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? 

May Recap: Plugging Along

In retrospect, May was neither a great month nor a terrible month, in terms of productivity. It was okay. “Okay” is not the measuring stick that I would like, but it’s better than February or March.

I wrote 23,873 words during the month of May, which averages to about 770 per day. 19,956 of those words were on Repetitions. The remaining 4,000-ish were split among two new projects. I had no intention of starting new things at this point in Repetitions, but I found that sometimes I just could not bring myself to write on that project. Total project size is somewhere around 85,000 words, and it should be quite close to completion.

On the reading side, I finished 9 books, which was more than my goal. I’m currently in the middle of 4 books (including Anna Karenina – readers, this might take me the whole year. It’s impossible). I did finish 11/22/63, which was excellent. I highly recommend it.

Sadly, I did not meet my goal of finishing Daredevil on Netflix. I got sucked into The Americans on FX which is phenomenal.

June goals: Write at least 30,000 words OR finish Repetitions, whichever comes first, read at least 9 books, and finish Daredevil.

Writing Struggles: When Real Life Gets in the Way

I want to apologize in advance, because this post has sort of a negative vibe to it. This was a rough week. There’s no way around that. Some things happened at work that really shook me up. Three people were fired from our office, all in management, and it happened very suddenly. These were people I liked, people who I enjoyed spending time with outside of work. I have to be a little bit vague about all of this, because I don’t know if I could get into trouble at my job for talking about any of the details.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking. I thought about my current job, my work as a writer, and where exactly I’m going with my life. Everything that happened at my job just left me really discouraged. That discouragement spread from my job to my writing, and as a result, I really didn’t write much this week. I couldn’t find the energy. I couldn’t find the interest. Instead of being productive, I just sat on my couch and stared at the wall, wondering what I was going to do about my career.

As much as I would love to be able to quit job and write full-time, that is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. Most days, I love my job. I love being a lawyer–or rather, I love working in the field that I do. I have an interesting, high-paced job. I don’t think I would be so happy if I worked in a different field of law.

Today, I’ve been beating myself up about my lack of productivity this week (and, instead of working on Repetitions, I’m on here, writing this blog post–ha). I only have essentially a week left in the month, and I’ve only written about 14,000 words. I’m nowhere close to finishing this project, and each day that goes by without writing takes me further from my goal. Add onto that the facts that next weekend will also be a no-work weekend (spending the weekend celebrating a good friend at her bachelorette party) and that a huge case at work is coming up for trial the following week, and I don’t know how I’m going to achieve much these last 8 days. Will I even hit 25,000 for the month?

When I get down on myself about not meeting my goals, I try to remind myself that this is the first year where I have been serious about goals. Last year, I wrote about 114,000 words. In 2013, pretty much the only thing I did was write The Historian (which is maybe 72,000 words). In comparison, I’ve already written over 107,000 this year. That’s pretty good. If I keep up a steady pace, it’s very realistic that I will finish at least two projects by the end of the year, possibly three. That’s amazing for someone who just started writing (meaning: actually sitting down, writing, and finishing things, not just dreaming up ideas and sketching characters) less than two years ago.

So, although a part of me is being very critical, I’m trying to stay positive. I’m trying to focus on how much I’ve already done and how I’m accomplishing other goals as well (reading 100 books in a year is no joke).  And if I don’t finish Repetitions by the end of June – fine. I’ll finish it in July. Or August. Or whenever the project is complete. This is not a George R.R. Martin situation.

How do you stay motivated with your projects when real life gets in the way? Post suggestions in the comments!

June is Looming

You all know by now that I love writing challenges. I love structure, I love logging my word counts, and I love watching the little bars track my progress. So, naturally, when I heard that there is an organized writing challenge for June, or JuNoWriMo, I thought, “Great! I’ll definitely do that!”

Now, I can’t stop wondering if I’m a little bit crazy.

April was productive but exhausting. I know that in the past, when I’ve gone full speed during writing challenge months, the month after tends to be behind in productivity (for instance, December 2013 when I did NOTHING). And thus, the problem: July is Camp NaNoWriMo. If I participate in a June writing challenge, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to continue that momentum into Camp NaNoWriMo.

