books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bad Reviews—Six Reasons to Be Glad You Have Them


"What? Glad?" sez you. "There is nothing that makes a writer sadder than a bad review!"

That's true. They can feel like a sudden, nasty downpour on the biggest parade of your life.

Whether you self-pubbed or worked with a traditional publisher, the publication of your first book is a moment of personal triumph. You want to shout it from the rooftops: “HEY WORLD, LOOK WHAT I DID! I AM AN EFFING AUTHOR, PEOPLE!!”

And your book starts to climb up the charts. Wow. People are buying it. People you aren’t even related to!

Reviews start coming in. People like you. They really like you!!

But then…somebody doesn’t.

There it is, your first bad review, sitting there on Amazon or B&N or Goodreads, with its puny single star.

You feel like your head is going to explode. You’re not sure what will come out when it does--curses or tears--but it will probably be both. You want to fire off a response, saying what a moron the reviewer is because—well, first off—it’s not a zombie book. That’s why there are no effing zombies, OK??!! Don’t give me two stars because there are no zombies in my heartfelt story of a woman’s journey healing from her addiction to Hugh Grant movies, OK? And you say it’s too short? Almost like a novella? That’s because it IS a novella, you cretinous worm from Hell. It says so RIGHT THERE in the product information.

But of course you don’t write that down. That would be professional suicide. You know that.

You step away from the keyboard. You call your BFF/Sig. Other. You reach in the cupboard for your chocolate stash and eat a whole Lindor truffle bar while your BFF/Sig. Other is reciting platitudes about how you can’t please all the people all of the time and this too shall pass. 

You hang up and get in the car. It’s Haagen Dazs time. And yes, you go to the store and rent “Notting Hill” one more time.

OK, it’s good to mourn. You need to get that stuff out of your system. If you live near a place where it’s safe to throw things, go do that. I find throwing rocks at the ocean surprisingly satisfying.

But you do have to face that computer sometime, and when you do, it’s still there, those three nasty sentences that stink up your whole Amazon page like somebody’s poodle took a dump on your life-is-a-banquet buffet table.

Your career is over. It’s ruined. Nobody will ever buy your book again!!

Not true.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Bad reviews can actually be good for sales.

How?

1) They show you’ve joined the big leagues. 

All popular writers get bad reviews. Just go to any bestseller’s buy page.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone “nothing more than a shallow tale about a misfit who makes good.”

The Hunger Games  “semi-familiar plot, predictable ending, eh not worth my time.”

The DaVinci Code “Highs: the French sentences are correctly spelled. Lows: everything else.”

Freedom “I started to dog-ear pages on which cringeworthy prose appeared, and I did damage to 90 percent of the book.” 

Or even better, the classics.

Gone with the Wind “I use to feel bad about Sherman burning Atlanta, but that was before I read this book." 

Pride and Prejudice “This is without question the worst book I've ever read in my entire life. The style is clumsy though the author strives to impress with an aristocratic pompousness so typical of social climbers of her day.”

The Great Gatsby “this book is twilight without the vampires, which by the way is an equally horrendous affront to intelligent readers…I don't need a book about stupid rich people.”

Great Expectations “a shapeless mess of a story…presented in the most abrasive fashion possible.”

(I especially love the irony of that uber-clumsy sentence about Jane Austen, don’t you? I think there is a good deal of what shrinks call "projection" in negative reviews. Some wannabe writers seem to see their own faults in everybody else's prose.)

2) They prove your reviews are genuine. 

It’s no secret that some authors game the system by trading reviews or even buying them from unscrupulous review mills. Or they pressure everybody in their church Ladies’ Auxiliary to write versions of the same exclamation-laden rave.

BTW, I hear Amazon elves are making a sweep and removing lots of suspect reviews. Unfortunately, some legitimate reviews have been removed too. Be careful you follow Amazon’s guidelines to the letter. NOTE: don’t repeat a phrase from another review or the product description or you can get flagged as a phony reviewer even when you’re not.

The truth is most successful books do not have a full five-star rating. When readers see a page with nothing but five stars these days, they tend to feel skeptical.

3) They demonstrate what your book ISN’T

Knowing what your book is NOT can be as useful to a reader as showing what it is.  Sometimes a negative review comes from a person who got the wrong idea of your genre or subgenre. So the review will steer readers from buying the wrong book and generating more irate reviews. (One bad review hurts our feelings, but a whole bunch can seriously hurt sales.)

