The Value of Negative Reviews

Please take the poll at the end of this post!

I was prepared for the inevitable. You can’t please everyone, and if your novel challenges traditional ideas on love, marriage, and literary archetypes, some readers are bound to disagree.

Yes, it’s happened to me. I’ve received a one-star review 😦

My debut novel is my baby, and I really do mean my baby. I have three children and three grandchildren I adore, and they know my novel is my baby, too. It was born out of years, months, and hours of toil, strife, hard work, and immense joy. I love it. Every word, paragraph, page, and chapter, has been filled with love and care. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It just means that I love every single letter of it.

I had told myself many times, “it will happen, you can’t please everyone, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, which needn’t be the same as yours”.

It’s a ‘small’ consolation to remind myself that all writers have had negative reviews and criticism. The following article gives famous examples of writers knocking other writers.

My favourite is Mark Twain’s, although I don’t agree, at least not entirely! He wrote the following statement in a letter to Joseph Twichel (13th September, 1898):

Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.’

I can imagine, petite and demure Jane, shivering in her grave replying, “Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.

Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley

I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

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“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.”

So, what did I do?

After reminding myself how all writers will experience it, I consoled myself with my positive reviews. I looked up the topic on the Internet, moaned and groaned, and then spent the evening making biscuits with my grandson, my best friend and colleague, Gabriela, and her son, who is my grandson’s age. Then we ate them all!

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Now, after a delicious break, back to my predicament, and the main topic of this post.

So, once you get a negative, one-star review, what do you do?

(I’m talking about ‘normal’ one-stars, real readers who just don’t like your novel, not trolls or catfish, they’re another matter).

First, face up to the fact that home is lovely and cozy, and your friends and family are supportive, but, well, once you publish your novel, it’s the real world out there, and there are lots of people with diverse opinions, and backgrounds, and agendas, and you can’t please everyone.… and finally, so what? It’s happens to all of us!

There are some interesting opinions in various articles in the Huffington Post  and according to Beth Bacon, there are 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews, See more opinions here. 

My conclusion, after reading and pondering, is that all is not bad. There are positive aspects to bad reviews.

There actually is life after a bad review! 

(Yes, I know, some people find consolation anywhere…It’s nice to be one of those, you know, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying….look on the bright side of life… Monty Python and all that, illustrating us about the meaning of life… )

Monty Python

Look on the bright side of life!

Seriously, there are some positive aspects to getting bad reviews, and I’ve discovered a few, after much reading, and ranting…

  • In the first place, be thankful. People who bother to write reviews feel strongly about your book. They have read it (we presume, unless they state otherwise), and taken the time to write an opinion. That in itself merits our attention as writers, although you needn’t write a thank you letter…
  • Secondly, a book with lots of reviews has real legitimacy, even if some are negative. In fact, if some are negative, it balances the positive. When potential buyers see only five-star reviews, they could be suspicious. But let’s not overdo it, a couple of one or two-star reviews are enough to reassure the buyer that the feedback is honest and authentic, because, no-one can be 100% perfect author!
  • Thirdly, it gives browsing shoppers a range of perspectives, making them more likely to buy it, if they don’t agree with the one-star, and less likely to buy it if they do agree with the one-star. That’s great! In the long-term, you’ll get less one-stars, because readers who might have not liked it, won’t buy it in the first place! And, let’s face it, no-one wants readers to read their book if it’s not their type of novel, because reading should be a pleasure, and I’d hate to give someone a hard time reading.
  • Fourthly, when you run out of ideas for a blog post (which I hadn’t, but I might have), you let off steam, and you get to write a blog post all about it!

To wrap up, as Stephen King famously wrote (loosely paraphrasing someone else, I believe…)

Stephen_King,_Comicon

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

So, writers should be prepared, open, and unfussed by a few complaints.

Finding ‘some of the readers‘, you will be pleasing ‘some of the time‘, may be the key, but that’s the subject of another post.

The final question I’d like to address is:

Should authors respond to negative reviews, or indeed any reviews? Most people say no, some say yes, have a look here, so I’ll take the question a step further:

Should authors take the initiative and interact with readers?

I have mixed feelings about this.

Firstly, although I’m aware that reviews are written for readers, not authors, we all know authors read them, and I love the idea of being in touch with my readers.

