Dealing Positively With Negative Reviews by Michaelbrent Collings

February 14, 2013 · 16 comments

in Business of Writing, Guest Posts, Promotion

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Okay, so, you’re published. Your book is “out there.” It’s “in the world” and “up for grabs.” People can “read it” and “peruse it” at their “leisure” (I like quotation marks).

And at first, things seem all right. Fairly predictable. The book doesn’t become an instant bestseller, but it is selling. Your mom bought it, and your dad bought two copies, and so did that slightly weird person who sits in your closet and mumbles a lot. Or maybe that’s just what happens to me.

Regardless, your work is now on its own. Living, breathing, and (hopefully) being passed from hand to hand by readers who are—slowly but surely—going to become Your People. Your Followers. Your Army.

And then it happens. Among the four- and five-star reviews that have made you feel higher than a kite on meth, suddenly this rears its ugly head on Amazon:

A TERRIBLE read

I picked this boock up because of all the good revuews. But I guess the revuews were all dun by, like, the writers’ parents and stuff. Because the book stunk. It stunk a lot. It stunk like a dead skunk that has severe dysintary and then drowns in its own poop. Also, the author is a ca-ca doodie head and probably has lice and kix baby seals and stuff. Dont read this book, it will give you cooties.

– 1 star

You read it. And the questions start. Is my work really that bad? How could this reviewer have so completely missed the point of my book? Where did he learn to spell? What if I do have lice?

And, most urgently… how do I respond?

To that last, I have three little words: Ig. Nore. It.

Okay, maybe that’s four words, I don’t know.  I’m a writer, not an accountant.

Seriously, though, when you get a review like the above, you must simply rejoice within yourself. Why? Because it means your book is being read. It’s getting out into the world, meeting new people, getting beyond the closed circles of your family, friends, and writers groups. It will inevitably meet up with people that hate it—because it’s not their style, because you did an objectively terrible job writing the piece (it does happen), or even for no good reason at all.

And like any good parent, you will have the urge to rush to your “child’s” defense.

RESIST.

There are really only two likely outcomes if you choose to wage war on the review or (even worse) on the reviewer himself.

1)   You try to show the review is “wrong.” The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You now have a dedicated enemy who will attack you at every possible turn, giving you low ratings wherever possible and urging his/her friends and family to avoid your work like a sack of rotten meat. You have just accomplished nothing more nor less than magnifying the effect and range of the viewer’s bile and hatred. Result: you lose.

2)  You try to show the review is wrong. The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You mobilize your friends and followers and fight back. A comment war ensues! You beat back the scummy, evil, poor-spelling reviewer.  He/she is silenced forever. Huzzah! But wait… those comments are there forever. And you look like nothing more nor less than a prima donna bully. This will keep people from buying your books in perpetuity. Result: you lose.

Of the two, the second is gratifying to the author, but far more damaging. I am friends with a great many authors, some of them legitimately Famous People. And occasionally one of them will get their undies in a wad over some disparaging comment made regarding their work and will mobilize their fans to attack. The fans attack. Or some of them. Some don’t. Some become “un” fans, turned off by the author’s childishness. And though maybe Famous People can afford to lose fans, the average author just can’t.

An example: my most recent novel, Darkbound, just came out. It’s a deeply disturbing horror novel about six strangers who get on a subway train that turns out to go everywhere BUT where they want it to. When it was released, a very eminent horror review site called Hellnotes wrote up a stellar review. So did several other review sites. A friend who had received an advance copy sent me a note saying he was… well… less than enamored of it. It was too dark, too violent. Worried, no doubt, about typical author ego, he asked what my response would be if he posted such a review.

My response: “Do it!” People have a right to know others’ thoughts. The fact that this reviewer didn’t like Darkbound as much as he had liked other books I’d written was a bummer. But it didn’t mean the end of the world, and insisting that he love everything about my work, all the time, would be not merely ridiculous, but counterproductive.

The reviews of our work will at times be insightful, helpful, warming. And sometimes it will be shallow tripe that looks like it was probably written in crayon by a five-year-old struggling against some weird form of Tourrette Syndrome. Both are part of being a writer. Don’t respond to either (even the good ones—that can be a bit “stalky” and can also mess with your fan base). If you want to interact with fans, get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or stand on a box in Hyde Park.

But leave the reviews—and reviewers—alone. Ig. Nore. Them.

It is three words. I counted with my fingers.

 

Michaelbrent Collings has written numerous bestselling novels, including his latest novel Darkbound. His wife and mommy think he is a can that is chock-full of awesome sauce. Check him out at www.facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings or  michaelbrentcollings.com.

