Monday, February 10, 2014

How do you handle a negative review?

As a writer, who's our biggest fan? Our spouse? Our best friend? Our favorite beta-reader? 

Up until that nasty alzheimer's disease kicked it, my biggest fan was my mom. A week after giving her a copy of Betrovia, she wanted to know when the movie based on it was going to be made. Not long after that, she persuaded the person in charge of setting up her church's monthly newsletter to include a blurb for the book.

She's not read many medieval fantasies, so it would not be logical to label her a valid critic of the genre. But she was a prolific reader and was even the leader of a readers' group at her church a few years ago.

So what should a writer expect from his loving mother? 

The first negative review of any of my novels/stories posted on was a 2-star. This was awarded to one of my short stories after running it "free" the first time. Basically, the reviewer confessed she "didn't get it."

And "didn't get it" justifies giving the story 2 stars.

About a year later, someone posted this interesting 1-star review of Betrovia: "Sorry to say I gave up on this one only a few pages in. I found Patrik to be way (sic) to strange. He reminded me of someone who is mentally off. He became distracted over the smallest thing. One minute he is asking his daughter why she is so hard on Kristof, the stable boy, and the next minute he is distracted by how the sunshine highlighted a cleaning rag on the table. His daughter never answered by the way and it took him a full minute to realize this. The entire time you are in Patrik's head you see him distracted more times than he seems in 'the moment.' Too odd for me."

Maybe I should be thankful the reviewer didn't say "I don't get it"? 

Another thing to think about is how are negative reviews like rejection letters?

I never got around to sending my manuscripts to agents/publishers, so I don't have any letters sent to me to use as examples. But here are a few interesting ones:

The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected 16 times. After reading the manuscript, one publisher wrote, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, received this message from one publisher: “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”

One publisher said this about Stephen King’s Carrie, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Yuppers ... negative reviews and rejection letters look pretty similar.

Now let's take a look at what those who patronize The Writers' Cafe think about 
negative reviews ... particularly the 1-star variety.

"Both of my books have a combined 43 reviews, 35 five star, 6 four star and 1 three star. Then out of nowhere I get a 1 star review. No mention of poor character development, poor grammar, poor punctuation, poor spelling, or unbelievable plot and characters. No, he thought it didn't have enough action in the first three chapters he read before returning it."

"How do I handle it? Usually, I laugh, especially my last one, "Progressive agenda wrapped in zombie blanket". I immediately shared it with friends. Gave me a good 24 hours of spontaneous chuckling."

"I think reviews are fair game. I want readers to express their opinions of my books so other readers can decide whether or not they're for them. Of course, I dislike ever hearing that someone did not enjoy reading one of my books. But that comes with the territory. In my case, I've had readers one star my books because they didn't like my character's hair color all the way to the fact that I used testimonials in the opening pages of my sample. As I said, it's all fair game and I'd rather hear from readers, than not. I won't always like what they have to say, but I want to hear from them nonetheless."

"You read it, decide if the criticisms are valid.  If they are, you try to consider them next time.  If they are not, you ignore them. I can't stress strongly enough that you have to detach emotionally from things like this if you want to do this as a career.  I see people say they don't read reviews, but a lot of negative (or middling) reviews have good points about how you can improve your work.  Good reviews are far less valuable (though more fun). If you let reviews depress you, you're going to have a hard time.  A quick little wave of unhappiness is one thing, but then let it go. I have a one star review that gushes about the book (an obvious mistake on the star rating), another one star that lists an old book and basically says, 'I didn't read this book, but I can't imagine how anyone can write on the topic better that XXX,' and still another that is a ten paragraph rant about how she couldn't download the thing.  You can't let this stuff get to you."

"I just quote The Big Lebowski: 'Yeah, well, that's just, like, your OPINION, man.;'"

"I usually kill some one off in my WIP... jk... I usually share it with my husband so I can vent about it then I can let my anger out. I just don't get it. I am so sorry that you had to get something like that. Some people out there try to bring other writers down just because they are intimidated. I have received one star reviews say things like I hate this genre and that's why I hated this book. I am just baffled by people choosing to read a book in a genre they hate or they only read a few chapters like you were talking about and then leave a review stating it was awful and how they could not get through even 2 chapters."