I had one reviewer call my rom-com thriller Food of Love “rubbish”, because, she said, “I read lots of lesbian romance and this was the worst I ever read.”

Well…yeah it probably was. That’s because it’s not a romance. And it’s not about lesbians.

All my work has strong, sympathetic GLBT characters, but anybody looking for hot girl-on-girl action is going to be seriously disappointed. So thank you, “rubbish” reviewer, for setting people straight (no pun intended.) Whoever told her FoL was a lesbian romance was misinformed—so I’m happy she’s cleared that up.

Another author I know got a one-star for her historical mystery because somebody ordered it thinking it was how-two book about medieval embroidery. OK, the one-star is a pain, but better than a whole bunch of one-stars from dozens of irate embroiderers.

4) They help you target your demographic. 

A review that tells readers what group doesn’t like your book can actually encourage the right readers to buy.

I read a complaint from an author who said she got two stars from a reviewer “because the characters engage in pre-marital sex”. 

Oooooh. There’s sex in it?  So you’ve been identified as a writer who does not write for evangelical Christians who wear promise rings.

That shows you DO write for readers who like a little steam in their lattes. In a world where 50 Shades of Gray is the number one bestseller, that hurts you how?

I had a similar experience with a reviewer who said my mystery Ghostwriters in the Sky was “too complicated.” He said he “couldn’t tell who the bad guys were until the last page.”

Thank you! That tells readers who like a complex, unpredictable mystery they’re in the right place.

5) They rally the troops.

If an author is unfairly reviewed or attacked by trolls, the fans will be outraged, too. It might even get them to write that review they’ve been meaning to write forever. (If you need more encouragement to review your favorite authors, read my post on Amazon reviews here.)

I haven’t had a lot of time to read (or write reviews) during this marathon year, but one book I loved was Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. When I put it on my Goodreads page, I noticed a lot of clueless one-star reviews, obviously from people who didn’t realize it was about a minimally-produced record album like the Beatles’ famous “Let it Be…Naked”—and NOT about a lady with no clothes on. I made the time to write a review I probably would never have written otherwise. I hope I steered some of the right readers to the book.

Or there was the time I went to check out a new book mentioned in a Tweet and saw it had ten reviews already: all one-star—all attacking the author personally, saying nothing about the book.

It was an obvious example of cyberbullying. (For more on dealing with bullying in the trollosphere, Kristin Lamb has a fantastic post this week.)

Do you think I bought the book and, after enjoying it, gave it a good review? You betcha! (I also hit the "report abuse" button.) Plus I tweeted it to my followers and wrote an encouraging message to the author. Most humans are moved when we see a fellow human being persecuted.

6) They tell you what readers want 

Elizabeth S. Craig has blogged about how she learns from her negative reviews, and she displays a healthy, professional attitude we all should learn to emulate. You can learn a lot from your readers, who will let you know if they were angry when you killed off Aunt Millie, or didn’t like it when your romantic interest turned into Snidely Whiplash in your last book.

And believe me, if you have any typos, or your work needs editing, they’ll let you know about that, too.

On the other hand—make sure you’re reacting to a majority opinion and not just a handful of people in a bad mood. You don’t want reviewers to change your voice or artistic vision any more than you want your critique group to do that. 


In spite of all this, I do realize some reviews can be spiteful and useless.

Some of those may have been purchased. There are services that offer to leave bad reviews to bump authors ahead of you off the Amazon bestseller lists. (I’ve personally seen review mill sites, but they move around, so I don’t have a link right now.) On the plus side, their mostly illiterate “reviews” get taken down quickly. Amazon is on to them and will remove the review if you report abuse.  

Then there is the segment of the population who invent reasons to criticize and find fault with everything because they get off on it—especially if they can work themselves up into a self-righteous rage to justify their cruelty. Rage can produce a high very like cocaine. (See my post on Trolls, Sockpuppets and Cyberbullies.)

Unfortunately the anonymity of the Internet is where they thrive.

I’ve observed that freebie books tend to get the most troll attacks. That’s partly because people devalue things they don’t pay for, partly because they’ll download free books in genres they don’t usually read, and also because a lot of people simply hate self-publishing (change is scary).

Some people assume all freebie books are self-published—they’re not, but nobody is accusing these people of being rocket scientists.