 

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{ 16 comments }

Jolene B Perry February 14, 2013 at 8:18 am

Yes!!
And I tell everyone when their book comes out to read a few one-star reviews of their favorite ever reads because every once in a while your eyes may slip and find one of your own – EVEN if you’re trying not to read them…
Makes me feel better all the time 😉

Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books) February 14, 2013 at 10:10 am

Excellent advice. It really isn’t fair that reviewers can write whatever they want and authors can’t respond without sounding like thin-skinned whiners, but that’s the way it is.

If it helps, remember that reviewers are evaluating a product. It’s not personal. I review a book the same way I’d review a hair dryer: What do I like about it? What do I loathe? Was it worth the money? Would I recommend it to someone else? Since authors/publishers are asking readers to spend not just their time on a book, but also their hard-earned money, it’s only fair that potential buyers know what they’re getting — even if some of what’s said about a product hurts the feelings of its creator.

Also, I have to stick up for my own kind — many of the reviewers I know are not just intelligent people, but also pretty decent spellers. Just sayin’.

Author Sherry Gammon February 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Great article! Funny guy!! Loved his Faux letter…is was a faux one right?

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Yes, it was a fake. But not too far off from a couple I’ve seen….

Shelli February 18, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Great post, but that brings up a good question. If I am the one who has been asked to review a book, but I really didn’t enjoy it, should I decline to do a review? Or is any publicity better than no publicity? Would you rather have a blogger say your book was “meh,” barely eking three stars, or would you rather have her say nothing? I’m curious, because there are authors that I like and want to support, but I have to be honest in my reviews or I lose credibility with my readers.

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I think if I’m sending a book to a book reviewer/blogger for purposes of review, then I’ve got to be willing to stand behind the book. If that means the reviewer hates the book… then that goes with the territory. Obviously any writer (me included!) would prefer to have nothing but sunshine and fairy dust sprinkling down on our work, but if we want to get the public’s praise (and MONEY), we have to be willing to take our lumps.

That’s not to say that I think reviewers should go out of their way to savage others’ work – there are some who seem to love to write nasty reviews because it gives them a chance to show off their mad sarcasm skillz (I wrote it with a “z” so you know I’ve got street cred) – but an honest review should be just that: honest. If I’ve asked for it, I can’t complain if that’s what I get!

Rebecca Talley February 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Excellent post. A great reminder for all of us. I suggest self-medicating with Dove dark chocolate when you read a bad review :).

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I prefer Symphony bars. But other than that, your advice is well-taken!

Marsha Ward February 19, 2013 at 2:23 am

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. (I deleted my rant about negative reviews.) Now everything is sunshine and lollypops. 🙂

Stephanie Black February 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great advice! And I love your suggestion of regarding bad reviews in a positive light since it means your book is getting out there and getting read. I’m going to remember that the next time one of those “ouch” reviews gets posted.

Maria Hoagland February 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Love the advice. Sound. Inspiring. And hu. More. Us. Thanks for the reminder when the stings come. My favorite pick-me-up when I get fewer stars than I hoped for is to read my favorite authors’ one- and two-star reviews. Makes me feel a little better that awesome writers like they are still get yucky reviews on occasion. Thanks!

Kate Myers February 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Brilliant!

It’s so painful to have our work attacked and I’m proud of myself for taking the higher road of ignorance… let me rephrase; I Ig. Nored. Them.

Odd thing; my first book came out almost exactly one year ago, and overall got many great reviews. It’s an ALA best Young Adult book of 2012 and had foreign rights sales to Germany, France and China. But STILL, I struggle with one review that just shredded it. What is it they say? For every negative comment it requires 20 positive ones? Thanks for your intuitive post.

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I got a review from a major horror website and another one from a Bram Stoker Award-winning author about one of my books, both raving about it. And then later I got a review from someone who savaged it in terms that showed he/she clearly either hadn’t read it or hadn’t understood it. Guess which one stuck out the most that day? Weird, but it’s human nature: when a tire blows out, we don’t scream, “Thank goodness the other three are working!” No, we scream something else (that I won’t write on this website), and complain about the one problem tire. Something we can all work on, I suppose. But at least we’re in good company!

Amber Argyle, author February 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm

This is a tyrrible artkel! Abslutlee tyrryble. u should never b allowwed to right again.

Okay, it actually takes a lot of work to misspell that many words. Kudos to you for that fake review. I laughed a lot. 🙂

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Hahaha! Kudos backatcha!

Michaelbrent Collings March 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Hey, glad that so many people got something out of this one. I won’t say it gets easier to deal with negative reviews (it does for some, it doesn’t for others), but I will say you get used to it as part of the job. And thanks for all the humorous comments!

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