What to do with negative book reviews

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As a book reviewer, I’ve received hundreds of pitches, direct and indirect, asking for reviews. I’ve said yes to some, and no to many others for varying reasons.

Now it’s my turn to ask for reviews, and I’m learning how scary waiting for reviews can be. The shoe’s on the other foot, so to speak.

It’s difficult putting your book out there. I don’t think any writer is free from that anxiety of wondering what readers think. We love words and we understand better than anyone the power of words to uplift, encourage and inspire us, as much as they can hurt, cut and deflate. And because words are so important to us, the cuts can run deep. Shaking them off is as hard as growing a new, thick skin.

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Negative reviews are going to happen, sooner or later. Reading is a subjective experience, and the enjoyment of a book is dependent on multiple and ever-changing factors – the genre, the style, the emotional space of the reader and so on. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to like your book, just as you don’t like every book you read. (Note: understanding this logically does not mean such reviews won’t sting for a bit.)

But sometimes those reviews seem unfair. It seems like the reader has misunderstood what you’ve written, or is deliberately going out of their way to be unkind or rude. It happens all the time. So, as an author, what do you do?

Resist.

Resist that urge that tells you to stand up for yourself, to enter into a conversation with the reader, and to defend your hard work.

Don’t do it! It might make you feel vindicated for a few seconds, but the process will just draw the wrong kind of attention to you. Don’t risk alienating potential readers, just to put someone in their place or correct the facts.

When you love words, it’s hard to let them roll off and away, like water off a duck’s back. But sometimes, you have to. For your sake, as an author trying to get your words out there, and as a creative soul. You’re probably already struggling with self-doubt and writer’s block at times. Your creative soul does not need to be squashed by someone else.

Let them have their opinions, right or wrong, just like you do, but don’t let those opinions define you. If you can learn from what they said, learn the lesson. If there is nothing constructive in their words, don’t waste precious writing time obsessing on what they said, what you would like to tell them about what they said, acting out hypothetical confrontations, trying to understand motivations, and doubting yourself.

Put those emotions into writing and keep creating anyway.

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