Secondly we always complain that we don’t get enough reviews, so why not respond to the people who actually take the time to write a review? Wouldn’t it be polite? and encouraging for other possible reviewers?

Finally, Id like to share my one-star review with you (as it appears on Amazon.com):

Just could not get into this. Jane’s character is stilted and wooden and I’m VERY disappointed at how Rochester is depicted. Such a pity. I expected more from it. The use of multiple voices to tell the story is distracting and actually a trifle boring. Just not well written or in keeping with the spirit of the original. jejune.

This is the reply I was thinking of writing:

Thank you for taking the time to read my novel and write a review. I really appreciate both. I’m sorry that you were disappointed in Jane and Rochester’s portrayal, and that it didn’t work for you. Although I can’t say it’s agreeable for me to read disappointed comments like yours, I prefer a negative review than no review, and I’m sure your review will help readers to decide whether or not this book is right for them, so thank you again.

Should I reply? Why or why not?

Please comment or take the polls and help me decide.

The first one refers to my specific reply, and the second poll is more general. Thank you!

*****************************

Later on in the evening: I’ve read some wonderfully enlightening comments from experts on this topic (see below), because they’re both writers and reviewers, and I’ve decided I’m not replying on a sales platform. You have convinced me it’s just not the best place to interact with a reader. However, please feel free to continue commenting and voting, either way. I’ll have a look at the results and write up a summary of your votes and opinions in a few days’ time. Thank you for helping me with this one!

19 thoughts on “The Value of Negative Reviews

  1. I feel for you Luccia, but know that as much as you love your book, your baby, you are not that book, it is an extension of you, it is an extension of your way with words which you are continually honing, the 1 star is just one reader who didn’t like what you wrote and you need to find a place where you are fine with it. Do not reply or comment no matter how much you want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For a one star review, other than the part about it being poorly written (which I can attest is not true) that wasn’t too bad. The reviewer didn’t like the way you took the story. I guess that is a risk you take when you expand upon a beloved classic like Jane Eyre. There are bound to be people that don’t want anyone to mess with the story at all. Others love it when you play with the characters and come up with something new and different.
    Try to concentrate on all the great reviews and let this one review go.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was torn between either thanking the one star reviewer and appreciating that they took the time to read the book – I would avoid having a discussion – and not saying anything. I got a three star review that hurt (a little) but ended up having a nice email relationship with the writer, who turned out to be a very interesting person and just not an easy reviewer (I did well by comparison to others). Concentrate on all the good reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sometimes you have the urge to explain yourself, but I suppose there’s not much point, really. Their assessment has been made. It probably won’t change, and of course they’re entitled to their opinion. After, this, 3-star will seem great! At times like these, I’m glad I’m not a young or insecure young writer, and that I have wonderful blogging sisters to cheer me up! Thank you!

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  4. If you want to be in touch with your readers do it through Facebook and/or your blog. (Anne Rice is a good example. She mediates what is on her FB very well.) Never, ever respond to a reviewer on a retail sales platform….you are asking for trouble…even if it is positive. You respond to one and others may be annoyed…just don’t go there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your wise words. I’m sure you’re absolutely right. I hadn’t really thought of that, but a sales platform is not the place for discussion between readers and authors. I’ll see how Anne Rice does it, but FB and blogs, do seem to be the ideal place to get to know your readers.

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      1. My novel, a roman a clef, deviated from standard novel format. Most people loved it but a few have been brutal. The one and two star review are not as bad as one of the three star reviews written by a member of my writer’s group. He is a self-proclaimed misogynist and I truly believe he only wrote the review to say we were acquainted and tear me down. He tried to communicate with me about the review after a writer’s group meeting and I would not entertain him. “Every reader is entitled to their own opinion and how they wish to be perceived by others,” is all I said to him. It is usually more a reflection on the reader than the actual book.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m replying to your second comment. Thank you for sharing your experience. I love your last line: ‘It is usually more a reflection on the reader than the actual book.’ You are so right. Point taken. Thanks again, I feel much better now.