You can usually tell a troll attack from an honest review. Trolls make it pretty obvious they haven’t read the book and use generic phrases—usually including “riddled with typos” and “obviously in need of an editor” even when they’re reviewing Jane Austen. They often dump lots of identical one- and two-stars all over Amazon. 

This is why Amazon has that “report abuse” button. (But never use it for an honest negative review.)

Sometimes a reader can leave a negative review because of something that has nothing to do with the quality of your book. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as the guy who just dumped her, or her own novel just got rejected by an agent who sat on the full for 18 months, or his mom just told him he he’s got to move out of the basement, and at 42, he really ought to find full time employment since he’s been working on that novel for 13 years now...

They aren't "abuse" in the Amazon sense, but do remember those rants aren’t reviews of your book. They’re verbal temper tantrums--the result of somebody having a bad day—or a bad life. You just happened to be in the line of fire. Smart readers can usually tell when the review is about the reviewer's issues, not the book. 

And chocolate helps. Or throwing rocks at the ocean.  Or maybe even watching a Hugh Grant movie.

What about you, scriveners? Have you seen clueless reviews of your favorite authors? Have you started to get bad reviews yet? Do you have any advice on how to cope with them? 
***

I have a bit of sad news this week. My US publisher, Popcorn Press, has closed its doors. But they have been incredibly gracious about handing all the files to me so I can re-publish with MWiDP. Thanks, Les—you’re a meticulous editor and fantastic book designer. And Kate—your covers are fabulous! Popcorn started as a poetry press and may be reborn as a poetry-only publisher some time in the future.

FOOD OF LOVE is now live under the MWiDP imprint on Amazon US and Amazon UK as well as Barnes and Noble. THE BEST REVENGE should be up there by tomorrow. The one downside is that I’ve lost my Amazon rankings, so FOOD OF LOVE, which had been on the bestseller list for romcoms in the UK since December has lost its status. A few “likes” and tags would be helpful, if you have the time. 

And YES, MWiDP will be re-publishing the Popcorn books in paper, AND, my other three mysteries should all be available in paper in the next few months. Yay treeware!
***

And don't forget the Digital Age Authors Intensive on July 14th!

You can learn all about how to be a writer in the digital age from iconic author Catherine Ryan Hyde and author, screenwriter, and radio personality Dave Congalton, as well as tech wizards, marketing specialists...and me. So if you're going to be on the Central Coast of California next weekend, don't miss this. There are still a few places available. Go here to register. 

Thanks to all of you who bought HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE last week and pushed us up the writing guide bestseller list into the top 20--ahead of the new Kindle edition of Strunk and White! 


Also: my Camilla Randall mystery SHERWOOD, LTD. is featured on Kindle Romance Novels this week and I'll be at RomanceUniversity.org on Friday the 13th!

43 comments:

  1. I've been fortunate that the worst review I've gotten so far for my novel Tainted Souls was a three-star rating on Goodreads. People who actually took the time to write something were positive.

    Though I agree that a negative review in the mix, or a mixed one, lends credence to the other, positive ones. One reviewer, for example, said he was a bit confused by the ending (it takes a little thought, but really, it's quite clear) -- but I think that only enhances the credibility of the other, nice things he had to say.

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  2. Those are great! (And the part about Lesbian romance made me laugh.) Most of the time I figure negative reviewers just weren't my target audience.
    I do pay attention when a common theme appears, in both good and bad reviews. Those for my first book wanted more world building. And women. So I gave them both in the second book. I think when majority opinion says something, authors need to pay attention.

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  3. When I'm thinking of purchasing a book, I always read the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and so far I have found them extremely helpful, esp. when a common theme appears. Recently, I didn't purchase two trad. books that received terrific buzz because of the 3 star reviews that were constructive. I realized I could wait to read them.

    I ignore the trolls. But I know that it's a rare book that is perfect and I know what i like and don't like. I also tend to ignore the 5 star reviews.

    But I also don't think it's wrong when friends or family leave reviews. I love leaving reviews for friends but I also realize many people disagree with that. Of course, I use the review to point out what I liked about the story. If I can't find anything nice to say, then I don't leave the review. Plain and simple.

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  4. The only reviews I read are recipe reviews and that's to get more tips and stuff that was added or changed to make it better.
    As for books I don't read them. I took recomondations from some of my favorite authors and I didn't like the books at all. So now I decide if I want the book by reading an excerpt of it.
    As a writer if I can make someone take the time out of their lives to write a negative review well I've done something. I sparked something in them to do what they did. I write paranormal gay erotic so I imagine when the time comes to publish, someone will be offended. That's okay. My naughty boys will love it!

