Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Best Way to Embrace a Negative Review

Now that self-publishing has taken off like the California Gold Rush, the internet - and bookstores - are booming with self-made creations of literary wonder. Because of this, it's tougher for the readers out there to sift through the mess to find the gems that they will eventually fall in love with.

What is a self-published author to do? How do we rise above the crowd and make ourselves - and our books - stand out? One way is by reputation. Reputation encompasses many different aspects: our attitude toward others online, our involvement in social networking, the quality and content of our books. Reputation is important because without it, people don't know who we are or sometimes even what we do.

One way we establish reputation for our work is through reviews. Reviews are like gold to a self-published author. They give our work weight and legitimacy, and they give the readers out there a - hopefully - honest opinion about our work.

Good reviews are always desired, but what do we do when we get a negative review? How do we react when someone digs into our work with a diamond-plated shovel and pulls everything out only to tear it to pieces in front of you and the watching public?

We take it in stride.

As authors, our online - albeit public - presence is our reputation and our platform. Meaning anything we say or do, any way in which we react with others, adds to the whole definition of who we are to others. Because of this, we can't afford to explode or throw a temper tantrum when someone says something critical - or even outright negative - about our work.

I'll give a very clear example - which most of you might have already seen - of how not to handle a book review. Below the review is a string of comments from the author, blowing up and defending her work, claiming the review was unfair and unjust...

The author of the book reviewed had a complete meltdown when she found out here book was only reviewed with 2/5 stars. I'm not implying her actions should be mocked, but simply used as an example of how not to react to an honest review.

On the other hand, I recently received a 2-star review for my novel Black Earth: End of the Innocence.

Did I blow up at the reviewer? No. Did I argue with the reviewer, citing defenses to shield my work from negative opinions? No. I graciously sent her an email, thanking her for her time. You know why? Because it was her time that was spent reading and reviewing my book. Do I agree with the 2-star review I received? Doesn't really matter. The review isn't for me, it's for the readers.

In that regard, I have a few tips on how to handle a bad review, if you happen to be one of the lucky few who get one. ;) I am by no means an expert, but I think holding your head high and being respectful of everyone online can go a long ways in this business.

First Understand that a review is simply an opinion. Everyone in this world has opinions, and reviewers are expected to proclaim theirs. That's the point of their position. If a reviewer hates your novel, so what? Others may enjoy it. Maybe your book just isn't someone's cup of tea, and that's fine.

Second - Did you request the review? And if so, did you request the review from someone who enjoys books in your genre? I've seen it happen - an author requests a review for their sci-fi/fantasy novel from someone who usually reviews romance books. Odds are, you're not going to get a lot of interest for your material from that reviewer, so make sure to search out reviewers who review in or at least close to your genre.

Third - Every review is a potential opportunity to grow. As much as reviews are people's opinions, they may very well hold learning merit. If a reviewer is complaining about your bad grammar or inconsistent dialogue, then take a moment to look over those items in your work - especially if others have pointed out the same things.

Fourth - Understand that reviewers are taking their time out to not just review your book, but to read it. There are thousands upon thousands of self-published books out there now, and sorting through them to find ones of interest to read is a task unto itself. Those readers then take the time to actually read said book and then to write an in-depth, detailed review. All of that takes time out of a reviewers personal life and time away from others who are waiting in line to be reviewed next.

Fifth - Any news can sometimes be great news. What do I mean by that? Sometimes even a bad review can garner the same - if not more - attention to your work than a good review. I know there are many readers out there that actually skip over purchasing a book on Amazon because the book has numerous 5-star reviews attached to it. The reader wants honest reviews, and even a critical 1 or 2-star review can really build your book into something that is going to catch a reader's eye.

Always remember these simple principles when getting a review, good or bad:
  • Always thank the reviewer for their time.
  • Never defend the review, no matter how harsh it is. The review isn't for your ego, it's for the readers out there.
  • Promote the review to gain attention for your book. This includes asking the reviewer to post his/her's review in as many online locations as they can. Including Goodreads,, Barnes and Noble, Library Thing, etc.
  • Don't request a review from someone if you're not willing to have that review posted everywhere. There are authors who ask to have reviews taken down because they are just too ashamed of them. Don't do that. It's immature and it makes the reviewer not want to deal with you - or self-published authors - in the future.
There are still remnants of a negative stigma attached to self-publishing that many of us are trying to hurdle over. Don't make things worse by blowing up or tearing a reviewer apart just because they were critical of your work. Be mature. Be an author worth checking out, not one that readers want to run from because of your bad attitude. Give the reviewers who are taking their time to read your stuff a pat on the back so they'll continue to read and review self-published work.

Photo credit - Creative Donkey


Anonymous said...

I think that reviewers should have similar standards themselves. Just because a book has a lot of romance (not my cup of tea) doesn't mean that it is worthless to the world. I try to be positive and constructive even when hitting parts of books that I didn't enjoy as much. Granted I am a fairly terrible writer so my reviews aren't masterpieces in any way, shape, or form, but I try to be honest and helpful.

There are reviewers out there who are in the category of Internet trolls with reviews consisting of a single line, for example "This book sucks!" or similar nonsense. That kind of review is spiteful and pointless it is no help to an author or a potential reader.

I'm glad that you are able to keep positive when faced with some adversity David as I enjoy your books and wish you the best of luck with their continued success.

Unknown said...

I agree with you, Scott. I think reviewers and those being reviewed need to just be respectful of each other. I think that's what it all really comes down to.

And I totally know what trolls you're referring to. I do like Amazon, in that you have to write a review with your star rating. But Barnes and Noble lets you put a star rating with no comments. So people can just click 1-star but put no reason for it. In my opinion, that's pointless and it's just hurting the author, not helping them.

I try to be as positive as I can be seeing how all of us are in this together to some degree.

And I'm glad you enjoy my books, Scott. :D