You've finished writing your book and proudly sent it out into the great wide world. You've done the best you could and think it's a damn good book. By the reviews coming in, people agree with you. But then it happens. The dreaded 1-star review pops up on Amazon, and you begin to question everything you believed about your writing, your characters, and your basic life choices.
(Grab a glass of wine, and binge watch your favorite show on Netflix.)
It'll be fine. Seriously. It might be your first bad review, but it won't be your last. And guess what, you aren't alone. Every single author deals with bad reviews, and while it doesn't ever become painless, it does get easier. I promise!
In case you don't believe me, I've written 7 tips that will help you handle your bad reviews!
- EXPECT TO GET BAD REVIEWS: OK, so this seems like it should be common sense, but you'd probably be surprised to know the number of authors (Trad and Self Published) I've spoken with who don't think they should receive bad reviews. Ever. And they become rather affronted when it happens. Most often, I hear them quote the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." While it may be a nice saying to teach your 3-year-old so they don't tell a classmate they smell worse than a skunk fart, it's not the way the world works. People don't always have nice things to say, and you better believe they're going to say it! No one, and I mean no one, is above receiving a bad review. It's going to happen. Write it down. Put it on your calendar. Declare it a national holiday. Acknowledge that you aren't above receiving a shitty review, and come to terms with that fact before your first 1-star makes its internet debut. The more you're prepared for it to happen, the better you'll be able to accept it when it does.
- LAUGH IT OFF: In tip #1, I explained why the "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all," adage isn't practical. People are going to have negative things to say, and it's usually those people who feel strongly enough to leave a review. As expected, not everyone gives constructive criticism. You'll get those people who will take extra care and pride in making it apparent to you, and everyone else in the world, that your book is the most horrible thing they've ever read, that they couldn't bring themselves to read past the 2nd page, and that they would rather bathe in a vat of diarrhea than put themselves through the unbearable agony of reading one more word. Take this for what it is. Appreciate the creativity in their response, mentally nominate them for an Oscar, have a good chuckle, and move on. It won't help you to dwell on anything they had to say...especially the diarrhea bit.
- LEARN & APPLY CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: Not everyone leaves a review like #2. Even in 3 and 2 star reviews, you'll get people who give genuinely good, constructive criticism. Now, you need to remember that you don't need to, nor should you, implement every suggestion you receive. These are people's opinions. They aren't all going to be appropriate changes for your book, and taking them all to heart will force you to throw your laptop out of the window, and use your desk to create a bonfire. What you should do, however, is look for commonalities in the suggestions. Did 3 people say the editing could be better? Did a handful of people say they found the switching of the POV confusing to follow? If so, these would be things to take another look at and rework. Think of these kinds of reviewers as uninvited beta-readers.
- LEAVE YOUR DEFENSIVENESS AT HOME: OK, let me start this tip by saying I'm one of the most defensive people I know. I went to therapy a few years ago to help me deal with some personal issues, and at the first session, I warned my therapist of my defensive nature before he had a chance to shake my hand. So, I get it. Our natural survival instinct is to defend ourselves and our work. With that reviewer in #2, your first reaction may well be to find them that vat of diarrhea and push them in it. No doubt, their poop bath would be accompanied by some fun, colorful language. BUT however valid your reaction may be, leave it at home. I'm not saying you can't scream. You can! (I do it all the time!) But keep your thoughts about the reviewer being a tit-waffle off of the internet. Share those thoughts and the injustice you suffered with sympathetic and supportive people at home. The dog. Your neighbor's cat. Your husband (but only after he presents you with a bottle of wine.)
- RE-READ YOUR GOOD REVIEWS: There's no better way to help cheer yourself up after a bad review than to bust out your good reviews and/or awards. It not only reminds you that people do actually like your work (yay!) but it can also help remind you why you write, which is never a bad thing. I suggest printing out your favorites and keeping them in a folder for easy access. It gets you off of the internet and prevents you from encountering more bad reviews as you scroll through to find the good ones.
- REMIND YOURSELF THAT BAD REVIEWS BRING CREDIBILITY: Here's the thing. Let's say a book has 100 reviews, and every single one of them is 5-stars. As a potential reader, that would look extremely suspicious. You couldn't get 100 people to agree on a place for lunch, let alone agree that the same book was the best thing since Betty White. (I think we can all agree that she's pretty awesome, though!) Remind yourself that the bad reviews you receive bring credibility to the good ones. People won't be as likely to think all of those 5 stars were bought or written by friends and family.
- NO PUBLICITY IS BAD PUBLICITY: Let's say you have 20 5-star reviews, a handful of 3 and 4-star reviews, and 2 1-star reviews. Whatever those 2 people had to say, most potential readers are going to take those 2 people's issues with a grain of salt and base their decision of whether or not to buy your book off of the majority of good reviews, the cover, and the blurb. If one of those 1-star reviewers post their thoughts on their blog, it might turn some people off, but others will think, "It can't be that bad," and check it out on Amazon anyway. In the end, a few bad reviews won't hurt you much, if at all.
In the words of Taylor Swift, "Haters gonna hate." So, the next time your book gets a bad review, shake it off, have a good laugh, and keep on writing!
What are some ways you handle bad reviews? Have you ever received a review that nearly made you give up? What kept you writing? Share in the comments!
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