What to do with a bad review

Kilburne_The-love-letterI’m thinking about bad reviews this week, because — after a dream run for Candle’s Christmas Chair and over 80 reviews — I have my first two really negative ones. I’ve had some people make critical remarks, and some give low ratings, but the novella has not been truly panned till this week.

What do you do with a bad review? Some people have tantrums. Some weep. Some sigh philosophically and move on. I research and turn it into a blog post. I know! Right?

Steve Aedy, in a guest post on Book Baby, gives three reasons why a bad review is good.

Reason one is that you might be able to learn from it:

Sift through all the “I hate this book,” sentiments.  Find the real substance of the review – characters are flat, grammar and punctuation wasn’t perfect.  Take these tips to heart the next time you pick up your pen.  Look for ways to improve your writing.

Reason two is that bad reviews can get your book noticed. And a debate between people who like the book and those who don’t can attract even more attention. Even bad reviews, then,boost book awareness. Aedy points to the example of 50 shades of grey; 30% of the reviews on Amazon are negative.

Reason three is that bad reviews enhance Search engine optimisation.(SEO)

Every time someone posts a link to your website on their website, it makes Google happy.  This happiness results in SEO.  Google doesn’t care about the reviewer’s scathing remarks.  All Google cares about is the link that reviewer posted.

I found a fourth reason. A bad review gives your good reviews credibility, making it clear to readers that your reviewers aren’t just your Mum in multiple identities.

And a fifth. A bad review that specifies exactly what the reader doesn’t like may attract a reader that loves books just like yours. Your reviewer hates time travel books by means of a magic-wielding cat, and can’t stand wise-cracking heroes and super smart heroines? And they say so? They’ve just marketed your book to those who were searching for all those elements.

Carol Pinchevsky has some advice for new authors.gleaned from interviews with some of sf’s great, all of whom have had bad reviews.

– Think about what the critic is saying.

Carey says, “Obviously, my intention [to deconstruct Tolkienesque epic fantasy] wasn’t clear to that reviewer, so the comment is constructive in terms of forcing me to think about how I could have better executed my idea.”

Brin says, “No matter how good you are, there is always some way to become ‘even better.’ Hence you need to be open to the bad news, as well as the good.” Brin believes in this enough to create his own acronym: CITOKATE (“Criticism Is the Only Known Antidote to Error”).

– Don’t read reviews:

Cherryh reads no reviews, neither negative nor positive. “If they’re good, I might divert my writing to try to please. If they’re bad, I’d feel bad, and maybe be tempted to change my writing to please. In either case, not a good thing.”

– Stay cool.

Carey says, “Readers’ expectations are something authors can’t control…. Taste is personal and reviewers are only human.”

– Remember, it’s nothing personal.

“We review books, not writers,” says Hartwell.

Finally, Pocket full of Books has a regular feature in which they link to authors who have reacted badly to a bad review. Go take a look if you want an example not to follow:

So what did I do about my own two bad reviews?

The first hated the snippets of history, was bored by the use of the language of flowers, and just wanted my hero and heroine to get on with the love story. This reviewer called the novella ‘a total snooze fest’. Best strategy? Ignore. (That said, I’m grateful to the person who posted a five star review on the same site, giving readers two very different opinions to consider.)

The second was on a site that already had a number of positive reviews, and was quite long. Here are some quotes:

‘far too frequent mentions of anatomy and implied love making at the end (married couple).’

‘Min gives in to the hero’s pestering and her baser feelings’.

‘sure [Candle] is kind and caring’

‘some might think his attentions sweet but I found them annoying and over the top’.

On the whole, I think that, if anyone reads the review, such comments are more likely to work for me than against me. Thanks, reviewer.

The reviewer’s most scathing remarks were reserved for a perceived historical error. The review sent me hurrying to check my facts when it claimed that the Roman Baths in Bath were unknown in 1805. I was sure that this claim was wrong, but looked anyway. The discovery was in the 18th Century. I can only speculate that the reviewer confused the 18th Century with the 1800s.

Phew! I expect I will (and probably have) made mistakes, but I try hard not to, and that one would have hurt.

Enough said, and enough attention paid. Time to get back to writing the next book.


7 thoughts on “What to do with a bad review

  1. Pingback: A Writer’s Life with Jude Knight | Layered Pages

  2. Heartfelt commiserations! Ignore, bite-the-bullet, jump up and down on a cardboard box, and say “F*ck You”. A Negative review by anon/troll always say far more about the reviewer than it does about the novel. But hey, you now know you’ve arrived on the book scene and pissed off someone else, royally.

      • My favourite negative review by far is the misspelled and poorly punctuated offering that says the reviewer liked the second story better. On my very first published book. I haven’t included it in this post, because I couldn’t take it seriously.

  3. Great post, Jude! I think you have the right attitude.
    Also, people’s knee-jerk reactions to historical information is a pet peeve with me — my first novel, set in London in 1750, was about a young actress and was rejected by a publisher because their first reader thought that women weren’t permitted to appear onstage in England at that time — when in fact women had been appearing onstage since the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Ah, well!

    • Thanks. Yes, I’ve had quite a few people – whose understanding of history is formed by regency romances set in the haut ton – gently explain to me that my tradesman’s daughter would not have been working for a living. I intend to blog about that misconception some day soon. Wives, sisters, and daughters did work in the family business in the middle and trade classes through recorded history. That said, in the period I’m writing about the upwardly mobile where beginning to see it as a sign of status to keep their womenfolk out of the business (something I cover in my novella).

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