I remember talking to someone after a networking meeting, oh YEARS ago, and she said with a laugh, “People either love you or hate you.” It was not a generalization about all people; she was talking specifically about me. I was like, “What? Wait? People hate me?” (Like I know, what’s not to love?)
In truth, it makes me smile because I am quite aware that I am blunt and occasionally talk over someone (okay, more often than that), and I have learned the art of stating things with complete confidence. Sometimes it was misplaced confidence, but it’s all about the delivery.
So, when I get a negative review on one of my books, I have to first unfurl from a fetal position, then tell myself that, as my mom often said, “Not everyone is going to like you.”
That goes for me, that goes for you, that goes for our books.
Oh my God! I got a negative review! I suck!
Negative reviews can be hard to handle, especially when you’ve put your heart and soul into a book and the review is a flip and dismissive paragraph. I’d much rather have someone tell me they hated a book and list off valid reasons than to have someone just say, “This book sucked.”
- How did it suck?
- Why did it suck?
- Did it only suck to you or does everyone think it sucks?
- Or are you just an unhappy human who is lashing out because it’s easier to tear something down than to write your own book?
So, you got a shitty review of your book. What should you do?
First, don’t take it personally, unless of course, it’s a personal attack. Reviews should be about the book, not you as a person. Try to see handling negative reviews as an opportunity to improve your writing and consider the review a free piece of editing advice. It’s hard to remain positive when you get a negative review, but it’s just one person’s opinion. Don’t let it discourage you from writing.
Second, consider the feedback itself. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction might be too feel defensive about your work (before collapsing into a pile of tears). Go back and re-read the review with an open mind. Are there any valid criticisms that you can use to improve your writing? Did the reviewer point out something you might have included in your book but somehow missed? Was the negative review based on content, your writing style or the technical aspects of the book (typos, bad printing, etc.) Is it constructive? Is the reviewer genuinely pointing out flaws or are they just being a whiny little bitch? It’s good to listen to the former and ignore the latter.
Finally, focus on the positive. It’s like getting a pimple right before the big dance. All you can see is that big pimple on your face; you’re not looking at the 99.9% of your face that doesn’t have a pimple. So go through and read your positive reviews. Yeah, it’s kind of an ego thing, but your ego has been bruised. If you have 9 positive reviews and one negative, you’re winning. Remind yourself why you are writing in the first place and the people that you have affected in a positive way.
Writing, even nonfiction, is a creative process and not everybody is going to like your approach. That’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors.
The Pros of Negative Reviews
Really? There can be something good about negative reviews? Yeah, it hurts and it is SO PUBLIC, but negative reviews can be useful.
Here are a few potential benefits:
- Negative reviews can provide valuable feedback. Writers tend to live in a bubble. While we may have beta readers and ARC readers and friends who give us feedback, there’s nothing like an honest comment from someone who has no connection to you. This reader bought your book for a reason. A negative review can offer insight into areas that the reader felt were lacking or that they thought should or should not have been included in the book. Which leads us to…
- Negative reviews can help better identify your target market and manage reader expectations. If a reader is expecting something from your book and complains that they didn’t get it, check your book description to see if you led them to think it would include that. You might want to add something to the description to let people know not to expect certain things. Knowing what to expect helps the right readers choose your book. They’ll be more likely to enjoy it, be satisfied with it, and (hopefully) leave a positive review.
- Feedback can help you identify weaknesses in your writing and work to address them in future projects. If you find you have totally missed the mark or someone suggests a change that you think will add to the book, you can create an updated edition and make your book stronger.
- Prevailing wisdom says never to respond to a negative review. Sometimes your audience will engage and stand up for you, which is so much more powerful than you being defensive. If someone has given you a negative review that is truly helpful, I see nothing wrong with thanking them and telling them that you found their critique helpful. Whether you make changes in that particular book or not is up to you. In addition, responding to reviews (both negative and positive) in a professional and constructive way can help you engage with your readers and show them that you value their feedback. This can lead to a stronger connection with them.
- What I like best of all is that negative reviews can make your positive reviews seem more valid. When a book has nothing but glowing reviews, it looks like the author got all her friends to post reviews and no one else has bought her book.
Getting reviews seems hard enough. While no author really wants negative reviews, a few in the mix give your book more credibility. In addition, a thoughtful negative review can give you valuable feedback and help manage future readers’ expectations. And no, there’s nothing wrong with loading up on chocolate and wine to help you deal with it.