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      1. One thing I do when I get a critical review is to go to one of my favorite authors’ Amazon book pages and check out their critical reviews. It reminds me that I am “one of them” now. You have been initiated into the life of a public figure. 😀

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  5. This is such a difficult area, Lucy. I think we need something like the Berlin Wall to come between readers and writers. Of course writers will want to see their reviews, and of course they’ll be hurt when it’s a negative one. Of course reviewers need the freedom to express their own opinion. No easy answer to how to manage this.
    As a reviewer, I enjoy exploring my own response to a novel in a way that I hope my blog readers can come to their own conclusions as to whether it is for them. I’m always anxious I might upset the author, and careful with my wording, but overall I prioritise honesty. I’m always pleased when an author tweets my review and, very occasionally, comments.
    I use the star system on Goodreads but not on my blog – in this way I think readers can be less swayed by my opinion. But I haven’t yet reviewed anything by an indie author and part of the reason is knowing how much they/you seem to need 5* reviews when it’s very rare for me to rate anything at this level (although slightly more frequent than the 1* review which I think I’ve given only to well-established authors who have no need of my goodwill).
    In another few months I’ll be – hopefully – getting my own reviews. Thanks for pointing the way to dealing with the highs and lows of this feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m always anxious not to upset anyone I come across in life! What’s the point of upsetting people? on the other hand, I do like reviewers and beta readers who make constructive comments. I’m aware there’s always room for improvement. As a teacher I know that mistakes are part of the learning process. I could easily discourage them with just a harsh word, but i make sure i don’t. I haven’t written my masterpiece yet, and perhaps I never will, but I’m enjoying the journey! Thank you for your reflections and implicit support! Looking forward to your novel.

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  6. Hello Lucia. Thanks for interacting yesterday on #SundayBlogShare. I decided to stop by and have a look at your blog as well. You have a new follower 🙂
    Firstly, unless they are a masochist, anyone who is too thin-skinned to handle some negative feedback shouldn’t publish.
    I would respond, absolutely. Stay polite, civilized and on topic, and I think most readers (and potential) readers will appreciate that you are approachable.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Having just let my little darling roam free I’m still in ignorance of want to do about reviewers so this debate is instructive. I’m not sure, beyond the fag if you get so many reviews, of the harm of a thank you to each reviewer, good, bad or indifferent. And why t being on a sale’ platform makes any difference. Perhaps someone can tell me. I try and reply to comments on my blog, but again I’m a relative newcomer to this art too and I don’t have 20 plus replies to handle so again I’m not talking from a position here I’m overwhelmed. But, and I’m with everyone here, don’t debate it. The reader reads once; you’ve read dozens of times. Your understanding and theirs are inevitably totally different. In that’ sense it is no longer your book but theirs to understand as they will on one reading. I feel the same with Beta Readers. if they ask for an explanation I try and give one but I just accept their thoughts with good grace, however harsh and, sometimes misconceived or plain wrong they might be. Better that than put them off so they won’t read another book and comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always reply to comments on my blog or FB and usually thank people who RT, but of course, I have relatively few followers, so I can handle it. I know the really popular writers don’t usually interact with readers due to the sheer volume. I’ve let off some steam by writing my post and getting your comments. Thank you for that. The majority seem to think it’s best to ignore all reviewers comments, unless they contact the writer personally. Sounds fair. I’ll go along with that.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey Luccia.
    Thanks for a great article. Something I can definitely relate to!
    I stopped checking my reviews a month or so ago (which up until then I was doing a dozen times a day). As much as I loved the feeling of receiving and reading the four and five star ones (yours included, of course) the others immediately brought me down, albeit only briefly. Like you, I considered replying to the really bad ones, but in the end decided against it, mostly because it isn’t worth the effort.
    What I did instead was to re-read what they’d said–but with a neutral ‘clinical’ eye–and decide whether they had a point, or were simply being, well, A-holes (pardon the French). If it seemed to be the former, I took it on board as constructive, with a view to improving my work. If the latter, I simply shrugged it off and went back to work…after re-reading a few of the good ones. 😉
    There’s no way in Hades that everyone will like our work. But some will, and they’re the ones we write for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Matt! Thank you for dropping by and sharing your experience. I agree with you that it isn’t worth the effort, and it’s wiser to reread neutrally. If a reader wants to contact the author with positive or constructive suggestions they will do so. We’re easy to find! Reviews are really for readers, and we all have some who enjoy our books! So you’re right, ‘they’re the ones we write for.’ The real difficulty in this vast online universe is reaching more of our readers. Meanwhile, as you say we need to shrug it off and get back to work! It’s done me the world of good to read other posts, share my frustration, and read your comments. Thanks again:)

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