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 readers/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. (There’s a particular crime author whose books I actively avoid after discovering he openly brags about sockpuppetting his own books and, worse, negatively reviewing those of his competitors: for god’s sake, don’t be that guy). If there are people out there who want to debate your work, fine, but you shouldn’t be manipulating this out of hurt feelings.
Bloggers owe you nothing
There seems to be a bit of a trend for blogger bashing on social media lately, so remember: bloggers owe you nothing. They don’t owe you a review (even if you sent them a book – most are swamped and have more books than they can handle); they certainly don’t owe you a good review. Hell, they don’t even owe you a reply to an unsolicited email or review request. Sure, there are some entitled, bratty bloggers out there – just as there are entitled, bratty authors – but in the main they are just regular (and in my experience usually very nice) people fitting book blogging (for free) around their often very busy lives. You may choose to nurse a furious grudge in your heart that the blogger who states clearly on her review policy that she only reads hardback historical fiction hasn’t responded to your request to review an epub of your science fiction epic, but if you do want to be angry, keep it to yourself or risk looking like a fool, and alienating other bloggers who might be a better fit for your work.
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 – though plenty of mainstream authors could also take this on board (see for instance how touchy some straight white authors get over subjects like appropriation, or writing about people from different backgrounds). 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? Go to Goodreads, pick a book you loved so much you wanted to have its babies, and have a look at the reviews: I guarantee, you will find some that say it’s a stinker. 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 of reviews, which is bad for everyone – authors, bloggers and, most importantly, readers. Most decent bloggers regard the very idea of paid reviews as abhorrent, undermining the independence they treasure -in my experience, book bloggers genuinely value the relationship of trust they have with their readers, who know they are getting an honest opinion, not something that’s been bought by a slick marketing campaign or a deep-pocketed author. (The well-respected Book Connectors online community, for example, just launched a campaign and a logo to raise awareness that authors shouldn’t pay for reviews).
And ultimately, buying praise is simply 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.
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Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1