If you pay close attention to reader reviews on Amazon.com, you might notice an interesting phenomenon. Because I write thrillers, I study reader reviews very carefully for my particular genre. I won’t mention any names, but if you name any popular thriller or mystery novelist, more than likely, I pay very close attention to what readers are saying.
Naturally, you can’t take everything at face value. If you read a 5-Star review that’s dripping with compliments and lofty adjectives, it was probably written by the author’s spouse. On the other hand, when you read a vicious 1-Star review that chastises the author in every possible way, there is probably more to the story. These situations aside, when you notice some consistencies or patterns from one review to another, more than likely these observations carry some credibility.
I noticed something quite thought provoking the other day while surfing some reader reviews. It seems that in many instances, the newer the book, the less complimentary the reviews. A popular author’s debut book may earn off-the-charts reviews. But as time goes by and the author releases the second, third, or fourth novel, the kudos are less and the criticism more. Now this is not always the case, of course, but I do find some consistency with this observation. And what’s even more interesting is a shared conclusion by many of these readers that the author spent years carefully crafting his or her first novel, but did not devote as much time to the follow-up books. Hence, they’re not as good.
Consider this. When a writer goes platinum, he or she will generally sign a multi-book contract with a major publisher. To fulfill this contractual obligation, the author must guarantee delivery of each completed manuscript based on a negotiated timeline. Although every deal is a little different, it is not uncommon for a well-known author to write one book a year. So, hypothetically, if an author worked diligently for two or three years writing his or her debut novel, spending countless hours crafting it to perfection, what do you suppose happens when he or she has to rush through the follow-up books to meet a deadline? You guessed it. The quality goes down. Not in all cases, of course, but in many.
So, put yourself in the author’s shoes for a moment. You’ve spent the last decade writing your little heart out, trying desperately to get some recognition for your writing. You’ve written three novels, submitted them to every agent and acquisition editor in the free world, and the only reward for your efforts is a truckload of form rejection letters and a huge copying and postage bill. Then one day, your manuscript catches the eye of an agent and she agrees to represent you. The next thing you know, you’re signing a publishing contract. Now suddenly, your book takes off and you are transformed from obscurity to stardom; every publisher in the country wants to buy your next three books.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that every writer strives to write the best they possibly can, and they want every word in every book to be worthy of their reader’s admiration. But when you’re faced with tough deadlines, and millions of dollars are on the line, money, unfortunately, trumps literary excellence every time.