Here’s my other concern: I need to wrap up my current story (which has a very, very tentative working title of Repetitions), but I don’t have another 50,000 words in me for that one. I just don’t. I think I’ll have another 25-30ish. So, if I use that project for June, it means likely “failing” in the sense that I won’t hit 50K. Then again, if I start a new project, I need to push off finishing that story again. I started writing this project in April 2014, and then I almost completely neglected it until April 2015. I think I wrote 1,000 in January 2015. It’s been “in progress” for awhile.

My original plan was to spend May and June finishing Repetitions and then dive into something new or return to one of the three serious Works in Progress that I have.

Here are my options as I see them:

  • Continue with original plan. Finish Repetitions by end of June, tackle something else during Camp NaNoWriMo.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May, then switch to a new project for JuNoWriMo, and then continue that project or switch again for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Finish Repetitions in August.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May. Participate in JuNoWriMo, but don’t participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. Finish Repetitions in July.

Writers, readers: Thoughts? Suggestions? Alternate plans that I don’t have listed? I know an obvious choice is to just work on two projects, but that’s very hard for me to do. One project always takes over and commands my attention while the other slips into the back of my head.

Good News/Bad News: The Idea Bug

Good news: I had a good idea.
Bad news: Now is not the right time for a good idea.

Ideas–especially good ideas–are mysterious things. When I was in middle school, I started writing down my story ideas. This was way back when, so we’re talking a notebook just filled with the ramblings of a young girl with an overactive imagination. In high school, when I had a computer, I kept a Word document filled with blurbs of ideas. I never actually wrote anything, but I recorded every idea that I had. In college, I did the same, and I updated my idea log to a “fancy” spreadsheet with more information.

In law school, I was so focused on my school work that my creativity dwindled to almost zero. I can think of one, possibly two, ideas that I had in law school that I thought were worth logging.

After law school, my ideas began to churn again, and I restarted my idea log. It was around that time that I got the idea for The Historian. As I’ve gotten older, my ideas have become more developed. Instead of just a flash of a plot (“What if X happens to A character?”), I find my ideas are usually more nuanced character issues or specific scenes.

Anyway – I still log my ideas, but I try not to get overwhelmed by them, especially when I have another project in the works.

I failed at that this weekend.

I was at home, visiting my family, when I got an idea that I just could not shake. It was an odd idea for me, too, because it’s slightly outside my normal genre (I’d call it more paranormal than science fiction). But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started writing this story on Sunday night, and I have over 2,000 words already.

The problem? I’m already in the middle of a massive, time-consuming project. My Camp NaNoWriMo project is about to hit 75,000, and the end is near. In fact, I outlined the rest of the novel (!) tonight. I can see how this ends. I can see how we get there.

But in spite of that (or, maybe, because of it), I don’t want to write the rest of that story. I want to write this new story.

I know that I shouldn’t complain about new ideas. Good ones come so infrequently that each one needs to be grabbed immediately and nurtured as much as possible, with the hope that maybe it will turn into a worthwhile story. Still, I don’t need any more distractions keeping me from finishing this story.

Writers, how do you stay on task when other ideas pop into your head? Do you push them aside? Do you indulge them?

Writing Struggles: Why am I doing this?

I hit a wall last night. I made it to 70,000 words on this project, and I just stopped for a moment, staring at my computer.

“Is this any good?”

I think the answer with most rough drafts is, no, but it could be. I try to repeat that to myself often. Rough drafts aren’t about finesse and perfection; they’re about throwing ideas on paper and seeing what sticks. There’s time to take scenes or sentences out in the editing phase.

Rationally, I know all of that. But as I look at my draft now, all I see are my flaws – I’m using the same descriptive words too much, I’m not fleshing out my villain enough, I’m not giving my minor characters enough to do, and my biggest fear, there’s just too much going on.

“Ugh,” I groaned to my husband. “This is just stretching out so much. I’m barely at the halfway point. I can’t imagine writing another 70,000 words.”

“What does it matter?” he asked, shrugging. “It’s not like you have a firm deadline.”

He’s right – there’s no one tracking me to make sure I get this done. I don’t have an agent or a publishing company breathing down my back, demanding that the story is done by a certain date. But I had set a date for myself of June 30th. It’s arbitrary, but that would have given me three full months to work on it, along with the sporadic times I worked on it last year when I started it. As Stephen King taught us, a first draft should be done in three months.

As I thought about my lack of a deadline, my mind leaped to another question: why are you even doing this? I don’t have to. This isn’t my real job. I’m not going to make money off of it. And, as we established above, it’s probably terrible.

