Dealing With Negative Reviews

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No matter how great your book is, sooner or later you’re going to get a bad review. Someone isn’t going to like something about your lovely book and is going to drop a one star review on Amazon or Goodreads. Or a trade reviewer like Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus isn’t going to be wowed by your book. Or you’re going to run afoul of one of the many internet trolls who go around hating on everything, just because they can. However it happens, it’s going to be painful to see that someone doesn’t love your “baby” as much as you do. So how can you deal with the negative reviews? Here are twelve ideas.

  1. Don’t engage. First of all, engaging with the reviewers marks you as unprofessional. Professional writers don’t get into catfights on the internet or with trade publications over bad reviews. They take it and move on. Second, it’s a battle you cannot win. If you engage the reviewer (no matter how troll-ish you know them to be), you will be the one to get raked over the coals. Reviewers don’t like it when you call them out on their reviews and they will claim that they have the right to say whatever they want to say. And they do. Granted, it may be misinformed and based on something other than the book (personal vendetta, trying to tear you down to prop up another author, a mission to tear down people in a genre that has cast them out, etc.), but they have the right to say it. Arguing about it (no matter how intelligently) will only mark you for more abuse and it can ultimately derail your career if the fight goes viral (and it will). It sucks, but you have to let it go.
  2. Enlist a friend. If you absolutely have to engage with a negative review to protect your reputation (perhaps the reviewer got confused and isn’t even reviewing your book, is claiming that you’ve stolen this work from someone else, or is making untrue claims about the content of your book like calling it erotica when there’s not even a kiss, for example), then have a friend do the dirty work. Have them post a review that points out the inaccuracies in the first review and makes a fact-based case for why that review was way off base. If you have a passionate base of fans or a “street team,” have them post their own good reviews to offset it.
  3. Focus on the good reviews. You’ve probably got some great reviews, so focus on those.
  4. Focus on the constructive criticism. A negative review that isn’t from a troll might actually be helpful to you. They may point out discrepancies in your plot, or problems with characterization. Maybe they didn’t like this story but they loved prior stories, indicating that your fans want you to stick with what they love. It’s particularly worth paying attention when several people are criticizing the same thing. This feedback doesn’t help with this book, but you can use it for future books.
  5. Look at the ratio. If you have one bad review and thirty good reviews, you’re doing freaking awesome!
  6. Consider the source. A negative review from a major trade publication like Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus is cause for a lot more concern that a one star review on Amazon from a user named “TrollBaby75.” Trade publications do a lot more to determine whether bookstores and libraries carry your book, and they’re seen by many more industry insiders. They carry actual weight. Amazon and Goodreads reviews? Not so much. If the trades like you, be thrilled.
  7. Try to view it as publicity. At least someone out there is reading your work, right? And as long as the review isn’t from a troll and is helpful and informative, people who read it may still choose to buy your book. Why? Because the things that the reviewer didn’t like might be the very things that someone else loves in a book. Someone’s “Too long,” “Too much description,” “Too many werewolves,” or “Too much sex,” are someone else’s positives. Plus, sites like Amazon and B&N give priority to books with a large number of reviews, whether negative or positive. At least the bad review is pushing you higher.
  8. Remember that it happens to everyone. Remember when you were submitting your work and reminding yourself that rejection happens to everyone? Repeat the same mantra for negative reviews. Every book has gotten negative reviews of both the constructive and the troll-ish kind. Great books, bad books, it doesn’t matter. In an age where the internet gives everyone a voice, everyone gets negative reviews.
  9. Vent your spleen in private. If it’s really bugging you, talk with a trusted friend or family member to get it off your chest. Drown your sorrows in booze or chocolate, go see a movie, or do whatever else you need to do to get past it. (And it should go without saying, but here goes: Social media is not private! Any ranting that you do on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog will likely get back to the reviewer somehow, some way. Keep your venting off the internet.)
  10. Write some more. The best revenge is another book. Go write another great book, publish it, get great reviews, a movie deal and a six book contract. That’ll show ’em.
  11. Remember that you chose this job. Not to get all potty-mouthed, but there’s a saying that goes, “All jobs have shitty parts to them. Choosing the perfect job for you means choosing which flavor of shit sandwich you prefer to eat.” In other words, every single job has at least one negative aspect. (Most have a heck of a lot more.) When you chose your career, ideally you chose the one with the least amount of awfulness. Negative reviews are one of the crappy parts about being a writer. However, there are many more positives than negatives to this career for most people and that’s likely why you chose to be a writer. Remember that. It could be worse: You could be working in an office with no windows and reporting to a clueless boss who can fire you if you sneeze funny.
  12. Learn to laugh at the trolls. Seriously. Some troll reviews are so funny that they deserve nothing but laughter. If you can’t laugh, try pity. Learn to view it from this perspective: “Who has such a sad and tiny life that they have time to sit at a computer and write cruel nonsense about a book?” Because that’s what trolls really are: People who have nothing better to do than to savage some book that they probably haven’t even read all the way through.

Negative reviews are painful, but there’s really nothing you can do except try to find the positive or humorous in it and get back to work on your next project. Everyone has an opinion and the internet gives everyone the power to air it. Your job as an author is to either learn from it if it’s teachable criticism, or ignore it if it’s from a troll. If nothing else, take heart that some of the bestselling books of all time have huge numbers of negative reviews.

(Photo courtesy of geralt)


2 thoughts on “Dealing With Negative Reviews

  1. Mirka Breen

    Reviews are for other readers, not for us who wrote the book. It’s good to remember this, especially in regards to your #1 point. It is their discussion, you’ve had your say in the book.


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