6 Tips for Dealing with Bad Book Reviews

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: after getting feedback from beta readers and your editor, revising your book, and generally stressing out, you finally work up the courage to publish your precious, finished product. You release it into the world, hoping that you gain a few readers. People start to purchase your book – hooray! But then the reviews roll in. And there’s a 3 star. Or a 2 star. Or (*gulp*) a 1 star review.

How do you bounce back from that? Here are five ways that I cope with handling less-than-glowing feedback.

1. Every book has negative reviews.

Think of your favorite book – the book that you love more than anything, that you have read and re-read so many times. Even that book has negative reviews, I promise you.

For example, Philip K. Dick is my favorite author. I checked out the reviews for Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (a/k/a the book that Blade Runner is based on). Though the overwhelming majority of reviews for this book are great, there are a few outliers. Here’s some complaints from 1 star reviews:

  • “The story is an absolute mess.”
  • “No new ideas and overall poorly written.”
  • “It reads like it was written for the mentally ill searching for their inner self. Strange and awkward wording was one of the many lowlights of this audiobook.”

Of course, these make me cringe. What? I think. How in the world can you find Philip K. Dick’s work poorly written?! Okay, but maybe this is a bad example. Maybe MY favorite book isn’t universally acclaimed. So, let’s check out a widely acclaimed book:

  • “I am sorry but I would rather have my teeth pulled than to keep reading this whatever.”
  • “Did not finish reading it after about 1/3 into the book. In my opinion, there was too much dialogue and the story moved too slowly to keep my interest.”

Those are two 1 star reviews for To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • “I don’t get why this is such a classic, why people seem to love it so much, really I just don’t get it. It is just a bunch of rich people in the 20’s having parties and their nonsensical conversations.”

That’s from a 1 star review for The Great Gatsby.

In other words, every book will receive negative reviews. You will never find a book that has only positive reviews (at least, not one properly distributed to a lot of people), and so there is no reason to believe that you will receive only positive reviews. First and foremost, remember that you’re in good company.

2. The reviewer may not be your ideal reader.

Look, you could write the best vampire romance in the entire world, and I probably won’t like it. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve written a bad book. It means that I’m not the person who you envisioned reading your book.

Putting your story out into the world has drawbacks. When I first published my book, I had it available for free for a few days. I had over 5,000 people download it! That was wonderful, but I’m sure a lot of those people were downloading it only because it was free and not because they are fans of my genre. I would bet that a lot of those people never even read it.

I have pretty strong feelings about reviewing a book outside of your preferred genre. For example, I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but sometimes, I want a light read, and I’ll download one on sale from Amazon. I’ll read it in a day or two. It’s fluffy entertainment, but I wouldn’t necessarily call these books “good.” So, I try not to rate and review those books on Amazon or Goodreads. I am not the target audience, and even if I would give that book 2 stars, most people in the target audience are giving it 4 or 5. I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to write a pointless review that says, “Meh, not really my thing.” (Believe me, I don’t have an issue giving negative reviews to books that I think are legitimately bad or poorly written books where I am the target audience).

This is not to say that if you get a review from someone who clearly doesn’t like books in your genre, you should disregard everything they say. But take it with a grain of salt. If the person has legitimate complaints about characterization, dialogue, etc, then you should consider that. However, if you write a fantasy novel, and someone’s review says, “I’m just not into fantasy, so this book wasn’t for me,” you know that the review isn’t truly helpful.

3. Learn what you can from the review.

Some negative reviews are completely unhelpful. “Eh, I thought it was boring,” is one such review. A review that criticizes character development, plot structure, etc. is more more helpful to a writer’s long-term success. I had several people read my story before publishing it, and there have been a couple reviews that have pointed out things that none of my beta readers did. This shouldn’t surprise me, because everyone reads with a different perspective. Some people may love your protagonist, while others may find her frustrating. Does the review explain why the reader had a problem with characters/plot/etc? It’s tempting to just write off the negative comments, but especially if more than one person has mentioned something, sit down and really think about it. How can you take that criticism and use it to improve your next story?

4. Ignore jerks.

As stated above, use the reviews that are helpful. If someone is vague or downright mean about why they dislike your book, push the review out of your head. There is a difference between someone providing a critical review and someone just being a jerk. There’s no reason for a reader to write something cruel, especially on Amazon or Goodreads, where they know they’re affecting future sales. Unless there’s something constructive in the review, ignore it. Otherwise, you’ll spend your time dwelling on why this reader thought your book was the worst thing they’ve ever read.

5. Criticism doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer.

Sometimes, when we hear criticism, we overreact. I’m definitely guilty of this. But a negative or quasi-negative review of your work does not mean that you’re a terrible writer or that your dream of being a writer is stupid. It means that this reader had issues or concerns with aspects of your story. If the person gives you a 2 or 3 star review, that means that something worked for them. Despite any issues they had with the story, this isn’t the worst book ever. Even if someone gives you a 1 star review, look at the reasons they use in their review. If someone hates your story for valid reasons, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on writing.