"It may help to tell yourself that, in a year, you'll have more perspective, and to forgive yourself for not having it now. I think I should have 'Don't overreact' tattooed across my forehead. Wait, across my thigh, where I could see it while I sat at my computer. But like any other emotionally triggering event, that's a whole lot easier to say than to do. Give yourself a break, let yourself be upset, and know that it'll get easier."

"I don't even read the good reviews. Forget about the bad ones. As long as they bought my book, they're free to say whatever they want. It's their right post-purchase. (Which is why I don't plan to make any of my books free until it has at least 200 5-star reviews or something to blunt nonsense reviews like this.)"

"Haters gonna hate. Just repeat that one hundred times, because it's true. Haters gonna hate."

"One of the awesome things about negative reviews (and why I like them) is because the very same reasons your reviewer laid out why they didn't like the book, will be the exact thing that excites the next reader to buy your book. I had a reader one star one of my books because she didn't like that the heroine had a girlfriend and that the makeout scenes were too descriptive for her taste. No sooner than her review went up, so did sales of my book. There's always a silver lining if you look for it."

"1) I sulk. For at least half an hour.
2) I find someone who loves me and whine to them about it, but within reason.
3) Chocolate.
4) Watch something adorable, like Tom Hiddleston meeting Cookie Monster, or kittens playing in the snow.
5) Find one piece of my writing that I really, really like and read it and assure myself that I am not a plague upon the writing world.
6) Repeat Steps 1-5 as needed. Then I'm over it.
Bad reviews suck. A lot. But it's the name of the game. There is a universal rule in writing: no matter what it is, someone will love it and someone will hate it. At least it means you're engaging them, if that helps. But hey, you also have a buttload of good reviews and some of us pray for that day, so don't sweat it. We got your back."

"I laugh. Life's too short to get upset by it.  Poop happens.  And way more people like my books than hate them, so I'm doing something right. To be honest, I love a good in-depth, scathing review.  If I made a reader feel ANYTHING strongly, I figure I did my job well."

"Upon receiving a bad review I crochet a little voodoo doll and write the reviewer's username on it with beige crayon. Then I paste it to the wall with glitter glue and stand before it, hurling invectives at it (completely ignoring correct grammar) and cursing their entire family tree and ancestors yet to come. Then I bury the doll in the backyard while quietly giggling to myself. I have a bit of a backlog, seeing how my backyard is currently under four feet of snow. But the time will come. Oh yes, it will..."

"I think we are hardwired to pay more attention to bad news than to good news. I think it's an inbuilt survival mechanism. Even to the point where we are inclined to give bad reviews more credence than they deserve. Your bad review doesn't appear to have any validity, and you know you shouldn't be grieving over it and giving it more emotional thought than it deserves. But you do, or you wouldn't have posted here. A practical way I have of countering this negative tendency is to extract the best key adjectives from the majority of my reviews and post them on the wall next to my right shoulder as I sit typing, to remind me of what the majority of my readers think of my books. Those people are after all the people we should keep in our minds, not the 10%-20% of people we will never please. Whenever I have a tendency to feel down about my work, I look over at the list and see words and phrases like: Awesome! Innovative! Compelling approach! Really cool idea! Brilliant! Enjoyed the format! Very readable, etc. I'm sure your many 5-star reviews have similar phrases. Type some of them out and stick them on your wall next to where you sit when writing."

"I raised teenagers. I already know how stupid I am. 
A one-star review? I consider it a compliment."

"The first time I got a 1* review I was very upset. Now I make a point of analyzing it a bit. Are they right? Sometimes they are and in this day and age it could be an easy fix (typos etc). If they fundamentally dislike the book because it's not to their taste rather than because it's badly written, as in your case, then it's best to accept that you can't please everyone all the time. The important point is that you love what you've written and so do a lot of other people. Alternatively you could write a rollercoaster ride of a story where action is followed by more action without any opportunity for the reader to take breath until they are gasping with exhaustion as the stakes are wracked higher and higher until it all culminates in a huge explosion of death and mayhem. And dedicate it to the reviewer. It's probably best not to hit the publish button on that one though."

