The Value of Negative Reviews
Posted by LucciaGray
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.”
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!
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!
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… )
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…)
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!