It’s a given that, sooner or later, every book will get a negative review. Authors can be hit hard by these bad reviews, and, in general, you may have two responses to it. You may want to wade in and defend your book or hide under your blanket and sweat that you’ll never write again. Even though no author wants to read a negative review about their book, the reality is that negative reviews can hold a lot of value for you. So, before you give up or pick a fight, take a deep breath and keep reading how to deal with bad book reviews.
Feel Your Feelings
The first thing you need to do is get in tune with your feelings about the review, and you can have some pretty strong feelings. As an author, you’re deeply and intimately connected to your book, which you created with your ideas and your passion. When someone says something negative about your book, you might take it very personally and feel hurt, angry, or sad. However, you feel and express your feelings, don’t respond to the review in public. Don’t reply, and don’t even subtweet about it. Instead, share your feelings with someone you trust, offline, in a safe and contained way.
When your emotions have calmed down, hug your book. No writer is perfect, and no book is perfect. You can accept that your book is flawed, and not every person will adore it the way you do. However, you know that you did the very best you could with it, and nothing anyone says can change that.
Keep it Professional
Take off your author hat, and put on your publisher hat. As a publisher, you’re in the business of selling copies of your book, and reviews should only concern you if they affect sales substantially. You’re a publishing professional, and your actions reflect on your professional reputation. Keep that at the front of your mind as you consider your next steps.
If the review in question is one reader’s personal response to your book, you will have to let it go. Readers value having the space to read and respond to books without authors being present in any way. Intruding on that space won’t convince anyone that you’re right and they’re wrong, and it can make you look bad in a way that does far more harm to your book and your future works than a negative review did.
You may be concerned about trolling and spam on websites that host reader reviews. The vast majority of reviews do come from real readers. So, resist the urge to categorize any negative review as junk, even if it has personal jabs. However, if you’re confident that a review is fraudulent or if it violates the site’s policies, bring it to a site moderator’s attention. Otherwise, shrug and move on.
Professional reviews are a slightly different matter because they’re held to a higher standard of factual accuracy. If you receive a review from a professional publication or paid review service and feel it doesn’t accurately represent your book, you can write in with a polite request for a correction.
Learn and Grow
If you receive several negative reviews, look at whether they have anything in common. Did many people say they thought your book was science fiction, but it turned out to be a mystery? That’s a hint you need to change your book’s packaging, which includes the cover art, the jacket copy, maybe even the title, to appeal more to mystery readers. Do readers complain about typos or plot holes or consistently misunderstand an essential element of your story? That means you need to invest in a higher grade of professional editing.
Look at every complaint as a hint that may point out something that requires your attention. Making business decisions that address the concerns readers raise is a sure-fire path to better reviews for your next book, if not for this one. The best way to drown out negative reviews is with legitimate positive reviews. Once you’re sure you understand your book’s optimal audience and you’ve geared your packaging toward that audience, use targeted marketing to get the book in front of readers who are more likely to love it.
Research the best ways to build up a mailing list of your dedicated fans. Occasionally remind them to leave positive reviews of books they love. Include that reminder in the back pages of your books as well. You should also avoid services that sell positive reviews, as readers can immediately identify them as fake. Such reviews will tarnish your reputation. Let your fans know that reviews matter to you, but keep your reminders gentle and infrequent. Authentic, organic, positive reviews are the ones you should aim to get as they have the best impact on your book.
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More Specifics for Handling Bad Reviews
Now that you understand the broad strokes of handling bad book reviews, let’s dive into some more specific items. You may want to note these items or bookmark this page for quick access. Frequently, in those moments immediately following your first read of a bad book review, the temptation is significant to take some action that you can’t undo later.
1. Refrain from Responding to the Reviewer
As much as you want to respond to the reviewer, either politely or with harsh words, don’t do it. Once you’ve left a comment, sent out a Tweet, or posted to Facebook, your negative response will be out there for everyone to see. You might get a few fans to rally to your cause, but most people will view you, not the reviewer, as the villain. Even if you can delete it later, the damage is done. Even sending an email is a bad idea, and you must refrain from adding fuel to the fire and keep your grumblings private.
2. Know That It’s Part of the Process
Guess what? Every author gets negative and unflattering reviews for their book. It is just something that comes with the territory, and you have to accept that. Remember, what you have created is art, and art is subjective. Not everyone will like your book, and some people will have some pretty strong responses to share. You have to accept that you can’t please everyone, which is why you need to move on from these negative reviews and not let them affect you too much.
3. Laugh About The Bad Book Reviews
The one thing that you can’t do with negative reviews is to let them affect you negatively and make you feel bad about yourself. You can’t cry about bad reviews for your book, so you might as well laugh about it. Most times, a bad review is poorly written or so far-fetched that it makes no sense at all. Many bad reviews are riddled with poor grammar, misspellings, and other mistakes that you should consider the quality of the reviewer’s assessment. So, turn the tables and have a good laugh about it instead of letting it dominate your mood. Besides, it’s hard to stay angry when you are already laughing.
4. Remember Bad Book Reviews Add Validity to Good Reviews
What do you think when a book has nothing but five-star reviews all across the board? It’s impossible, isn’t it? You start to wonder whether all the reviews are genuine or not. Maybe they are from friends and family of the author. Perhaps, they are paid reviews. A few bad reviews show that some of the readers were honest, and, by extension, the good reviews are probably honest as well. Sometimes, people want to know if the book is as bad as the reviews are making it out to be. So, out of curiosity, they will buy the book and read it to find out for themselves.
5. Look for Constructive Criticism in the Review
Most times, two and three-star reviews will offer constructive criticism. Those reviews provide actual value to you as an author. Find out if there is any validity to specific elements of the review? Can you see areas where you can improve or issues you need to address? You don’t need to get offended by every critical assessment of your book, but you can look at them subjectively to improve your writing. Learn from the bad reviews, and you can help yourself write an even better book next time out.
6. Don’t Focus On the Negative
We tend to always focus on the negative and even obsess over it until it starts dominating our lives. Authors can have hundreds of great reviews and only one bad review. Do you know which one will get their attention? The bad one. As an author, you shouldn’t focus on negative reviews because it is out of your control. People will have strong opinions, and not everyone will like your work. You need to learn to live with it and accept the fact that some people will not have a good opinion of your works.
You need to focus on all the good reviews that your book has gotten and learn to deal with the bad reviews. Know that people will not always love your book, but it’s important for you to stay focused on your path and not let negative reviews influence your writing. What matters is helping people; books do that, and negative people don’t. We hope that the ways we have shared for dealing with and handling bad book reviews help you out.
Do you have any tips or creative ways of handling bad book reviews? Please leave a comment below!