"Try laughing. Or rolling your eyes. Or poking fun at it in a *private* group. But coming here to then put down said review? Not the path I'd recommend. Someone didn't like your book, and they don't need to meet your specifications of what is fair for them to rank it low, only theirs. If it's a few slow intro chapters, then so be it, man. You clearly have plenty more good reviews to balance it out."

"Negative reviews always carry a little sting but after awhile you learn to shrug, tell yourself 'different strokes', and move on. The only comments that don't roll off my back easily are the rare sort that get personal or confrontational. After those, I sometimes need to read a couple of my 5 stars to balance the negative feelings, so I don't go through the next half hour feeling sucky. But basically, it's best not to get too emotionally invested in reviews, or you'll spend your writing career on a never-ending rollercoaster. Some writers find it works best for them not to read their reviews at all. Me, I read mine. I try to distance myself from the creative part me, look at reviews with a coldly analytical eye, and see what (if any) consistent points I can find in the reviews. If you can do that, reviews are a useful opportunity to pick up on the reading habits, the likes, and dislikes of your audience."

"Seriously, any time you want to get upset by a 1 star review, go look at any big name author's books. Da Vinci Code has over 700 1 stars. You are in a business that has critics."

"There are 'bad' reviews and 'negative' reviews. Neither are handled (at least, not by me). Reviews are for readers, not feedback for authors. Of course you can treat them as feedback, in which case the 'bad' review should be ignored. The 'negative' review might give clues why your book seems to miss the mark with this particular reviewer. If several reviewers hint at the same issue, you might want to look at your book with dispassionate eyes, but that's all the 'handling' I do."

"The worst review I ever got was a 1-star that said my story was boring."

"It’s really hard to get a negative review, but remember that sometimes these reviews are written by jealous competitors. On the other hand, there are many cruel people in this world. I don't think that a reasonable person would post a very negative review, even if they hated the book. A reasonable person would show understanding and give you at least 3 stars. Those who are cruel usually have many psychological problems. They are not sensible."

"My feeling is that reviews are one reader's way of telling another reader 'Hey! This was a ___ book and here's why...' It has never occurred to me to think the reader was addressing the author with feedback. I don't see Amazon as a platform where readers and authors pow-wow. Because of this, I don't read (my) reviews. I just assume they were not intended for me, so why bother with them? On the other hand, I'm very active on Facebook and Twitter, and my regular readers know this and know that if they want to give me feedback on a book, all they have to do is post on my wall and I WILL respond. I've got a very good open line between my readers via Facebook and Twitter, and they are constantly telling me what they think and I'm constantly responding. If they are posting it on my FB wall they are directing it to me the author, but if they are posting it on Amazon than they are directing it to other readers. Plus I know when I'm reading Amazon reviews, it always rubs me the wrong way, when I as a reader, see an author commenting on the reviews, and it really ticks me off when I see an author arguing with a reader. My thoughts are: the readers are your fans, not every reader is going to become a fan, but arguing with one reader, is going to prevent other readers from wanting to be your fan, out of the fear that you'll lash out at them next. So my policy is don't read the reviews at all, they were not written for my benefit to begin with."

"It is everybody's right not to like a book for whatever reason. I feel terribly peeved sometimes, but what can I do? I'm about the only person in Germany who does not like potatoes. Ok, I don't review potatoes but I'd always suggest to take the pasta. You get the weirdest reviews but if your stuff is good, you will overcome."

1 comment:

  1. Some good points here. I will say that I read my reviews I just have to. I will say that most of them are fair. I don't have the numbers, but I know that the good does out weigh the bad. I've had some different reviews ranging from saying they didn't like that it was Christian even though it states in other reviews it is a Christian novel, to people nitpicking about dogs going to the vet and not being neutered.

    I think we must, as you said, take them for what they are, the good or the bad. They are one persons opinion, and though I like the good ones, the bad reviews don't slow me down much. If no one ever left a review, or if all of them were bad I would still write, write and write. :)

    Thanks for sharing.