So, what answer did I come up with? As you may remember from previous posts, I really struggle with the idea of calling myself a “writer.” I think a lot of self-published authors do. Maybe I’ll never consider myself an “author.” But I am a writer – I can’t imagine not writing (pardon the double negative). I have so many stories in my head, so many characters, so many scenes. I kept all of my ideas tucked away in my mind for years, until I write The Historian. Now that I’ve experienced the catharsis in the process of creating a story, I don’t know how I could ever go back.

Maybe it’s crap. Maybe I won’t sell a single copy. Maybe one of my beta readers will review it and say, “Not your best work.” But I have to keep writing.  I’m not doing because other people are telling me that I should or I have to – I’m doing this for myself.

Writers: Do you struggle with these thoughts? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep working in the face of self-doubt?

A Writer’s Identity, Part 1: What Does a “Real” Writer Look Like?

This is a common experience of mine, especially at my full-time job. Someone will mention The Historian, and people turn to me, a surprised look on their face. “You wrote a book? No way! Why didn’t I know about this sooner?”

The short answer is that even though I have put it on social media, I’m not exactly broadcasting it. I told a few close friends at work about it. They read it, recommended it, and the word just spread.

When someone approaches me about the book, my first reaction is always to minimize it. “Oh, it’s really not that big of a deal.” I go on to explain that I just self-published (I have even uttered the words – “I didn’t get it really published.” I know, I know. I’m sorry). Why do I do this? Why can’t I just smile and say, “Yep, I’m really proud of it. I hope you like it!”

The truth is, as much as I hate to admit this, I don’t see myself as a “real” writer. I’m a lawyer who wrote a book. But I don’t define myself as a writer yet. There is still some part of my brain that believes that I can’t be a “real” writer unless I’m published through a traditional company, or unless I become as successful as other self-published stars like Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle.

I know that this is complete crap. I know that there are many people out there, including many of you, who are in a similar situation to me, and they consider themselves to be “real” writers.

“But,” I say to myself, “a ‘real’ writer needs a better website. A ‘real’ writer needs to do more marketing. A ‘real’ writer needs an agent.” And on, and on. Every time I start to identify myself as a writer, self-doubt creeps in and reminds me why I’m not really one yet.

I need to stop this vicious cycle. I am a writer. It doesn’t matter what my blog looks like, how many Twitter followers I have, how many reviews are on Amazon or Goodreads – I am a writer because I write. I am a writer because I create stories, characters, and worlds. I am a writer because I take what exists only in my imagination and make it real through words.

That’s what a real writer does. The rest of it is helpful. But it’s not definitive. Even if you don’t have something published, you can still define yourself as a writer. If you spend your free time writing, outlining, brainstorming, or just imagining, you’re a writer! I need to start repeating this mantra to myself. I need to keep telling myself that no matter what’s going on with the business aspect of my writing, I am still a writer.

Have any of you struggled with this issue? What do you think makes a “real” writer? 

April Recap: The Month of Productivity

April, why can’t every month be like you?

Thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo, I was incredibly productive the month of April. I wrote 52,540 words, which averages to 1,751 per day. I hit my goal during Camp, and I made tons of progress on my project.

On the reading side, I only read 7 books, which is less than I wanted. But in my defense, I’m very close to finishing three books right now, and I’m reading two very long books (Anna Karenina – still, and 11/22/63).

Other accomplishments this month – I finally caught up with Mad Men, which involved watching 2 and a half seasons over the course of the month (it’s a lot of TV). I think Daredevil is up next. Saw Furious 7 and The Avengers: Age of Ultron in theaters, which are both great movies, for different reasons.

Goals for May: Write 30,000 words (and maybe finish Project), read at least 8 books, finish Daredevil on Netflix, and watch Avengers at least 100 more times (okay, okay, maybe I won’t accomplish that one).

Good luck to you all this May!

“I am a dedicated madman.”

Some words of wisdom from Ray Bradbury from this interview. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing (it’s short), but the last portion deals with writing. The last question Mr. Bradbury is asked is whether he has any formal training in writing. He says no, and goes on to explain:

I am a dedicated madman, and that becomes its own training. If you can’t resist, if the typewriter is like candy to you, you train yourself for a lifetime. Every single day of your life, some wild new thing to be done. You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. Then your public reads you and it begins to gather around your selling a potato peeler in an alley, you know. The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me. So that means every day of my life I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.