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  5. Love this, Anne! Rotten reviews come with the territory & unless they say something constructive—which IME doesn't happen all that often—they're to be ignored.

    Lousy reviews are also an excellent way to develop the Mental Toughness & emotional callouses every writer needs.

    No home run hitter hits it out of the park every at bat. No tennis player wins every point. No writer is going to win over every reader. That's just a fact of life & the sooner you understand that, the better prepared you'll be for the next clueless, know-nothing, sub-literate idiot who comes along. LOL

    Actually, typing this reminds me of a writer friend who once got a vicious letter excoriating him for the sex in his book (it was actually quite mild), for his low morals and the way he was leading the youth of American astray. The letter writer's name was something like Mrs. Meyer.

    The writer's revenge? Every year he gave a "Mrs. Meyer" party. The invitations arrived on a Xerox copy of her outraged missive.

    We had lots of fun.

    So be creative with your crappy reviews. Throw a party. Open some champagne. Tell the world & share a good laugh!

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  6. I don't read reviews. Yes, I said it. :) The blurb or an excerpt is what will make me buy a book, along with recommendations from friends or family. I usually don't leave reviews, either, but that recently changed. When I like a book I email the author to tell him/her how much I enjoyed it, and I try to remember to tweet about it. One of the authors whose book I liked asked me (very nicely) if I wouldn't mind leaving a review on Amazon. Even though I pay no attention to reviews and rankings, I realized a lot of people do, so I left a good review of this book and intend to do so for other books I like. But while I was typing I couldn't help but think, "Why in Sam Hill does anyone care what I think? Why would my opinion matter to someone who doesn't know me?" I know that comes from my not giving a fig what anyone else thinks of a book as long as I love it. But since reviews and rankings are important to a lot of people, I'll make it a point from now on to leave a good review. But like Laura said above, I will never leave a negative review. If I don't like a book, it doesn't mean anyone cares why I didn't.

    I remember seeing a review in a national weekly magazine of a book written by my favorite author. The reviewer crucified the book because the author had written "girdle" instead of "griddle." A quick Google search would have shown the reviewer that both terms are correct, especially in the UK where the characters originated. But instead of doing a modicum of research he/she blasted a NYTBS author and her book because of one word. That's why I skip past the book review section in magazines now.

    I stopped reading reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads after I saw one which read, "I hate the time period in which this book is set, so I didn't even bother to read it," along with a one-star rating. It wasn't a review, had nothing to do with the book and it brought down the overall rating.

    Of all the books I own, only one was bought because of a review, and that was twenty years ago. The rest I bought because of word of mouth or because I liked the blurb and/or excerpt.

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  7. I read reviews before I buy. I look at the 1 star reviews first. 99% of the time they are "I didn't bother finishing this book" which means the reviewer has no clue what they're talking about (since they didn't read the book) and can be ignored. If a book has more 1 star than 5 star reviews I will think twice about reading it -- but if there are 5 star reviews and no other ratings, I'm probably not going to read it either. I want to see more 4 and 5 stars than 3, 2, and 1 stars. That tells me it's a good book and that some people had issues. I've bought books based on 3 star reviews. I think they're more honest than 5 star reviews much of the time. I want to know what a reader didn't like. For example, if there are multiple editing problems, I don't want to waste my time.

    My favorite (bad) review was for the book For Women Only. The reviewer said she was put off by the fact that the heroine was too catlike and alien. I was a little annoyed when I first read that, but then I realized it meant I had accomplished what I was trying to do: make the heroine alien. So your premise of bad reviews being good things is one I can agree with and with which I have personal experience. Thanks for sharing it!

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  8. Steve--Good point about a negative remark in an otherwise positive review. It does make a rave seem more genuine, sometimes.

    Alex--That's a great example of learning from reviews. Yes, it's nice to have some women in those books :-)

    Laura--I tend to be like you. I can be influenced by reviews, especially if they're thoughtful and well written. And I agree there's nothing intrinsically "unethical" about friends writing reviews. They can sometimes be harsher critics than strangers. And friends have been reviewing friends forever. Look at the archives of the New Yorker.

    Vera--You have a point there. If you've moved a person to write a review (presuming they've read the book) that means you've reached them in some way. So as long as they spell your name right...

    Ruth--A Mrs. Meyer party sounds delightful. What a great example of making lemonade out of lemons!

