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Writing: How To Deal With Bad Reviews

Writing: How to Deal with Bad Reviews

Tahlia NewlandAustralian author Tahlia Newland, who also founded and runs the Awesome Indies book appraisal programme, shares the psychology of dealing with any negative reviews that may befall your self-published books, to help indie authors everywhere deal constructively with criticism, and to learn and grow from it, rather than losing confidence or motivation.

Truth is essential, but it can also be painful.

It’s natural to feel very disappointed, even devastated, after critical feedback, but if we can deal with it in a positive way, it can be the best thing for your development as a writer.

For the unseasoned writer, defensiveness kicks in automatically. You take the feedback as personal criticism, and that hurts. Understanding the psychological process that follows from viewing it in this light is the first step towards recognising our reactions and making the decision to look at the whole thing in a more positive, less painful way.

Shock: You thought your book was pretty good. You’ve worked so hard on it.  It can’t be true.  They must be wrong.

Defensiveness:You criticise and reject the reviewer and their evaluation. What credentials does the reviewer have anyway? What do they know? It’s only a personal opinion. It doesn’t mean anything. You tell yourself this to try to devalue the criticism. You want to be able to ignore it, so you try to prove that the person doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. At this stage you won’t see anything worthwhile about the reviewer, even if it’s staring you in the face.

Depression: You feel terrible, crushed, even devastated. If they are right (despite trying to dismiss the feedback, part of you says that at least some of it must be true), then you’re a terrible writer and you’ll never be any good. (They didn’t say that; it’s what you’re reading into it). You feel like giving up.

Letting Go: You give up your defensiveness and seek a way out of your depression. You may give up completely for a time, or you forget the book and do something else. You may decide you’re never going to write again, or that there are more important things in life and you put your focus elsewhere. This isn’t a bad thing. You need to let go in order to clear your mind so you can start fresh with renewed energy, and giving up is a way to let go, so is putting your energy and focus elsewhere.  I recommend giving up  for at least one minute. Totally letting go, even for an instant, is a very refreshing thing to do and it realigns your priorities. The bare minimum here is letting go of your defensiveness. You have to come to a point where you’re prepared to consider that perhaps the reviewer has a point and that rather than rejecting it, you could learn from it.

Objective evaluation: After a break, you come back and look at the feedback in a more objective light. Okay, you think, what is this person actually saying here and does it apply? If you don’t let go, you can’t do this. You’ll be stuck in defensiveness or depression.

Cover of Worlds within Worlds by Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland’s latest novel is about a disgruntled author cyber-bullying a reviewer

Acceptance: You recognize the value of the feedback and see where it’s valid. A professional review (one that evaluates the craftsmanship of a book, not just whether the reviewer likes it or not) has more value than a reader review for evaluating your craftsmanship. Readers’ reviews are the most important thing for indicating potential sales, but not for indicating craftsmanship.

Moving On:  You consider how to improve your work in light of the feedback. Then, if you just can’t face working on it again, you put the book aside, and focus on improving your next book, or you do the work and improve the book.

Satisfaction/gratitude: You recognise the improvement in the book, or at least in your knowledge and are glad you went through this process.

OVER TO YOU
Have you ever found it difficult to deal with a negative review? How did it affect your writing? Do you have any coping strategies to share? We’d love to hear from you via the comments box.

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This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. I wish I had known the importance of:

    1) Using a beta-reader to read and critique my books back in 2011.

    2) reading my book out loud to myself to edit and fix bad grammar back in 2011.

    3) Using a grammar editing app such as grammarly.com to show me the grammar mistakes I missed back in 2011..

    4) NOT reading my book for the first ten days after it is finished, in order to let the euphoria wear off so I could edit it calmly back in 2011.

    All of these critical mistakes has cost me bad reviews and not allowed the reader to enjoy the best book I could write.

    In January, 2018 my 29th western frontier eBook will be placed on Amazon called, An Orphan With A Destiny! It is my hope that the harsh lessons I have learned from the past will translate into both a wonderful story and something the reader will enjoy, grammar wise.

