not-so-good ones, and just say – Oh well.

    1. LOL Yep, getting the house ready is more stressful than I thought it’d be. I’m glad you got yours sold. I’m hoping all the work I’ve done to my place will do the trick. 😀

      I figure the bad reviews are as beneficial as the good ones. For one, they keep me level so I don’t get a swell head. (It’s good to stay humble.) And it also helps to warn people who wouldn’t enjoy my type of books to avoid them.

  2. Hi Ruth,
    I always check the comments before buying a book on Amazon and find them very useful. The comments often offer more information on the author or on similar books that I would find hard to get elsewhere. It is really a very good system for working out whether a book is worth purchasing or not. I read the one and two star reviews as well as the five star ones. What I look for in a review is basic intelligence and common sense. If I find it, then I will respect the reviewer, whatever it is a one or five star review. What I also like is that someone can comment on a review, potentially sparking a dialogue. In other words, you can review a review.
    Of course, now that anyone can comment on a book, then any old comment will get through. But I think that many of us are beginning to develop skills for working through fake reviews and for those that are a ‘little too subjective’. Let’s be honest, some people are extremely critical and some are not critical enough. I look for those reviews, in particular, that point out the strengths and the weaknesses of the book, which is pretty much how you are taught to write an essay in school and uni.
    You wrote:
    For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone who hates a certain type of book will bother reading it.
    I think for some people it is more fun rubbishing the book afterwards than reading something they might actually enjoy. Some people search for things to get angry and indignant about and when they find them they are like a red rag to a bull. They get tremendous joy out of attacking that red rag.
    This stuff about blond hair and red hair is part and parcel of out touchy feely culture that has emerged in the Anglo world where many people now identify with a character that looks like them in some way, so if that person is portrayed in some poor light we are able to take personal offense. If there is no one in the story who looks like them, then you may find they complain about that, too. Again, like I said above, some people go out there looking to get outraged so they can take out their problems on others.
    But overall, I’m glad that the comments exist, and as I say, most of us pay no more serious attention to the silly comments than we do to a person standing in the store and screaming abuse at a member of staff for whatever reason.

    1. I like to read reviews to get more information about a book. Sometimes I’ll wonder if the book goes a certain way (not a book spoiler but a plot point) and hope to get a clue in the review that answers my question. I read through the good and bad reviews. I tend to ignore the 3-star ones unless that’s all I have to read. 😀 Sometimes it’s why someone loved or hated a book that interests me. I tend to ignore the comments under the review unless there’s a ton of them, and then I have to wonder what it was about the review that sparked a conversation. 😀

      What you said about people reading a book to find things they won’t like makes sense. Some people thrive off of drama.

      I think reviewers and commenters should be able to say whatever they want. I’ve seen some ridiculous ones that I ignored. A few even made me laugh because the thing the person complained about was never in the movie.

      I love the analogy you gave about the person screaming in a store. LOL

  3. Larry Wilson says:

    This reminds my of the line from Rick Nelson’s classic hit song, “Garden Party.” He sings, “I’ve learned my lesson well. See, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” (Yes, that dates me).

    I’ve worked in people-pleasing professions most of my life, and this is sometimes a hard lesson to learn. But every artist and creative person has to learn this for the sake of one’s personal integrity and peace of mind and soul. It is not that we are self-centered people, or that we are not teachable or incapable of benefiting from criticism, but we must be true to ourselves and our art.

    What would some of these critics sound like if they were evaluating a painting or a piece of music? “I really think the brush strokes go the wrong way and the colors are too bright. Come to think of it, I don’t like cubist painting at all, so this Picasso is a hack.” We all have personal taste in the arts, but that is not to say that what we like is bad.

    We write what we love; we love what we write. We take joy in those who share our passion; we are not dismayed by those who do not see the vision.

    1. That’s an awesome way of putting it. Now I need to check out “Garden Party” to listen to the song. 😀

  4. Those one star reviews hurt, but we all get them. I can usually tell if someone is just trying to be nasty. I have to ignore it or I would drive myself crazy worrying about it.

    1. What was weird was that hearing potential buyers criticize my house hurt more than the book reviews I’ve gotten. It was strange because I expected to be able to blow those criticisms off since I didn’t write my house into existence. LOL

      I take comfort in knowing that most people will read the book reviews and understand the motive behind them.

  5. Great post, Ruth Ann.

    Those are some petty reasons to express dislike in a book!

    1. It never ceases to surprise me why someone will give a book a 1-star review. it’s not just books, either. I saw a 1-star review for a movie, and the person wasn’t even right with what they complained about. Thankfully, others commented under the review to let the reviewer know the person was in error.

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