    Juli--Definitely some reviews are stupid, but in the e-age they are the #1 sales tool for a writer, so you're doing a very powerful thing when you take the time to write a review. Many review sites like Pixel of Ink won't accept anything with less than 10 or 20 good reviews, so they matter very much. When we get a private email from somebody who loves a book,of course we're grateful, but the same thing shared on Amazon or B & N would mean 100 times more than something said in private.

    If you have something negative to say, and you'd rather not share that, then an email is kinder, but if your reaction is mostly positive, we'd much prefer that you spread the word to other readers.

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  9. Kayelle--I always read a few one-stars, too. They tell me who the book isn't for and can often be more useful than a rave in my decision to buy. Your example of the reviewer who said your character was too alien is perfect. It means a more adventurous reader is more likely to love it.

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  10. I nearly always read the one-star reviews of a book before I buy it. I actually prefer 2 and 3-star reviews -- I find they're often the most honest. But, anyway, I learn a lot about a book from its bad reviews, including whether or not I'll like it. They tend to be much more informative in that way than the positive reviews, which often all start to look the same.

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  11. Great post, Anne! Excellent content stated in an entertaining way. As usual.

    Oddly enough, I was just looking at the reviews for my books, copying them onto Word docs, because I HEARD THAT AMAZON IS PULLING REVIEWS that don't say "I was given a free review copy," or indicate that the book was purchased on Amazon. (Gasp.)

    In this process, I found that one of my books had a new review––a new lousy review. This book started its life with a run of something like 16 five star reviews––from folks I didn't know. People called it the best thing since tube socks. Now it's getting dumped on.

    Studying bad reviews is instructive. I recall reading a passage by St. Teresa of Avila in which she said something like, "When I think about them, I agree with the opinions of my enemies." Which is pretty cool––she was able to see the overall truth of a situation, all sides. Probably why she's a saint.

    Reading the new bad review (which followed the previous bad review), I could see my novel's structural problems. They're there. What the reviewers say is true. Which makes me want to say, "I've learned a lot about writing since that first book. I won't make those mistakes again. I promise . . ."

    It's the intimation that I am my writing/book and that the reviewer's judgment is eternal that hurts.

    What I want to say to my (bad) reviewers is: I'm not dead. That was not my ultimate work. I'm still writing. I made some mistakes on "Magical Wombats," but wait until you see "Wombats II.

    Wait 'til you see it! Now I'm going to do some tagging for you, Anne!

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  12. Great post, Anne. We all are, after all, human. And getting torn apart about anything by anyone is painful. My inner high school dweeb instantly crawls out of hiding. But, I have learned to push her back into her little hidding place without too much drama. Thanks for another insightful read!

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  13. T. L. I'm not sure the negative reviews are more honest--but they sure are more interesting. They're likely to say something different from the blurbs. (We have a perception that negativity is "honest" while praise is "phony" but I think that comes from left over high school fears of seeming dorky than anything else. Any two-year old can say "no" but it takes a mature person to appreciate.)

    Sandy--Thanks a bunch, (especially for the likes and tags!)

    Amazon is definitely pulling a lot of reviews. I hope it's not because reviewers simply haven't bought through Amazon, because that's not stated in the guidelines. But KDP Select is certainly playing hardball with the competition and maybe this is a new assault on brick and mortar stores. Kind of shooting themselves in the font if that's true. Kicking somebody when they're down isn't good for one's image.

    Can't wait for Wombats II! :-)

    Christine--We all do battle with that high school dweeb, don't we? That's what I was talking about in my comment to T.L.

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  14. I'm still looking forward to me first bad review ;)

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  15. Anne, once more you put your finger on the pulse of what is relevant to all of us ... AND ... those who wouldn't mind any kind of review to get attention.

    Seems like the upside in the current atmosphere of negative press is that the more rotten things the press says about people, the more popular they get.

    I bet Snooky didn't care if people trashed her book :)

    I guess then that a rotten review can also generate sales if not for any other reason that people get curious ... what does make that book so rotten??

    Thanks ... and I am glad for you that this time when your pub went out of the market place that you were immediately picked up !! Sorry for Popcorn press, happy for you :)

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  16. I received a one star review on goodreads because the book had swearing in it. I just laughed because (a) the worst words I used in the whole book were 'bloody hell' and (b) it's crime fiction I write where swearing is common.

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  17. Greetings Anne,

    Ha! I should have all these problems. I'll have to get a book published first, you say?

