How to Handle Negative Book Reviews
Are They Constructive or Destructive?
It was January 2011 when I released my debut novel, IOU, which has since been retitled, Carlo. Like many new authors, I was absolutely certain that my first masterpiece would hit the bestsellers’ list, be turned into a movie and set my life down a path of financial freedom. After all, I had spent a year researching, writing, crying, bleeding and sweating all over that book.
A director friend of mine had even collaborated with me to create a book trailer with live actors in New York City. Of course, that was the setting of my book. And I was beside myself. Happy. Excited. And ready to take on the world.
I released my novel on Amazon Kindle and right out of the gate, it sold 4,000 copies in the first month. Remember, 2011 was the start of the Amazon goldmine era and many Kindle novels that were released usually did very well.
So, I sat back and waited for the five-star reviews to roll in. It happened. My book received several five-star reviews in a row and I felt invincible. I remember a phone conversation with an author friend of mine, H. T. Night. He said, “Just wait, you’ll get a one-star review at some point.” I shook my head, rolled my eyes and thought, I doubt it. This book is that great.
Then, it happened. My first one-star review hit. The world could see every ugly thing this person had written about my book. It knocked the wind out of me and made me double over. What was wrong with this woman? How could she say such horrible things about my phenomenal characters? I remember words such as “Cookie-Cutter Characters” and “Predictable and Sophomoric and Amateurish”—she even wrote in the review that Carlo, the hero, acted in ways that bordered on “ABUSIVE.”
My second thought after, What’s wrong with this woman? was, Whose book did she read because she didn’t read mine.
Tears stung my eyes and like most of you who have poured yourself into your work, I became defensive and confused. Doubt set in, deep inside of me. My confidence was shot and all I could think about was, I’m a horrible writer and I’ll never write anything again (Even though surrounded by that one-star review were five and four-star reviews).
If any of this sounds familiar, then continue reading.
Of course, I didn’t give up. I kept pushing forward, kept writing and I next published Dividing Destiny. Again, I had a mixture of five-star reviews mingled with four-, three-, two- and one-star reviews.
But my writer’s skin was starting to develop callouses and I felt myself handling bad reviews in better ways. It was STILL not the right way to handle them, but it was better than curling up in a ball on the ground and crying. (Okay, it never got that bad, but close.)
This time, and with this book, I let those scathing reviews bother me for a day and ONLY a day. I phoned my writer friends, my parents, and my sisters and started my conversation with, “Can you believe this…” but the next morning, I jumped back in my desk chair, pulled up my laptop and wrote!
It wasn’t until I wrote my fifth or sixth book that I had an epiphany. Like many authors, I clicked through Amazon’s site, checking out Stephen King’s reviews, along with reviews of books by Nora Roberts, Lee Childs, and other famous writers and I realized that there wasn’t one author who had pleased every single reader with their work.
LET ME REPEAT THAT:
There isn’t one author who has pleased every single reader with their work.
That’s the first step to understanding book reviews and handling them in the context they should be handled. It’s huge. Reread that repeated line a few times. Process it. Feel it.
One day, within minutes of each other, I received two reviews for the same book. One was a five star and the other was a one star. If that wasn’t enough to make that above statement ring with truth, then it was time for me to give up my writing career.
That was the moment when I started to categorize negative book reviews. Sure, we all love the five-star reviews. Even the four-star reviews are great. But we learn the most from one- and two-star reviews.
Two types of negative reviews:
(1) The Destructive Reviewer
There are those reviewers who are just as mean as ever. They hate life, they hate the world and you’d better believe they HATED YOUR BOOK. They have nothing nice to say, and their words are almost spiteful. Their hate for the book crosses over into hating the author, whom they don’t even know.
Those are the reviews that should remind you that: IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THEM. These types of book reviewers will tear you down, tear down your book, your life and your existence, if they can.
Another True Story
I once had a reviewer call me a racist when she reviewed Disciples of the Damned, Book One. My vampire protagonist resurrected after his death in 1808 and entered into the world of 2012—the reviewer made a comment about a slave and a plantation.
I wanted to write to this woman and cuss her out for calling me such a thing. My sons are biracial (black and white), so this review hit me hard. It took everything in me not to track her down and make her eat her own words! But instead, I threw her review into the destructive category.
Maybe she had issues with racism and she needed to spew her anger or maybe she was just clueless to the fact that, in 1808, there were plantations in America and unfortunately, there were slaves on them. Either way, categorize your book’s reviews and let it go. Move on. Remember: There isn’t one author who has pleased every single reader with their work.
(2) The Constructive Reviewer
This reviewer gave you a bad review but explained the reason. Whether you agree with the reviewer or not, listen and pay attention. Sometimes, there are gold pieces among the lumps of coal.
The reviewer of my first book who had used the words “cookie-cutter characters” was ultimately right. Years after my first book was released, I revisited that book with a more experienced writer’s eye. My characters had no flaws, perfect bodies, perfect desires and although they had some emotional turmoil, at the end of the day, they didn’t smoke, drink, overeat, and they had no real-life dreams. He was an alpha, she was bratty and the writing was “new writing.”
I’ve had authors ask me how to handle a negative review—one that complains of spelling errors or grammar problems. My response to them is to take those reviews to heart; watch to see if anyone else gives the same feedback and if they do, HOUSTON, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.
If you think that your book is the next biggest thing for humanity, get your head out of the clouds, and pay attention to CONSTRUCTIVE reviews. File the DESTRUCTIVE ones in the trash and keep writing. It’s the best way to hone your skill and build your confidence!
April M. Reign
April M. Reign is the bestselling author of HASH, The Mancini Saga, The Dhellia Series, The Disciples of the Damned Series and The Turning Series. She lives in Southern California. If she's not writing, she's either working with clients to find their voice on the web or running around on adventures to write about on her travel blog. Please visit her at www.aprilmreign.com