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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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7 Comments

  1. I’m an author, however, I first cut my teeth in sales which helped me build a thick skin. Were it not for that experience, it would have made negative reviews difficult to swallow. Instead, I now take it as constructive feedback, but only if others chip in with the similar comments. If the review is unbalanced and in isolation, I don’t take much heed – can’t please everyone! Nice post 🙂

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    • Hi Aiden. I can certainly see how sales would be of benefit. I agree with what you’re saying about unbalanced reviews. I guess at some point you have to trust those who read reviews to be discerning and to be able to see an unbalanced review a mile off.

      Good luck with your own writing. What do you write?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true Writenote. I write thriller. Book 1 – Pathfinders – was sci-fi/horror (light on sci-fi). Book 2 – Sigil – is a detective thriller set in Ireland.

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  2. Monique, thank you for this post. Firstly, it reminded me to put a review of ‘My Silly Mum’ on Goodreads—I’d been meaning to and forgotten! I loved your book. Secondly, you’ve reminded me to prepare myself for the inevitable if my book is ever published, and your advice is wise. It must be hard to resist the urge to respond, especially if the criticism is unfair or unfounded. I understand not everyone will like a book—we all have different tastes—and I understand the academic need for critical appraisals. What I don’t understand is why people behave like trolls about an author’s work. It’s not like they’ve been forced to read the book! And it’s a book, not something that might affect the way they live. I think people forget that authors are human and have feelings and, like everybody else, we’re just trying to do our best.

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    • Louise, I am so glad you enjoyed this book. Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to review it.

      Like you, I don’t understand troll behaviour. I believe in treating people with kindness and when others do the opposite, it confounds me. Yes, it is hard not to say something, but I am learning that with some people, no matter how logical you are in explaining the hurt they are causing, it doesn’t matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am about to face the same thing if I ever get through edits. I honestly think it is a necessary part of the process and for the most part we need to suck it up and look at it clearly and objectively, and we also need to accept some people don’t know how to say things clearly and objectively. Unfortunately that is not only part of the process but part of life. Good post.

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    • Thanks, Barbara. I do agree that this is part of the learning process. However, not all people out there have good intentions a.k.a. trolls. For them, it’s more about being nasty rather than social awkwardness. And they’re the people I struggle with because I can’t understand why people would behave that way.

      Then again, learning to take this in your stride is also part of the process, right?

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