    As usual, this is another great read.

    I'm so sorry to hear about Popcorn Press folding. May it successfully reinvent itself into something sustainable & mahvelous, & may your previously-known-as-Popcorn-Press books be ever -so-happy at MWiDP.

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  18. Florence--You're so right. I think now more than ever, it's "I don't care what kind of publicity I get, as long as they spell my name right." Any review is a good review.

    Clarissa--Well, bloody hell! That's typical of the kind of review I'm talking about. If it has swear words in it, (even as mild as bloody hell) that means the dialogue has a chance of being realistic, and most people prefer that. :-)

    CS--Thanks for the good wishes for Popcorn Press. They have indeed been very good to me.

    And I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you're collecting bad reviews of your own.

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  19. mshatch (Marcy from Maine) Sorry I missed your comment there. I hope that you, like Mr. Perryess, will get your bad reviews soon! (And by the way, you need to put your name on your blog! Twitter handle, too!)

    As a general comment to everybody out there who's starting a writing career: three blogs, no matter how brilliant, do nothing without an "about me" page!! All the blogs in the world don't help your career if people don't know who you are.

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  20. Oh yes, I get negative reviews. I get negative reviews so often that I'm surprised when I see a complimentary one. When I first started self-publishing half a year ago, they really got to me. But now it's so run-of-the-mill that I can just shrug it off. Time is a very effective ego-healer.

    I don't mind if people say they didn't like it. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, and I'm grateful to live in a country and age where they can share them freely. But it's hard to deal with when a reviewer is clearly just spiteful, or they have conflicts of interest (e.g. they're other writers trashing the competition, but prospective readers take their words in good faith), or they make factual errors. You have to sit back and say nothing even when someone writes, "The plot was unbelievable, because X so wouldn't happen," when X didn't happen. There are also the strange ones that say, "I sat through this whole annoying book, just to get that crappy ending?!!" As if I had hired mobsters to point guns to their heads and force them to read a story they didn't like...and which they got for free.

    One way to cope is to check out the reviewers' profiles. I don't mean you should stalk them, or attack them personally, but try to understand where they're coming from. When you see that KittyLvr88 leaves a ton of 5-star reviews for fast-paced thrillers, it puts that one-star of your historical romance in perspective.

    Another technique is to be philosophical: turn the reviews around and find something good about them. If a reader felt like she had to "sit through" the entire book, obviously it was interesting enough to keep her turning the pages. If the hero's choices annoyed another so much that he felt the need to rant about it for five hefty paragraphs, he must have made an emotional connection to the character. If people get angry, you've made an impact. If you sucked as a writer, they would just stop reading and wouldn't leave a review at all.

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  21. Great post Anne! It certainly made us all feel better! ;-) I have stated before that when I first started out in this writing game, I asked Karin Slaughter what she thought of bad reviews. I will never forget what she said. "I never read reviews; no good can ever come of it."

    Now that may or may not be true, but I like her thinking! :-)

    We have over 275 reviews against one book and sure, there are some one stars. Some are genuine and from readers who just didn't like the book, which is their prerogative, some are obviously there from other (bitter) authors trying to damage the book's reputation or rank (at the time) and some are just plain spite. Hey ho. We'll live ;-)

    Like you say, take it on the chin and move on. No better cure for receiving a lone star than getting on with your next novel!

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  22. It's funny how I feel about reviews. With a few 4 and 5 stars, the 1's and 2's don't bother me much, but when you have one 4star and then someone gives a 1 star, that really hurts.

    I've been sitting on the same reviews for all of my books and novellas for the last 6 months. A few more wouldn't hurt, but book reviewers won't touch me b/c I'm self-published. (That hurts.) As for friends, I don't know who's read or who hasn't. And those that have, haven't left one yet. Hmmmm.
    Conundrum.

    Sorry to hear about Popcorn Press, but I'm glad Mark picked you up. I'll check to see if my reviews got swiped and repost for you.

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  23. TK--It can be so infuriating when people leave reviews of your genre instead of the book. I think that's a product of the low-priced and freebie ebook. People download stuff they'd never buy in hard copy. Then they hate it because it's different.But you're right that the fact they read the whole book when there are so many freebies out there shows you've gripped them in spite of themselves. Sounds like you've developed a lot of that "mental toughness" Ruth talks about. It's how you become a professional.