6. Read the positive reviews!

For every negative review your book gets, I’m sure there will be more positive ones. Go back and read those. Remember that even if someone didn’t like your book, there are readers who LOVED it! I think reading a positive review of my book is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. One reviewer commented that she hoped I wrote another one, and I was just floored. Someone wants me to write more?? I couldn’t believe it. Reading the positive reviews will help remind you why you published in the first place. You wanted to connect with people and to give readers a great story, and for a lot of people, you accomplished that goal.

(Side note: readers, take note of this. If you read a book and love it, please rate and review it on all the platforms you can. Writers thrive off positive feedback. When I see a four or five star rating on Goodreads with no accompanying review, I want to beg the reader to write something on Goodreads and Amazon, but I feel like that’s a little too stalkerish.)

Writers: How do you deal with negative reviews? 

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Kindle Free Promotion: The Recap

Last week, I offered a free promotion of the e-book version of my book, The Historian. I didn’t really know what to expect when I did this promotion, and I’m sure a lot of indie authors feel the same way. I thought I’d write a recap to chronicle my experience.

I read on a GoodReads forum that some people have had upwards of 15,000 people download their books during a free promotion. I had no such luck. But I did do pretty well.

In total, I “sold” over 4400 copies of my book. That’s a jaw-dropping number to me. I never had any expectations that I would distribute so many. At the peak of the promotion, Saturday, The Historian topped out as the #3 bestseller in the Science Fiction (for free books), #2 in the subgenre Dystopian, and #1 in the subgenre Time Travel. That’s not too bad for a first-time author.  I think my peak in the overall bestsellers for free books was somewhere in the 20s or 30s, though I’m not entirely sure.

The promotion ended yesterday morning. Since then, I’ve had two reviews come in on Amazon, and two ratings on GoodReads. Of course, I would love more, but it’s still early.

My sales the next day weren’t great, but I did sell some copies, which is more than I was doing before the promotion. Likewise, my sales aren’t great today, but I’m still in the top 100 bestsellers in the Time Travel subgenre for books and e-books (for now).

Overall, I definitely consider the Kindle promotion to be a success. I’m glad that my book was distributed to so many people. I hope that people are actually reading (I know that I’m guilty of downloading free/cheap books and neglecting to read them right away), and more than that, I hope the readers are loving the book.

During the next cycle, I’ll try out the Kindle Countdown Deal and see how that goes. Any authors out there have experiences with Kindle promotions?

Happy (Almost) New Year!

After a holiday hiatus, I’m back!

First, a piece of shameless promotion: through Saturday, my book, The Historian, is FREE as an e-book on Amazon! http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Rachel-Bohlen-ebook/dp/B00OZ85SI2/ With this free e-book promotion, the book has jumped to #66 in its subgenre! (Science Fiction – Dystopian) Go check it out, and I hope you like it.

Second, I am absolutely ready for 2014 to be over. Looking back, it was a strange year. I moved to a new place, transferred to a different job, and published my first book, which are great things. But on the other hand, my father passed away, as did a friend of mine. I spent most of 2014 feeling like I was in some sort of haze.

I don’t really want to do a list of New Year’s resolutions. Like most people, I never fulfill them. But I do have general things I’d like to do – I’d like to live my life with a better sense of purpose. I’d like to be healthier (meaning, I know that I need to drink less and eat better). I’d also like to push myself out of my introverted shell more.

And of course, I’d like to write more. I’m proud of myself for how much I wrote during 2014 – in total, across all projects, it was over 110,000 words. For the new year, I started using a great website to track my word count: WordKeeperAlpha. I really love it – and it has charts! I’d highly recommend it to any writer who needs the extra incentive of organization to keep going.

Happy holidays to all, and here’s to a wonderful 2015! If you are doing resolutions, I’d love to hear them (and how you plan to meet them)!

Book Update: Available Now on Kindle

Good news!  My book, The Historian, is now available on Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Rachel-Bohlen-ebook/dp/B00OZ85SI2/.  I’m hoping to have the paperback version available later this week.

I’m trying to balance being proud of myself for developing a finished product and constantly reminding myself that it’s “just” self-published.  No matter what, I’m still proud that I actually finished a book and polished it to the point where it’s acceptable for people to read, but I still find myself correcting my friends when they say congrats on publishing — “It’s just self-published,” I tell them. “Not really published.”  I know that I shouldn’t say that, but I do.

I’ve never been someone who is eager to have other people read my work. This may seem counter-intuitive for someone who claims they want to be a writer, but I think that other writers out there may understand.  Of course, a part of me wants people to read my work (and, I hope, love it), but the potential for harsh criticism has held me back.  That’s even held me back from putting myself out there and telling people that I enjoy writing at all. Creating this blog and my Twitter account were huge steps for me.  Saying to the world, “Hey! I love writing!” gives the world the chance to say, “You? But you’re not good at it,” or, the worst, “But you’re not a real writer because you’re not published by a traditional company.”

My expectations are realistic: this is not going to make me money. I don’t expect to be the next Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle, those wonderful self-publication success stories.  I just want to be proud of my work, and I want to feel motivated to write more.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying, my book is available, and I’ve been told it doesn’t suck. Hooray!