One of the pleasures of publishing is other people’s reactions to your writing: I don’t imagine there’s a writer out there who doesn’t love getting nice feedback. If you didn’t want readers to connect with your writing, you wouldn’t put it out there, and the validation that comes with a good review can’t be overstated. Equally, because writing feels so intimate – you’re putting a little piece of your soul up for judgement – when someone doesn’t like your book it can feel like a personal insult, and some authors can be driven to react accordingly. Here’s why that is a very, very bad idea – and why, in fact, a negative review can be a blessing in disguise.
Accept it will hurt – then get over it
I know, as an author, what it feels like to read a bad review, and I won’t lie to you, it’s never fun. You spend ages and ages – months, sometimes years – slaving away over something, you put your heart and soul into it, and then someone who probably skim read it on the tube or with one eye on whatever TV show they were watching dismisses it out of hand! How very dare they! Clearly they are imbeciles who wouldn’t know a good book if you hit them over the head with it… etc, etc, etc. And that’s fine: you can throw a tantrum, rant at your partner or your friends or even your cat about all these idiots who shouldn’t be let near a computer… but that’s where you need to stop. In public, online, you never, ever react.
Don’t try and ‘correct’ them
The fact is, whatever they say, their opinion is correct because it’s their opinion. Your opinion might be that they are a moron, which is your right, but there’s really no benefit in trying to change their mind. So don’t add a comment on their blog about how they ‘misunderstood’ you (I’ve seen even well-established authors do this, and it never goes well); don’t bitch on Twitter or Facebook, don’t comment on Goodreads or vote their reviews as unhelpful on Amazon. It makes you look petty, turns other bloggers against you and it’s simply a fight you can’t win.
Don’t get others to defend you
There’s plenty of craziness out there already: don’t add to it. We’ve all seen these dramas where authors have been so offended at a review they’ve vented to fans, who have ended up swamping blogs with nasty comments (or even threats, which is obviously never justifiable) simply for the crime of not liking a book. Don’t sockpuppet comments yourself or get friends or family to do it for you. If there are people out there who want to debate your work, fine, but you shouldn’t be manipulating this out of hurt feelings.
Can you learn from the review?
This is particularly helpful for indie authors, who tend not to have the same process of quality control for their products as mainstream authors. Go back to the review, when you’re calm: maybe there are some valid comments in there? Is there something you could have fixed, or points you could take on board? Some things may be easily mended; for instance, if you’re an indie author and a reviewer says that the book was poorly edited or proofed or the cover looked cheap, maybe next time you just need to spend some money getting your next manuscript professionally worked on before you put it out there. If they say the story is confusing, or the writing sometimes not that clear – do they have a point? Think about what your beta readers said (and you should always, always have a team of beta readers to give you feedback before you publish – nobody in the world can properly edit or objectively judge their own stuff). Did you ignore any feedback from them that is being repeated by the reviewers? If so, you might have to accept they were right. Look at the good reviews you are getting – are they saying similar things, even though the reader in question liked the book overall? It’s rare you’ll get a review from someone who thinks your book is flawless.
Not everyone will like you…
Of course, you may also just think that the reviewer is stupid (who knows, they may be, there’s plenty of dumb people in the world) or that they didn’t ‘get’ your book. So what? Every book you loved, every writer you adore – someone, somewhere, will hate. Why should you be any different?
And that’s a good thing!
Nothing is more suspicious on Amazon or Goodreads than pages of perfect reviews: it looks like, at best, the only people who’ve read the book are your friends, at worst, you’re paying people to say nice things. Throw in some one and two star reviews, and at least it looks like actual people in the real world have read your book. Sometimes getting a bad review can prompt discussion, too – and people talking about your work is exactly what you want.
NEVER buy reviews!
Do I need to even spell out why buying reviews is a terrible, terrible idea? It undermines the whole system, it tars all indie authors with the same brush, and ultimately, it’s bad for your writing. I know plenty of people in professional publishing, and it’s not a kind industry. Buffeting yourself against genuine, helpful feedback means you won’t ever get better, and sooner or later, your bluff will get called. Putting yourself out there inevitably means that some people won’t like you and they might say mean things about your work: but that’s part of what being a writer is. Authors who can’t accept that are in the wrong job.
You can buy my books (and review them to your heart’s content) here.
Negative reviews can sell books. I was looking at some one star reviews of a romance book I was considering buying and the one star reviews were repeating: this is pure porn! And I was like oh! Buy! LOL
Thank you for this perceptive. It puts a positive spin on what can be a negative experience. It makes a ‘one star review’ a learning experience rather than a ‘personal attack’. Good on you for pointing that out.