Why Bad Reviews Matter (and What to Do When They Appear)

One hot topic that comes up on the author forums is how to cope with bad reviews? There have been a range of responses over the years, from the fine strategy of making no public comment, to the less fine strategy of exhorting one’s loyal fans to harass the reviewer (hint: don’t do that). Authors, who have have poured their heart and soul into their works, struggle to be okay with bad reviews. But the thing is, bad reviews actually aren’t as horrible as we generally feel.

Here are some reasons to let go of your fear when facing a bad review:

  1. Not every reader has the same taste. One reviewer may pan your work for exactly the same reasons that another reader gives it five stars. Therefore, a one-star review that says that a book has too many action sequences, or too much of a romantic sub-plot, or not enough magic, might be a review that actually entices another reader.
  2. Negative reviews show readers that real people are reading these books. A range of opinions is to be expected if enough people read your books, and people will be wary if they see a sea of five-star, glowing reviews, with nary a criticism in sight. No book is universally beloved, and readers know that. Leading into that …
  3. People are generally reasonable. If the average person reads a review that starts out, “I got one paragraph into this book and hated it,” that average person is smart enough to take the review with a grain of salt. Readers are not delicate flowers who must be shielded from the slightest hint of a whisper that our work is not perfectinstead, they are reasonable people with a wide range of opinions (see #1), who are perfectly capable of making a decision to buy our books, even in the face of vitriolic dislike from other readers.
  4. They reviews are right. Yes, ouch. On the one hand, many poor reviews have bizarre reasons (too many Es! I hate books that feature horses in any capacity! The author’s pen name reminds me of my least favorite cousin!), but a lot of brutal reviews highlight areas for improvement in your writing. A lot of people say that you should ignore reviews, but I’m actually of the opinion that you should swallow your pride and read the bad ones. You might discover a massive plot hole, a really bad typo, or a systematic issue in your writing that (when fixed) will make you a better author.
  5. You love writing. Wait, what? The reviews of my first book were … well, mostly, they weren’t. No one was interested in reviewing it. One person did review it, and they didn’t like it very much. And you know what? I kept writing, because I love writing. And the next books were better. Trust me when I say that I know how much this bad review hurts, and trust me, also, when I say that even if your book is being panned across the board, that in NO way means you should stop writing.

Of course, these reviews will still hurt. You will still be tempted to tell the reviewer that they are wrong. If I might offer some suggestions, however …

  1.  Expect the bad reviews. Every book, no matter how good, has bad reviews. You will get them.
  2. Have someone to vent to in person. Not online, in person. You need a friend who will sit sagely through a rant about how wrong your reviewer is (or your tearful rant about how right they are), and then pour you another martini, or cup of tea, or whatever it is, and then tell you that you have an incandescent talent and you should go write more things. Because you do. And you should!
  3. Do not engage your reviewers … as this almost invariably goes poorly. The rule is, there is no classy way to tell a reviewer that they are wrong. The one exception to “don’t engage” is bullet point #4.
  4. …unless they mentioned typos and you are writing to ask them for any egregious ones they found. This is acceptable. Use discretion. Have a friend oversee the email before you send it. And thank both the friend and the reviewer for their time!
  5. Know what constitutes slander and harassment. Slander is not disliking the book, such as, “this book had no redeeming qualities and I hated it.” Slander is an attack on the author, such as, “I have determined that this author runs an illegal drug-running business and routinely murders kittens.” Harassment is not, “I do not recommend this book.” Harassment is, “here is the author’s address, I recommend that people go to their house and heckle them.” If people are slandering and harassing you, absolutely contact the host site about the review. If they just really, really hated the book? Let it go.
  6. Have a plan for when a bad review comes in. This plan is a collection of things that help relax you. Tea? Running? Baking? Meditation? Hanging out with friends? Just know what will help you calm down, and be ready to do that in case the bad review really throws you for a loop.

Authors, do you have anything to add? Any tips and tricks?

-M

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