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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - How to Handle a Negative Review

I did some Internet surfing on suggested ways to handle negative reviews.  Most of them told you what not to do.  A perfect example of what you shouldn't do is in Tonya Kappes article "Thick Skin with Every Word."  In her blog Tonya spoke about how she badly wanted to respond to the one star reviews:
 "I wanted to tell them that I love constructive criticism, but to give me a one star review because they don't like the genre and wanted to start with mine. . .well, that's not a true review."
She's right, it's not really a review so much as it is an opinion.  And let's face it, we all have opinions regarding just about everything we come across in our lives.  And a review, negative or positive, is just one person's opinion.  Not sure how many of you are familiar with Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."  It's not to everyone's taste, but I found it invaluable because of one suggestion that totally changed my perspective on criticism.  The suggestion?  That individuals should consider viewpoints different from their own as priceless gems (not exactly his words, but my interpretation).  We are so busy wanting to be heard, that sometimes we forget to value the differences between us and just listen.

I recently received a review that initially devastated me.  The reviewer was new to the genre and didn't like at all what she found in my book.  But she made some very valid points regarding a time shift, which I didn't make as clear as I should have, and her overall feeling that my heroine was acting immature for her age.  She was definitely right about the time shift, which I would change if I could, and her opinion about my heroine was valid.  Tiffany was definitely behaving immaturely, but she was doing it on purpose.  So, the reviewer had been "spot on" about that as well.
The fact that she was new to the genre also made me realize she probably wouldn't like even its best selling author.  The genre I'm talking about is erotic spanking romances, and my novel in question was "Arrested by Love."  Since this is a "G" blog, I'm not going to go into any more detail except to say if you measured my book against others in the genre, by comparison, my stuff is fluff.  They are more like romantic fantasies and would probably not appeal to those who prefer hardcore material.  But that's what I write.  I'm not into the nitty gritty of real life, and I don't care for heroes who "get off" on dispensing pain.

So, the point I'm struggling to make here is that it wasn't my book she disliked so much as the genre.  Although that really didn't matter, since I still would have taken the time to write and thank her.  She took a chance, read my book, didn't like what she found, and reviewed it accordingly.  All she was doing was giving her opinion about what she read.  Of course, I would have preferred that she loved my characters and plot, and raved rapturously about my prose.  Who wouldn't?  But the fact that she was totally turned off by what she read didn't invalidate her opinion in my mind at all.  If anything it made it all the more valuable.
Not me, but a good representation of how I felt (only imagine slacks and a T-shirt rather than the evening gown.)
Yes, I nearly hyperventilated when I first read her review.  I felt absolutely crushed, but I wasn't angry.  How could I be?  That's where Stephen Covey's book came in.  Her opinion was vastly different than my own, so I needed to value it for that reason if no other.
Yup, that's much more like me, though about 100 lbs heavier, older, no pigtails....  Okay, that doesn't look like me either.
We started a light correspondence where I assured her I respected her opinion, even if it did make me unhappy. I didn't expect her to change what she wrote.  She promised to give me an honest review, which she did.  I had no right to ask for more.  However, she really appreciated the fact that I didn't berate her or tell her what an idiot she was for not recognizing my prose as a literary gem.  Hey, even I know my books aren't literary gems by any stretch, and that one especially wouldn't qualify.  Her reply was gracious.  She liked me as a person, just not that particular book, so I told her I would write a blog about how to handle negative reviews and this is it.  Below are my 5 suggested things you should do if you receive a negative review.
1. Acknowledge the pain of rejection, but don't react to it.  It hurts, and you have a right to feel like you've been stabbed, but don't respond.  Wait.
2.  When you're able to breathe again, go back and read the review.  If it is vituperative or just plain mean, rather than an honest opinion....  Pick up the pieces of your shattered ego, acknowledge the loss of something valuable, and get out from under the bed.  Then yank out the knife that's currently lodged in your heart or stomach, and do whatever you must to staunch the flow of blood.  Try reading the many positive reviews you've received, (which you will undoubtedly begin to doubt because this last reviewer has totally convinced you that you have no business writing in the first place and you should crawl back under your bed and stop littering the world with your--stuff).  And, if you start to feel depressed, tell your inner critic that one bad review does not a legion make.  You enjoy what you do, and as long as others enjoy it too, you will prevail.
3.  If the review has some valid points, and isn't hateful, take time to consider what the reviewer wrote.  Most reviewers aren't out to ruin your career (although I've heard there are a few on Amazon that make a living out of slicing and dicing others' work).  You don't need to dwell on the points, or throw your body on the sword of martyrdom, just consider them, then put aside your wounded pride and thank the reviewer for her time.  This is just a recommendation, and as an author you need to decide if this is something you can do without developing an ulcer over it.  If you feel you cannot respond without attacking the reviewer, or attempting to justify your work, you should skip this step and the next.
I expressed regret that she didn't care for my book, but admitted what I wrote was not to everyone's taste.  I know that.  I also knew I was taking a risk by asking someone, whom I suspected might be new to the genre, to read and review my slightly controversial novel.  This was not an unsolicited opinion.  I'd requested this review, but that also didn't make any difference to my chosen course of action.  All that mattered was she was willing to try something new, found she didn't care for it and gave her honest opinion.  So, from my viewpoint, she deserved an acknowledgement and my thanks for at least taking a chance.
4.  If you write them, they will respond, sometimes, and sometimes they won't.  If the reviewer takes the time to graciously respond to your note, give the courtesy of a return response.  In this case, she thanked me for my response, so after taking a few deep breaths I wrote her back.  I'm not saying this was easy, folks.  It wasn't.  I was still in a lot of pain and my heart was beating double time.  I tried to joke about it with my husband, but failed miserably through my tears.  However, she wrote me back, so I owed her the courtesy of a return response.  I was scheduled to submit an interview to her site, and after her reaction to my work, I questioned whether or not it would benefit either of us for me to submit it.  I was still willing to finish what I started and send it to her, I just didn't see how she could still want it.  Through that correspondence we became a little more honest with each other, but maintained the respect we had for each other's feelings and opinions.
5.  Whatever you do, don't let a bad review stop you from doing what you love.  Don't give into despair or anger no matter how much your aching pride urges you to. Get rid of any ill feelings that might still be festering inside you.  The longer you give them the food of your anger and the shelter of your heart, the more damage they'll do.  And you're the one who suffers the most by harboring them, although your family may disagree with me on that.
Below are what some other authors recommend to survive and avoid a bad book review.  Hope this helps.


  1. Thanks so much for the shout out! You have a wonderful list, but personally I wouldn't contact a reviewer that has given you a bad/negative review. It will not change their mind nor will it make you look better in their eyes. It will only make you want to explain why you write that genre or why you did what they didn't like. Regardless, if they didn't like it, they didn't like it. Writing is subjective.

    1. Good point. I added a note to that section to reflect your concerns, since I'm convinced a lot of authors feel the same way you do, and it's a valid concern.

  2. I think your list is great and points out some important qualities that make writers stronger when it comes to bad reviews. Thanks for posting.


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