Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bad Reviews

Bad reviews are an unfortunate reality for all writers.  Somebody out there will read a book that they don’t like and feel compelled to write about it on Amazon or Goodreads or some other site that people who buy books actually look at.

Everyone has a right to an opinion and you can’t expect everyone to enjoy or appreciate your book.  Some reader may even feel as if buying your book was a huge waste of money.

Most readers are conscientious, however, and will post an honest review.  It’s hard to fault that.  If a review sets out why the reader didn’t like the book, what the reader saw as the fatal flaw or flaws of the book, and the review makes sense, the writer must accept that not everyone loves the book and move on.

Some readers, however, are not so thoughtful, and write scathing reviews with little or no thought behind them.  My favorite are reviews I have seen where the reviewer didn’t finish the book.  I don’t see how a person can legitimately complain about plot, theme, or resolution of the plot, if that person did not read through to the end. 

How does the reader know the plot wasn’t resolved if he or she didn’t finish the entire book? Assuming the writer could not possibly have satisfactorily tied up the loose ends or reconciled plot points after reading only half of the book is not fair to the writer, nor to the individuals who read the reviews to decide whether to buy the book or not.

The truth is, people care about a review only to the extent that it helps them determine whether or not to buy the book.  They don’t read reviews for the entertainment value of the review itself. Vicious or sarcastic reviews make me think the reviewers are more interested in getting attention for themselves, trying to make the world see them as humorous. It also makes me wonder if the reviewer could be a failed author, who was unable to entertain people by completing a work, so they make a feeble attempt to entertain people by writing ugly reviews.

But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter why the reviewer wrote the review.  What matters is how the writer deals with it.

First, never respond or reply or contact the reviewer.  You are not going to change his or her mind, and you just might annoy the person to the extent they post a really crappy review of your other works.  Writers do not need to waste energy engaging in battles with people who ultimately don’t matter in the big scheme of things.

Second, accept that some people legitimately don’t like your work.  Your book may not be for them. Move on.  My sister’s a dog person, my mom’s a cat person. I like both.  Different strokes for different folks.

Third, accept that some people are, for lack of a better word, assholes.  They will write a bad review criticizing everything from your title to the one typo in your book to the plot to the name of your lead character, because they just realized buying your book overdrafted their bank account.  Or because the sink is full of dishes. Or they’re a former mean girl and your cover picture shows you are prettier than they are. 

Fourth, find someone to write a newer review.  Bad reviews don’t have an impact if they are buried amid a bunch of more favorable reviews.  What hurts is if the bad review, especially a nasty review, is the most recent review potential buyers read.

I try to hold someone back, someone I know has read my book but hasn’t written a review, and wait to ask them to write a review until after I receive a bad review.  Then I email them and say I’ve noticed they haven’t reviewed my book yet, when they get a chance could they do it.  I don’t ask for a good review, but I know no matter what type of review they leave, it will be better than an ugly one.

Another way to accomplish this is to ask for help within your publishing house, asking if anyone has read your book and not reviewed it yet, would they mind posting one now because you’ve just received a scathing review.  I don’t think this is the same as trading reviews, which can be seen as suspect, because I am not offering them anything to write the review.  And I do say I expect an honest review.  Even if they didn’t love my book, I know no one in my publishing house would leave an unprofessional or meanspirited review.  And as I mentioned, any review is better than a crazy mean review.

The top selling writers in the world receive negative reviews. The difference is that a bad review won't affect them as much as it will affect a lesser known writer.  Ultimately, bad reviews are a fact of life and the only thing a writer can do is hope to get a better, more recent review. 

And then forget about it.  Writers need to focus their attention on writing good books.  If the book is good and the writer is promoting it, the rest will follow, despite a bad review or two.


Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

Good advice and much food for thought, Holli. I once had a gal get on Barnes & Noble and give my book 4 stars without a single word as a comment. Then she wrote and told me that she hasn't bought or read my book, but thought she'd do that to make it look realistic because all my other reviews had 5 stars. I don't even know this person, so what's up with that? Did she think that was helpful? However, others reviewed it after her and, as you said, rather cancelled out what she had done.

Lorna Collins - said...

I completely agree. Less than favorable reviews come with the territory. As an author, if you aren't prepared to get some poor reviews, then don't publish.

Holli Castillo said...

Jackie, I would rather an honest bad review by someone who actually read the book and thought about what I wrote than someone just filling in the stars without reading it, thinking they are somehow helping me. Lorna, writers need thick skins, that's for sure. Thanks to both of you for commenting.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Writing a good book. That's the best thing. Good advice, Holli!

Mary Montague Sikes

thonieh said...

Good advice, Holli. A deft touch for an awkward problem.