Posted in Tips and Tricks | Posted on 05-07-2012|
I’ve come across a lot of interviews where authors say variations of, “You need to develop a tough skin to survive this business,” and “If you have to write, write, but if you can… quit.”
Fortunately, the e-publishing (and self-publishing) boom of late has made things a little easier, at least insofar as getting your work out into the marketplace (no more submitting to agents for years and years and handling rejection after rejection.) Unfortunately, as authors, we still have to deal with the unpleasant fact that not everyone will love our work. Inconceivable, I know!
The bad reviews can be tough, especially when you’ve just published your first book. Here are a few suggestions on handling bad reviews, from someone who is (trust me) as sensitive as anyone and has a hard time letting things go. (For the record, I think it’s less about developing a tough skin — callouses, ewww — and more about keeping things in perspective. At the worst, people are rejecting our ideas and our way of sharing them; they’re not rejecting us.)
How to deal with bad reviews
Realize that everybody gets bad reviews
Misery loves company, right? Some of your favorite books probably have oodles of bad reviews. The final book in the insanely popular Hunger Games Trilogy has almost 500 1-star reviews. John Locke, the indie author famous for his How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! has a 3-star average on his popular Saving Rachel (a Donovan Creed Crime Novel) and almost as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews.
You can’t please everybody, but, as these successful authors prove, it’s not required. All you need to do is figure out how to please a small group of people (if you haven’t read Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans post yet, it’s a must).
Don’t let the bad comments outweigh the good ones
We can get 99 good reviews and 1 bad one, and it’s the bad one that sticks with us. For me, the ones that sting most are the ones that I know are right. It’s easy to dismiss the brief, are-you-sure-this-guy-even-read-the-book reviews, but the analytical ones that make a point-by-point list of the story’s flaws are tougher to let go.
I try to remember that just as you’ll never please everyone, you’ll never obtain perfection. With art, perfection is an elusive target anyway. All we can do is try to write good stories.
Instead of focusing on the occasional harsh reviews, take a look at the trend. Are four out of five people enjoying the story? Are the sales good? If you have a few books out in a series, are a lot of people buying the subsequent books after trying the first? (That’s a telling statistic and worth paying attention to.)
If you’re getting more positive reviews than bad, then you’re doing better than most!
Save your fan mail
The other day, I saw someone on the Kindleboards ask, “How do you know if you have fans?” My first (admittedly snarky) thought was that if you have to ask, you probably don’t. But that’s not necessarily true. A lot of people who read and enjoy books never leave a review or say anything to the author.
What you can do is make it easy for readers to contact you (i.e. put your email address or your blog/social media links at the end of the book), and encourage them to do so. When someone takes the time to write and say they enjoyed the book, that’s the all-time greatest compliment. When you start getting emails like that, put them in a special folder and save them (heck, print them out and stick them on the fridge). Then you can read through them again later when you’re feeling a down after being slammed somewhere.
Think of bad reviews as an opportunity to learn and grow
As I mentioned, some reviews are just odd (the ones where it seems like the person didn’t read the book), but the critical reviews that strike a chord can be a learning experience. Maybe your next protagonist should drive the action more, or perhaps you need to trim more words so that the story doesn’t get bogged down in the details. Maybe your witty banter isn’t as witty as you thought and needs to be toned. Or maybe the novel just wasn’t ready to be published.
Don’t do anything drastic based on one review, but if you get more bad reviews than good, and lots of different people are picking on the same things, then it may be a sign that it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
A lot of people talk about how great self-publishing is because there are no gatekeepers; true, but there’s also nobody to tell you when you’re ready.
I’m glad e-publishing hadn’t taken off yet when I first “got serious” about writing. Because of that, I submitted quite a few short stories to magazines and earned a lot of rejections while I continued to learn the craft. I reached the point where I was making some sales before I turned my focus to novels and eventually self-publishing. Ideas are subjective, and you never know if a particular story is going to resonate with people, but if you’ve gotten thumbs-ups from some of the gatekeepers (whether they be magazine editors, contest judges, or agents), you can be reasonably confident that your writing itself has reached a professional level.
But if you’ve never dealt with rejection before, these early reviews may be all you have to go on. If the book wasn’t ready to publish, the readers will let you know. And it’s okay if it wasn’t. In every industry, 99.9% of the successful people out there failed a lot before hitting it big. It’s how we learn.
Don’t look at the reviews
Some people can’t help themselves. They have Google Alerts set up to email them whenever their name or their book titles are mentioned on the web. They want to read everything that’s said about them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you know you’re a sensitive sort (especially if you’re someone who will over-analyze things and find cause for disgruntlement even in a four-star review), it might be better to simply stay away from the review sites.
In the end, reviews are largely meant to help other readers anyway. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to learn from them, but there’s a point of diminishing returns (i.e. you’ll probably learn everything you need to know after reading the first ten or fifteen reviews). Time spent zipping around the web, skimming every blog post or review that mentions you is time that could be spent working on the next book.
What do you think? Do you have any tips of your own for dealing with bad reviews?