5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews
by Beth Bacon
All authors’ hearts break a little when negative reviews show up on their books’ sales pages. But a book with lots of reviews has real legitimacy and gives browsing shoppers a range of perspectives, making them more likely to buy it. So seeking lots of reviews is a good thing. But how do authors handle the inevitable bad ones? Here are five techniques for dealing with customers who pan your book.
1) Remember: Any review is publicity
No matter what the customers say, those who write their comments on Amazon, Apple’s iTunes store, or BN.com are spending time and energy thinking about your book. They’re spreading the word. When a reader disses your book, remember, not all the people who see the review will agree. Let’s say a reader ranks your dystopian fantasy poorly, saying, “It was bleak.” That bleakness might be exactly what your real audience is looking for. I’m sure you’ve read reviews and thought, “Well, I disagree,” or “That thing he hated was the best part of the book.” Your customers will form their own opinions.
2) List your fears
It’s scary launching your book out to the world. You’re exposing yourself, putting your best effort out there for all to see. Then, with a bad review, someone callously disparages what your heart holds dear. Ouch. What you need to do first is admit that writing a book is one of the most a frightening things a person can do and congratulate yourself for having the courage to share your words. Then, get serious and a face your fears.
List the comments you fear the most. Some bullet points on that list might be: the writing is poor, it’s not funny, the reviewer didn’t relate to the characters, the reader found typos. Identify the terrifying elements of a bad review, think them through, and get over them. No negative review has ever caused the world to end. Then, in your next book, try make adjustments so you’ll get fewer of those types of reviews.
3) Know what’s irrelevant
Just as you need to identify what you fear, you need to acknowledge the comments that don’t really matter to you. For example, if you’re a romance writer, it might not matter to you that some people think your book is “wordy” or that it’s “fluff.” That might be exactly what your core romance readers want. Your real fans may be looking for lots and lots of your words to savor. When you recognize remarks from your irrelevant list, say to yourself, “Whatever,” and move on.
4) Dwell on the comments that brighten your day
Make another list that includes the special words that make your heart soar: witty, suspenseful, hilarious, imaginative… whatever you really value. Be sure to spend extra time enjoying the comments that contain those words. Acknowledge that there are a few special readers out there who really “get what you’re trying to do.”
Comedy writers may look for reviews with the words, “It made me laugh.” Women’s fiction writers might perk up when they see that someone found their characters authentic. Historical writers could be satisfied when their audience appreciates that the title has been well researched. Which words are magic to you? Recognize them and wallow in the joy.
5) Keep these bad reviews in mind
Every author gets bad reviews sometimes, even authors of the most beloved books. Here are a few I found recently on Amazon:
“It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read.” —review of the American classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Not nearly enough consistency and far to [sic] little plot.”—review of Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
“If I were you, I’d peruse it briefly at your neighborhood library before putting hard-earned money out.” —review of children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
“I find myself saying to myself as I read it ‘bla bla bla’ as that is what the author seems to be saying.” —review of National Book Award Winner Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
With social media, everyone has a say
Sending a book, either traditionally published or self-published, out to the world puts an author in a vulnerable position. But don’t shrink away from customer reviews. They’re one of the best signals to your customers that you’re a serious writer and your book is worth spending time with. In today’s social media–driven world, anyone with a keyboard gets a say in the online marketplace.
You can recover faster from the sting of negative reviews if you jot down the reactions you are looking for, list the comments that hurt, and note the topics have no bearing of what you’re trying to achieve. Keep the lists handy, or better yet memorize them, and you’ll be armed the right perspective every time a new review is submitted.
Never forget that even the best writers are sometimes poorly received. Then go out and ask your readers to write some more customer reviews.
Image via Shutterstock.