Authors; How to Handle Negative Book Reviews


frustrated_writerAll authors publish their written works with every anticipation that many will see their work and that every single review of their book or novel will do nothing but lavish praise on the author and profess the reader’s unwavering devotion to the author as the reader’s first choice in personal reading. The reality is that authors need to anticipate negative reviews and keep things in perspective.

As an author, you check your book sales pages on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your other various publishing platforms, eagerly anticipating increased number of sales and solid, supportive reviews that will further help to establish a positive credibility and reputation as an accomplished author.

The fear of receiving a negative review for your publication is on the mind of most authors and in most instances, publishers are not inclined to remove those negative reviews because they want to maintain a realistic balance when it comes to the potentially broad range of consumer response to your fictional or non-fiction masterpiece. If all reviews were strictly positive, would that not give the perception of unfair bias and potential manipulation or control of your market?

As an author, you want to reach out to your readers and encourage that they share their impressions of your latest publication. Reviews are a powerful means to building confidence in the browsing consumers who have landed on your sales page. Just seeing a multiple of four or five-star review ratings can stimulate consumer curiosity and draw them to the book description to find out more.

The frustration of seeing negative reviews and the fear of the ‘negative’ impression that those less than raving reviews will have on your sales activity is probably keeping you awake at night trying to rationalize the painful process of objective criticism. You are not alone!

As an author, it is essential that you maintain perspective when it comes to a negative review. Read those critical reviews carefully as in many cases the customer will have realistic issues whether it be typical editorial issues such as spelling, punctuation or grammatical issues or more in-depth structural issues such as confusing or conflicting storylines from one chapter to the next, character or location inconsistencies, story progression that lacks a fluid transition, lack of substance or anticipated excitement. The entire editing process that you exercise before the submission of your manuscript to the publisher should painstakingly weigh all of those issues to be sure that your story is sound and fulfilling in every possible way.

 Ways to Deal with Criticism

  • Consumer Exposure: On the plus side, when readers take the time to write a review they are providing you with public exposure. The mere fact that they are expressing an opinion about your book demonstrates sales activity on your publication. People possess their own individual perspective on what they read. How others will perceive their comments will be in direct contrast to what other consumers want to read. Consumers will develop their own opinions.
  • Establish Your Own List of Fears: It can be a most unnerving experience to publish a book, especially your first release. All kinds of questions and critique may come from readers that perhaps you did not anticipate. Did you put forward the best possible reading experience through your story? Your book goes live and all of a sudden your exhaustive writing process is out there for the world to see. Keep a list of potential (or actual) negative comments that might arise. Take criticism as valuable critique, address those issues in your manuscript that require revision or correction, republish the manuscript and get over the critiques…move on. 
  • Importance to You and Your Readers: Keep things in perspective. Do you have an ever-increasing readership tribe who thinks the world of your books? Are the vast majority of book reviews you receive highly positive in nature? What do you want to achieve with every manuscript you develop? Keep your own writing objectives in mind. If you allow insignificant or even blatantly incorrect criticism to overtake your focus on your writing you will not be able to produce an outstanding product through your subsequent publications. NEVER become obsessed or distressed by periodic negative reviews.
  • Focus on Positive Reviews: It is list time again! Make a list of all the positive comments you receive about your books from mere satisfaction for having read your story or more specific details about what the reader loved the most…and wants to see again! Are their positive perceptions as you had intended? Did you deliver best reader experience? Take the critical time to receive a good pat on the back for a job well done through those positive reviews; they are your core audience who will return for more repeatedly! Affirm in your own mind that you are indeed a gifted writer and have a solid grasp of how to engage your audience.
  • Every Author Gets Bad Reviews: What? Really? Even the most well-read authors, including bestseller authors, get negative reviews. When you get an ungracious response to your book through the issues the reader had are they relevant? Do they have merit? Decide how you can avoid that type of reaction in future books. Use those negative reviews to plan and structure your next novel in a way that would avoid such perspective. You should also keep in mind who the individual is and what bearing that has on their comments. There have been instances where a publisher has discovered that an author, even a very well-read author, had written bad reviews or hired someone else to do the same in an effort to discredit a competitor in their genre market. Legal action ensued and the publisher will no longer accept the offending author as their client.
  • Website & Social Media Commenting: Today’s publishing world quite naturally leaves an author vulnerable to public expression of their works. This can be a scary experience for some writers. In most online places like websites, blogs, and social media the public has the opportunity to post comments on virtually any subject including their impressions of your publication. Authors cannot cower, terrified about the potential for negative reviews. Most of your public audience will take negative reviews at face value and given the many more positive reviews, will want to experience a great read for them.

