Few things in the literary world scare writers more than bad reviews.
A new writer is scared to get even one bad review, thinking it reflects directly on the work he or she has worked so hard on. Authors bleed onto the page to create their books, so when someone speaks badly, it feels personal.
A novice, who’s put a few things out and experienced the full spectrum of reviews, knows that you’re going to get some good ones and some bad ones. You can’t spend too much time on either. That time is better spent on more writing.
Experienced writers, the ones who have been putting books out for decades, have a memorized list of their favourite bad reviews. Ones that made them laugh the most or shake their head in complete confusion.
Regardless of your experience level, bad reviews are usually not anything to get upset about. Every writer from the unknown to Stephen King gets them. The Great Gatsby, which is voted by many experts to be one of the greatest novels of all time, has over 200 1-star reviews on Amazon. Bad reviews are going to happen, and you are going to get them. The key is to understand them.
Some people are just confused about what your book is about. Maybe it was about their reading level and they didn’t understand it, or maybe they had preconceived notions from the first page that never came true. You can’t usually tell who “just didn’t get it” by their reviews. These are the people that will refer to themes and events that you don’t even remember putting into the book. They often don’t even remember your characters names and end up making reference to characters that never existed.
Books pull on the reader’s emotions, and yours may have pulled on the wrong emotion. Any subject could suddenly cause a reader to have to relive a tragic, or at least negative experience. In these cases, the reader is giving a poor review to their own personal experience, not necessarily the book. It’s not the reader’s fault in this case, he or she is simply unable to detach themselves from the subject matter in order to look at it impartially; it’s human. But, it’s also not the author’s fault. You can’t avoid every subject because someone might not like it. If that was the case there would be nothing to write about.
No matter how well you write, there will always be someone who doesn’t like your book. It’s one of the things that makes the human race as diverse as it is. Think of the worst movie you’ve ever seen. That’s someone’s favourite movie of all time. Your book could be perfect and there will still be a group of people that would cross the street to get away from it. That’s okay. It’s just not for them.
And then there are some people are just mad at the world. These people have never said anything good about anything, because to them nothing is good. These reviews are usually easy to pick out as well. They’ll insult your work without stating any actual reason and usually can be summed up as, “This sucks.” These can be the most insulting of all the types of bad reviews, but should also be the first ones to be dismissed.
Now that you aren’t afraid of getting them, you should know that it’s still important to pay attention to bad reviews. You could learn something about your own book. Secrets of Retail was given a bad review on Amazon that shocked me. The reader listed several problems and I was shocked to realize the reader made a lot of good points. I didn’t feel the book needed changing, but I learned some things about the books and characters in the book.
If you start to see a theme developing in the reviews, that could mean there’s an actual problem with the book. Luckily, a lot of readers are nice about it. Not every bad review will be titled, “Boring boring garbage”–which is one I received on Secrets of Retail.
Good readers, and reviewers, who see a problem with a book will review constructively, bring attention to the problem without being insulting.
We live in a world of social media. Platforms exist everywhere for someone to stand on and make their opinion heard. This, mostly, is a good thing. However, these platforms also provide the chance for conversation to take place. This is not as great; especially if you’re a very opinionated writer who feels the need to “fight back.”
For example, anyone can comment on any review on Amazon. An author can actually reply to all the reviews on his or her book. Even though this exists, I recommend you resist the urge to use it. If you feel to need to have a meltdown, cry and shout, or do anything else about bad reviews, do it silently. Starting an argument with a reviewer can only end badly for you.
You are the author of the book these reviews are written about. You have a name, an identity. Most reviewers are almost completely anonymous. If they say something that sounds stupid, trite, or offensive it won’t link back them. Whatever you say could stick to you for the entire existence of the Internet.