    Sapphi--When you have a book that sells in the millions like yours, you're bound to get some haters. A lot of people automatically hate anything that's popular. You can cry all the way to the bank :-). A popular writer can get away with not reading reviews, but when you're starting out, they are important, so it's hard not to look. It's like not looking at your pay check.

    Anne--I've discovered that, too. People don't tend to review if the book's been out for more than a few months. I'm always surprised when I find a new one. (And yours are great! You're a careful and thoughtful reviewer.)

    So a note to everybody: remember writers welcome reviews any time! And don't forget to review books when you LIKE them. Some of us tend to be more vocal with complaints than praise.

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  24. Oh, Anne, this has to be one of the best posts I've ever read on bad reviews! Thanks so much for this!

    And I'm so sorry to hear that your publisher has closed its doors. :( Definitely sad news.

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  25. Great post. Although I know all this in my head, I'm sure that first one star will send a dagger through my heart. Sorry about Popcorn, but I'm so happy you have a new publisher :)

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  26. I love this positive spin on a touchy subject. Great post Anne!

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  27. Sorry to hear about your publisher.

    This was a fabulous list and great reminder. My first bad review complained about too much sex and a good friend of mine said, "Are you kidding? That's an amazing review. There is no such thing as too much sex." So, yes target your audience and know that a book that everyone loves is a mythical creature.

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  28. Jennifer--So glad you liked it. Yes, I'm kind of tragified about it myself. But in the long run it will be great to have all my books with one publisher, who can "brand" all the books.

    Carole--Yes. It will not feel good. But if you know it's coming--and that everybody gets them, then it might be a little easier. Yes. I'm so lucky MWiDP was so eager to take on my books.

    Laura--Yeah, well know know the old lemons/lemonade thing :-)

    Johanna--That's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Most readers think "too much sex" is like "too much chocolate". No such thing.

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  29. Great post and I as a positive reviewer still do not understand when the not constructive reviewers come out but the down right mean. Seriously go with the flow and respect someone's work politely.

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  30. Kudos, Anne. Another great post. You have to take the bad with the good review-wise and we can all learn a lot as you've already mentioned from negative reviews. I really do agree with Stephen King who said in his memoir he writes for a certain segment of the reading public, and not everyone. Maybe it's good to keep that in mind when we read our reviews. Whodathunk we could actually learn something from a bad one? Well, as you've pointed out, we can.

    Paul Alan Fahey

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  31. Hi Anne, perfectly timed as always.

    Part of the excitement of having a successful 'free promo' with Amazon Kindle is the way it opens one up to any review, one star or otherwise, and of course I scored a 1 star, the reviewer claiming I needed to employ an editor. If she/he had read the book she/he would have seen that my editor is thanked in the acknowledgements. Sigh.
    But forewarned is forearmed: I had the chocolate and wine supplies and I survived to write another day.
    And yes, I was the fiction writer who was reviewed with one star because the book in question at the time wasn't the embroidery book the purchaser hoped for. I loved that review, it made me laugh and was disappointed when I found that Amazon had removed it.
    I'm wondering if the key to a writer surviving one stars, apart from blocks of chocolate is to have a sense of humour and try not to take oneself too seriously? What do you think?

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  32. Hi Anne,

    Another brilliant post. I have a scathing review on Amazon.co.uk which immediately bumped up sales - something which would annoy the reviewer as she said: 'Do not waste your time and money on this book.' But people must have ignored the 'advice' and that was evident from my sales reports. I also have another bad review on B&N which states my book is a crappy romance and has nothing to do with travelling Australia at all. Really? Well I swear on my life I mentioned Australia at some point ;). But they obviously thought it was going to be another Lonely Planet travel guide priced at 99c ;)

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  33. Reading Reviewer--Thanks so much for your comment--and for being a reviewer! You are an author's best friend. I think most good reviewers prefer not to review a book they really don't like. But there's always that overgrown 2-year old who thinks screaming "no" at everything makes them special. Especially if they punctuate it by throwing the contents of their diapers. :-) Balanced reviews with pros and cons are useful and helpful. But nasty, self-involved snark helps nobody.

    Paul--Thanks much. Congrats on the publication of your first book! may you get many reviews, good and bad (remembering that the bad ones come with the territory.)

    Prue--Yes, I did steal your embroidery story there. Too good to leave out. Congrats on your bad review--you're now the member of a club that includes Jane Austen and JK Rowling! And yes, a sense of humor is your best defense, always!