  2. What really makes me angry about my critics is that they don’t leave anything valuable for me to improve and correct my books. Most of the comments are actually racist and very aggressive, and personal. They don’t really comment the books, only the author. The comments are always something like “the author isn’t native speaker” or “the book was written by an idiot”, or something like that. I don’t learn nothing from the negative reviews, because my conclusion is that my negative reviewers are a bunch of idiots. Positive reviews, on the other hand, let me know how the book has helped the readers, such as when they say that it’s useful to use it when talking to friends, or that my book is inspiring, or that they have learned something new about this and that. In other words, my positive reviewers let me feel assured that my books are meaningful and interesting, but my negative reviewers don’t say nothing. In fact, one day I decided to attack them online, what is horrible for my image and my sales, but thanks to this attitude I was able to make them more angry, and when they replied I found that they are authors too. In other words, my negative reviewers are, most of the times, writers, selfish, egocentric and very dumb writers, that have nothing better to do than check what I write and attack me. If they were smart they would invite to write with them, but we live in a world of shit-heads, and many writers aren’t exception to this rule. Sadly, Amazon is also not an honest company, as many of these personal attacks weren’t ever removed from Amazon US, but most of my positive reviews were. This leads me to conclude that Amazon is not a trustable company to work with. For this reason, I have put my books on Google Play as well. And, surprise surprise, as more than 95% of my reviews on google play are positive, and I have 100 times more reviews there than on Amazon.
    With this text, I want to say something to those writers that receive bad critics: Don’t take it personal, because it is, they are trying to destroy your career, not necessarily you as a person. The 2 things are related, because you are a writer, but to learn and move on, you must think like a business person as well. That’s when you realize that the world is full of rocks, but there is room for grass and water as well.

    1. Hi Dan:

      Some bad reviews are made by people with emotional problems.

      Some are made by other writers who can’t write or know they will never put their book on the web for all to see.

      Some bad reviews are made by competing authors out to stop other writers from gaining a part of the market.

      Mostly the bad comments I have received have been for poor grammar.

      What helps me to deflect the bad comments, be they merited or not is a comment that to this day makes me smile:

      “One part of this book, took 5 Kleenex’s, I was almost sobbing, it was so emotional. The story just kept going along with this family from one drama to the next. I kept thinking this is enough for these poor farmers. it showed how lawless a lot of the West was in the 1800’s..”

      So as writer’s we must take the good with the bad and strive to be better writers.

  3. “A well-known troll”, Liz. What sort of creature is this? It does make humans sound frighteningly combative doesn’t it. No wonder, as a species, we have nuclear arsenals and other fearsome engines. I wonder if this is a clue to another way of doing things? I know it’s very difficult when dealing with brittle, edgy characters who know how things are meant to be and see any questioning of that as a personal attack. This must be as true of reviewers as authors and might even be commoner in a person who puts life energy into reviewing rather than creating, a sort of dog guarding the door, restricting freedom and movement. I suspect, because the job is much easier, that there are more crap reviewers than crap authors in the open rough and tumble of the Internet. I guess the author has to become a discriminating reviewer of reviewers. After all, if you have written a book with the best of your soul, you are the lion of this jungle, they are the monkeys.

    1. There’s a person who’s known for going after people in my profession; it was only a matter of time before he got to me. A bit scary, though.

      I never mind constructive criticism: that’s why I added to my book when someone commented that stuff was missing. And if people don’t like my style and way of putting things across, that’s absolutely fine. But specific criticism of something that’s demonstrably not in a non-fiction book is a bit more troublesome to deal with.

      Oh well, at least it (usually) means people are reading our books if they review them!

  4. I have only had one really bad one so far, although the one that said the book had too many cardigans still makes me giggle (they did praise it, and they understood why I took a personal and friendly tone, they just didn’t care for it – which is fine, of course). The bad one actually criticised my book for something that it just does not do, which felt very unfair. I vented on social media (safe, not massively shared, social media) and was lucky enough to have two previous readers (one a previous friend, one not) post replies to the review pointing out the error.

    I also had one of those trolling ones, in this case saying the images didn’t display. As there are no images in that particular book, I did feel happy in that case to post a reply saying there are no images in this book so this criticism does not stand.

    I had a review on one of my books that I had left something important out that was tangential to the subject of the book but still valuable. I agreed, wrote a chapter on that, sent the reviewer (who had handily contacted me direct as well as reviewing on Amazon) a new copy of the book – and he updated his Amazon review, delighted at my feedback!

    I’ll tell you what did affect my writing, though – a well-known troll emailed me about errors in my content on my professional blog. I was really nervous about updating the blog in case they escalated, but with the support of my editing community, I did post yesterday and nothing bad has happened. That is like a bad review and really stopped me in my tracks.