Perspective is Everything

Are Negative Book Reviews Constructive or Flaming?

When I received my first negative review it was on social media. At first, I felt sick that I should fall victim to a negative trashing of my written works. As an author, you really have to look at where that negativity is coming from.

First, is there any substance to the negative review that backs up what the person has stated? In that particular instance, the reviewer’s comments were generalized in nature and really made no reference to a specific issue with my content. I was confused and increasingly angered. How can anyone publicly put down an author’s content and neglect to substantiate what they were saying without backup through specific instances or points of reference in the book? Have they, in fact, read my book?

Do Not Respond in Anger!

Keep in mind that negative reviews are a matter of public visibility. In publishing/distributing sites such as Amazon.com, there is no option for deleting a negative review. There is merit to the question of whether an author should have that discretion but that issue is for another time and place.

It is critically important that you, the author, should never be angered by throwing down a harsh or angered response in return. By responding with anger, doing so will only serve to give readers the impression that you are acknowledging the harsh criticism by becoming defensive. We cannot expect every single review to be a raving two thumbs up nor should we ever suggest it publicly. Constructive criticism is a healthy aspect of learning, being more attentive and growing as a publishing author. The best response from an author is to produce an even better publication in future, the perfect opportunity to minimize readers’ opportunity to become critical.

Survey Bestseller Sales Pages

A great exercise to alleviate fears about negative reviews is to face those fears right up front even before you publish your first book. Do the following exercise with me:

At the very moment of this writing, I went directly to the homepage of Amazon.com whereupon I entered the search term ‘bestseller books 2017’ into the Amazon site search bar. At random, I clicked on bestseller author Sue Fortin’s ‘Sister, Sister’ publication. It is noteworthy that Fortin is a USA Today bestselling author. On the title and tagline at the very top of Ms. Fortin’s sales page for ‘Sister, Sister’ is an overall four-star customer rating. Right next to the star rating is a current count of 334 customer reviews.

Now, scroll down the sales page until you arrive at the section titled ‘Customer Reviews’. Here you will find a graphic illustration of the rating percentages as cast by reviewing readers ranging from one Star rating as (2%) of all ratings cast to four and five Star ratings by the vast majority of reviewing readers at between 29% – 53%.

If you then click on “See All Reviews” you will see a breakdown of ‘Top Positive Reviews (275) and to the right, you will see “Top Critical Reviews”. As a percentage of total reviews to date, that equates to 83% Positive Reviews over 17.66% Critical Reviews. Those are significant percentages and most importantly the percentages of positive customer reviews far outnumber the critical reviews. I have not referred to the one to three Star ratings here because they are substantially fewer in numbers and therefore of least impact to this comparison.

Start Reading A Sampling of Critical Reviews for ‘Sister, Sister’.

It really is interesting to engage in ‘Critical Reviews’. With all due respect to the individual reviewers (because their opinions about the publication certainly do count) read their comments carefully and consider the substance and specifics as they are articulated or the absence of it. Are the comments highly generalized or substantive in support of their rating chosen? Even in the case of a reviewer’s sole comment being “Spellbinding” their rating was only three Stars.

In another instance, a reviewer states “I haven’t read a book this bad in about 5 years.” This comment shared a one Star rating. Again, these review comments have significance and relevance from the reviewer’s perspective.

Now Engage in The Positive Reviews for ‘Sister, Sister’.

I will make no further direct reference to individual ratings and reviews as I believe it is important that you, the reader here, draw your own informed conclusions based on what you see throughout the body of the Reviews section of this author’s sales page.

I would encourage you to go back to the Reviews section of numerous authors, including ‘bestseller’ authors, through their respective sales pages and look very closely at what is said in the reviews and how their statements relate to their overall rating. It really is interesting to see the broad range of reviews and star ratings, whether for a newly published author or a seasoned pro that has made their way into the lofty ‘bestseller’ ranks.

Many authors share their perspective on negative reviews that they receive and how they handle them personally. A good many have stated that they ignore negative reviews completely and avoid destructive distress or distraction that would interfere with their writing process…period. They would also urge that in the end after all is said and done you will continue to write and publish. Reviews can be used in a positive way where an author feels that a critical look is constructively pointing out areas of writing which indeed do need the author’s attention.

Most importantly, re-read your positive reviews frequently and especially those that provide you with a detailed perspective that clearly illustrates the powerfully impactful ways your book has influenced their review comments and why they will continue to seek out your future publications. Use those positive reviews as an affirmation that you are a wonderfully capable author and keep writing. You obviously have something exceptional to share and have discovered the critical formulas for reader engagement!

© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

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