    LK--Oh, I love to hear when bad reviews spark sales. I think it happens fairly often. And yes, there are always morons who can't tell nonfiction from fiction. Nothing much to do about them but laugh.

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  34. Hahaha! Your post made me laugh. GREAT points and advice (as always), Anne. Such an excellent way to keep negative reviews in perspective. And I'm sorry to hear about your Popcorn publisher, but yay for your upcoming Author Intensive -- your audience will be quite spoiled!

    ;0)

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  35. Great post, Anne, and great comments, especially about our inner dweeb.

    Sure the stinkers are inevitable, but it's always nice if the first few reviews are positive. I've been lucky that way.

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  36. Fantastic post. Great points I completely agree with. Bad reviews hurt. We are human. But we can learn from them and I also believe it builds character and toughness for this very rewarding but crazy career! Thanks for sharing!

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  37. Mary--Thanks. Humor helps us get through the pain :-)And yes, this seminar is going to be great. We've got a great bunch of people signed up. I think we're almost full, but there may be a few more spots.

    Sue--That inner dweeb does cause a lot of damage, doesn't it? So many things can push us back to our adolescent selves.

    Jennifer--It's true that this business requires us to put on a lot of psychological armor. That's why critique groups are good practice. Not just for polishing your work, but for building that armor and learning not to take things personally.

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  38. I love the way you approach the nightmare-ish elements of writing and publishing a book with humor, Anne! It really helps ease my "newbie" angst!

    I've always approached negative reviews with a bit of trepidation, myself. I liken it to teaching; I tend not to read previous teachers comments about my incoming students until I've had the chance to get to know them myself. I understand book reviews have their place but I am more inclined to follow word-of-mouth suggestions or stick with authors I already know that I like.

    I will look forward to receiving my own reviews, negative and positive, because that means I will have written something worth talking about :-)

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  39. Sara--I like your approach to students. I think kids can get pushed into a category they don't deserve when one teacher's opinion gets perpetuated year after year. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And I love the attitude about the reviews--yes, my first bad reviews hurt for a minute. But then I looked at where I was last year at this time--with no reviews--and no published books! 6 books later, I can be pretty happy for the handful of negative reviews I've got. They're part of a pretty nice package.

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  40. Dealing with bad reviews is something I still need to do. So far my reviewers have been kind.

    Although what you've said about constructive bad reviews rings true (and I especially like the example of the bad review because of the sex scenes) this doesn't agree with your comments on Amazon (November 20th) last year. According to that, any review of 3* or less is going to be detremental because of Amazon's suggestion algorithm.

    So now I'm confused. :-(

    (I'm also mildly confused by your weeping angel image. I take it that you do not watch Doctor Who, and so do not understand that the weeping angel statues are one of the scariest monsters ever to grace the show!)

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  41. Harry--There's no question that a three star review isn't good for us in our Amazon rankings. A critical review with 4 stars is much nicer than a rave with 3 stars. (Although the algorithms have changed since I wrote that, as I note in my updated intro. Now if you're not in KDP Select, the ranking doesn't matter much because you're not likely to get "also boughts" or featured "hot title" status no matter what your ranking.)

    You're a Whovian! Yes, I did mean that to be ironic. Weeping angel statues are soooo sappy and sentimental, but they're also evil to Whovians. Making fun of my own tragification. Sentimentality can be dangerous :-)

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  42. I think it's a testament to your encouragement that I'm no longer afraid of bad reviews - when they come, that is, I haven't actually published anything yet!

    Taking things as challenges for improvement rather than slamming "YOU SUCK!"-isms is probably the best strategy one could live by. Though, admittedly, it's not always the hardest thing ever.

    Also, I'll bet there's a few wonderful giggles to be found when reviewers rant on about things that aren't even in your book - like your lesbian love story. Though you probably shouldn't tell anyone, you could probably have a proper long laugh about some of that misdirected wrath!

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  43. I think it's a testament to your encouragement that I'm no longer afraid of bad reviews - when they come, that is, I haven't actually published anything yet!

    Taking things as challenges for improvement rather than slamming "YOU SUCK!"-isms is probably the best strategy one could live by. Though, admittedly, it's not always the hardest thing ever.

    Also, I'll bet there's a few wonderful giggles to be found when reviewers rant on about things that aren't even in your book - like your lesbian love story. Though you probably shouldn't tell anyone, you could probably have a proper long laugh about some of that misdirected wrath!

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