  5. I remember a review from a blogger with a hugely influential website. She agreed to read my book, but quit 3 chapters in and sent me a note that ‘she just couldn’t believe that a sexually abused child would react that way.’ I fumed! She was treading in her ignorance on the ground of decades of my expertise! What an idiot!
    But fortunately, what I did was thank her for her time and give it a rest. Eventually I was able to see that she had given me very valuable feedback. I knew the various manifestations of abuse in depth, but my average reader does not. I had done a poor job of bringing the person with little knowledge into the scenario, and the reaction was disbelief.
    So I looked at it from the viewpoint of the uninformed and re-structured my plot to bring them along in my character’s viewpoint.
    Vast improvement.
    The reader is the consumer. They get to tell you how the story feels on the other end. And the storyteller must figure out how to serve up the ingredients into a satisfying meal.

    1. I like that story Emily. It makes so much sense. For me the art of writing lies between my own pure quest for inner truth or essence which is new for me, in which the reader doesn’t exist – it’s almost like a conversation with God – and the realisation that there must be a reader other than ‘God’ or I wouldn’t be writing, and like some multipurpose spider, I should constantly be sending threads out to the world around. In a way it’s one process, a sort of balancing act like wire walking.
      Not that, in my case, there’s much history of connection. It’s very much a work in progress.

    2. I updated/corrected a part of an eBook, reloaded it on Amazon, contacted the reviewer and asked them to read the updated version and re-consider their comment and they ignored my request.

      There is plenty of room for improvement for me as a writer and I hope none of you will be discouraged.

      Stay the course, write your best, get a proficient beta-reader, use grammarly.com, read the book slowly out loud to yourself to catch mistakes, and then read your book 5 times to try to catch every little mistake before showing it to the world.

  6. Brings it all back: my first book As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee had caught the eye of a leading London based Literary Agent ( mainly because I tracked him down at a Book Conference and pitched it to him face to face and wouldn’t let him speak to the much more interesting young female next in line until he agreed to have a look at it. He liked it, sent it to one of his staff readers, who wrote a 4 page analysis that took my synopsis apart with no holds barred. I was devastated, sulked for days and then rewrote the synopsis. The agent liked that too but took 3 months to eventually turn me down. I did learn much later though that to receive a reply from an agent that went beyond just saying no, never mind a 4 page dissection with detailed advice on how to improve the structure, was actually an encouraging result and heart should be taken from it. In the end I self-published a re-written and re-structured version that was much the better for being re-written. As the writer Gillian Slovo, who tutored me and oversaw more revisions of the book, would say at every possible opportunity… “All good writing is re-writing.” She has a point and so did that professional reader……

  7. Problem is, there’s no defence against confused reviewers. Somebody emailed me to say he’d loved my debut novel Fear Of Evil and left an Amazon review. I rushed to read it. Just three stars. ‘If you loved it, why didn’t you give it five stars?’ I asked. ‘Is that normal?’ he asked. ‘I thought three stars was bloody good!’ Sigh…

    I’m told that seasoned novelists never read reviews of their own books. Good ones tell them nothing they didn’t know already and bad ones tell them what they don’t want to know. I look forward to being a seasoned novelist.

    1. When I began writing my first book in 2011, grammar was my enemy. I only got a C in college English in 1983, and couldn’t foresee the future for me as a author.

      I relied on Microsoft Word spell check.

      This was my downfall for an important reason.

      1) If I spelled a word correctly but it was the wrong word, I didn’t know it since I didn’t re-read the book.

      For example, my biggest blooper (I caught) thank God, was,

      “When the couple opened the picnic basket, they smelled the aroma of fried children.”

      The word I had wanted to use was chicken. Since children was correctly spelled, spell check could not alert me of the error.

      Reading a book out loud is a critical component of trying to make sure your story conveys what you are writing about.

      Stephen King was rejected 75 times before his first book was published.

      Speaking for myself, I could never endure 75 rejection letters if my skin was made of leather.

      Had I let agents or editors send me 1 page to 4 page letters telling me I had no future as a writer back in 2011, I wouldn’t be placing my 29th eBook on Amazon in January, 2018.

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Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland has written and published eight books, three of which have won multiple awards. She writes inspirational and heart-warming magical realism and fantasy, and also makes masquerade masks and steampunk hats and accessories. She has a Certificate in Editing and Proofreading and works as an editor for AIA Editing and AIA Publishing, a selective self-funded publishing company. She also co-ordinates Awesome Indies Books’ accreditation service for independently published books. She lives in an Australian rainforest.

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