Negative reviews – we will all get them at some point in our indie author journey, no matter how great we think our books are. Indeed, some writers even see it as a badge of honor to get a savage 1*, because it demonstrates to the world that your reviewers aren't all by your friends and relations. But that doesn't stop it hurting, at least for a little while – especially if the reason for the review feels unfair. In this post Debbie Young shares wisdom from the ALLi hive mind about what to do in these circumstances.
The First Rule of Bad Book Reviews
The first rule of receiving a bad book review is “Do not respond”.
If you do, you risk getting into a damaging verbal boxing match over which you have no control. Pick a fight with a troll – and there are plenty of weirdos out there who really are spoiling for such a fight – and you will only make the situation worse. Just walk away, get a cup of coffee, and move on with the more important things in your day (which is everything else).
Learn What You Can from Constructive Criticism
Secondly, don't assume anything less than 4-5* is negative.
Too many authors take umbrage at 3*- still a positive review.
Consider whether you have lost a star for a particular issue, such as typos. In which case, seize that criticism as a learning opportunity and take the chance to put it right. In this case it would be getting it proofread.
As over time you digest bad reviews, you may start to realize the reviewer was doing you a favor by pointing out a valid issue. Constructive criticism can really help you grow as an author – although of course we'd all prefer it if it came privately pre-publication, from good editors or beta readers. (Might you benefit from starting to use beta readers, or adding more of them to your process?)
Of course, if all your reviews are 1*, maybe you need to think again about the quality of what you are putting out there – but I've yet to see any book get that treatment.
Most authors get largely 3*, 4*, 5*, with a smattering of 1* and 2*s, usually by people who the book just wasn't right for.
And if you're getting a lot of those, consider whether you're marketing to the wrong audience for your book with inappropriate cover art, blurb, categories, etc.
Consider the Context
While ignoring a bad review isn't always easy, setting it into context will help you gain a sense of perspective. You can often diminish its sting by clicking on the reviewer's profile to see what else they've been up to.
- A review describing your book as “the worst book I've ever read” is written by someone who has only ever reviewed your book and nothing else, you can be sure they are a troll with nothing better to do. “More to be pitied than blamed,” as my kindly grandmother used to say.
- If you have a poor review of a sweet romance by someone who only ever gives 5* to vampire novels, you can be pretty sure they're not the best judge of your genre.
- If a 1* comes from someone who gives 5* only to household cleaning products and clothing for dogs, you can be equally sure they're not the best judge of books.
- Adopt my favourite strategy: mentally award the same number of stars to your reviewer as they've given to your book. What, got a 1* review? It's clearly from a 1* reader (poor soul!)
And don't jump to the conclusion that a 1* review is going to be terrible – surprisingly often reviewers will click the wrong star button and give a low rating to a book they say they absolutely loved!
The Only Time You Should Take Action
If the criticism is nothing to do with your book, e.g. “did not arrive” or “not what I ordered”, then that is according to Amazon's Terms and Conditions an unfair review of your work. Message Amazon to report it, and if you're lucky, they will remove it. But if they don't, it's not the end of the world – anyone reading it won't think less of you as an author or of your book for it, they'll probably just laugh and move on to more meaningful reviews.
Put Yourself in the Reader's Position
In all of this, remember you are looking at this review as the author – and the book is your baby. Readers see it differently.
- You will read between the lines, over-analyze and take each word to heart.
- Readers will just be casting their eye over a few reviews and may not even read them in full.
If they're a serious potential customer for your book, they won't be put off by the odd crazy, and they'll be smart enough to realize which reviews are credible. Besides, a surprising number of book buyers never read reviews at all, but buy because they've been sold to by your beautiful cover, carefully crafted blurb, skillful marketing, outstanding reputation, etc. So the significance of reviews in the buying process may be less crucial than it might seem.
Finally, focus on the positives. I'm betting that for every less than fabulous review, you have plenty that you're proud of. Those are the ones you should read and reread and pin on the wall over your desk and share on your social media and website to wring every last drop of pride out of the praise.
And if that still doesn't do it for you, then take this piece of advice that I heard long ago from an author who I'd best not name here:
“Get as many reviews as you can – but don't read them!”
OVER TO YOU What's your favourite coping strategy for dealing with less than glowing reviews? We'd love to hear about them!#Indieauthors - don't be discouraged by a poor review of your book! Read @DebbieYoungBN's coping strategies and you'll feel much better! #bookreviews Click To Tweet
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From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive