Dealing With Bad Reviews.

May 21, 2015

It’s an age old wise tale: There’s no such thing as bad publicity.


As writers we've all spent some time checking out online reviews of our work. Most of my Fridays are about watching the reviews for my Fanfiction stories. In a fantasy world I would want nothing but good reviews, but in reality I understand that not everyone is going to be my biggest fan. 


Reviewers are given the job of critically assessing a work's artistic merit, and determining whether a book is worth readers' valuable time. These people have a lot of weight in the palm of their hands, from predicting a novel's future, to influencing its entirety to the world in a few short words. This is why negative reviews hurt and get called into question, because there can be such a thin line between a critical reception and, say, Goodreads' crowd-sourced opinions.


When my books started to get some attention, I expected some initial good reviews. You know the ones from family and friends who are so eager to support you that they will give you five-star reviews and say things that make you sound like the next big Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele. I love my family and friends for this, really do, but the reviews I treasure the most are the ones from complete strangers, who give honest, constructive criticism.


So, when I got my first one star review, I was shocked! I reread it a few times to make sure I’d read it right. And then because I was mortified, I read it again. Bad reviews suck.


Here’s the thing, even the classics received bad reviews. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby was called obviously unimportant in the Chicago Tribune.  The Saturday Review told Harper Lee, Author of To Kill a Mockingbird that her “problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn't consistently solved it.”


So that just shows you, NO ONE is safe from a bad review. For a self-published author, receiving a bad review feels a lot like taking a kick to the stomach. Trust me, as someone who had her book described as ratchet … the pain goes deep. But the key is not taking it personally. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but I’ve had 14 years of experience with online readers being dicks. You can ignore it and it is possible to not take it personally. 


No matter what the customers say, those who write their comments on Amazon, Apple’s iTunes store, or are spending time and energy thinking about your book. These random complaints are like a scattering of personality into your work. Let’s face it some of the reviews out there are given for foolish or personal reasons, and they can do a damn good job of scaring potential customers away. But sometimes bad reviews can work in our favor, by giving potential customers a sense that the product is interesting and might be catered to their particular taste or needs.


Think about it like this, a good review is typically bland. But bad reviews actually help us determine if a product is right for us. 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.


The most important thing to remember is that if you've already accumulated some positive reviews, a bad one is not going to destroy your book's marketability or have a huge effect on sales. It’s just some else’s opinion and no matter how much you disagree with a review, it makes no sense to go on the warpath. Public meltdowns or inciting an argument over a review are not attractive ways to handle your resentment or anger.


Your book, although a labor of love and very much consider your baby, is a product. You are an entrepreneur. As a self-published author, you are in the business of writing books to make money. It's still a business and it’s no different than a plumber fixing a broken pipe using the skillset that he or she has to do the job. Its just part of the gig. Brush yourself off and get back out there, keep asking for reviews and no matter what happens just remember, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.


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