Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day... your book sucks! (Or How to deal with negative reviews)


This Valentine’s Day, cupid nailed my heart with a bad review that actually got under my skin. I’ve had bad reviews before but these never really bothered me. Working in film toughened my hide from such things and I prided myself on my ability to shrug off scathing remarks and harsh criticisms. It’s all part of the business. If you release work into the world, whether it’s a book or a film or whatever, then the world is entitled to its opinion of it. And their opinions, even the mean-spirited ones, aren’t wrong.

Pride goes before a fall, as they say, and I found myself bristling at the review that popped up this February 14th. Fortunately I had the wherewithal to walk away and do nothing about it.

Because the truth is, you can never respond to a negative review without coming off like a poor sport. No matter how witty your response or intelligent your counter-argument may be, you the writer, will come across as a crybaby who can’t take the heat. Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Joseph Heller... hell, even Shakespeare sounded like a pouty spoilsport when he complained about his critics. It’s simply a fight you can’t win in the moment. We’ve all seen those jaw-dropping flameouts when an author engages the critic to his/her eternal embarrassment. You don’t want to go there.

The only response is utter silence. If your work is good, you will win in the end because readers will keep finding your book and another old adage comes into play; living well is the best revenge.

But here’s a little secret to temper that scathing review and irksome little one-star rating they left you. Poor reviews, at least on Amazon and other bookselling sites, don’t really matter all that much. Neither do the really good reviews. Well, they don’t hurt but when it comes to reviews, quantity wins out over quality.

It’s validation, plain and simple. That little bracketed number next to your book title that displays the quantity of reviews is more important than the quality of the reviews it represents.

Why?

Because it shows how many times your work has been bought and reviewed. It was validated that number of times by readers who, not only bought and read your book, but took the time to write a few words about it. The higher the number, the more times it’s been validated by readers with their cash and their time.

Take your typical Amazon customer, browsing through the books looking for something good to read. Two books have caught their eye; yours and mine. Both have interesting covers and compelling descriptions that match this reader’s tastes. What’s the deciding factor in choosing your book over mine? The number of reviews it has. That little number tells the potential reader that your book has been validated by that many previous readers. If your book has 50 reviews and mine has only 6, well that’s an easy choice to make, isn't it? 50 people read your book and took the time to say something about it. The measly six reviews of my book means that it’s still an unknown quantity and your book is the safer bet.

In most things, quality always better than sheer quantity but not here. The next time someone rips your book with a poor rating and scorching review, step away and know that the uptick in the numerical value in little brackets beside your title just helped validate the book it scorched.

You win. 

5 comments:

  1. I find that the negative reviews I see often reflect 1) an initial interest in the idea behind the novel, and 2) followed by some sort of disappointment in the writer and how the book developed the idea.

    You can't please everyone, but it is still a gift, however mishandled, from that reader: somehow they found out about you and your book and were persuaded to try it. Valuable customer data, even though a particular reader isn't always good at saying this well or politely.

    When faced with a book I don't like, after trying it, I just chalk it up to experience, taste, genre, demographics - but I don't go leave a negative review because that takes time and energy.

    As a writer, what would YOU prefer from a disappointed reader? It's a serious question - I don't think I've seen it asked and answered, though I've seen many writers' comments about getting negative reviews.

    ABE

    PS Aiming to publish in the near future - wondering how I'll handle the same problem.

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  2. I don't mind negative reviews, they can often be informative. Sometimes books just don't gel with readers. What I dislike is the nasty review, where the reviewer dismisses the whole book based on one little thing. Or if the reviewer declares that the author can't write and should take a class or just give up.

    I've read a lot of books that I didn't find compelling or even enjoyed that much but I never had the urge to post something nasty or condescending in a review.

    Thanks for commenting. Best of luck on your book. Let me know when it's published.

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  3. Big agreement that quantity of reviews is a major factor. It's sort of a passive form of word-of-mouth, isn't it? Many of the reviews may not be explicit recommendations, but they're implicit evidence that other people found the book interesting enough to pick up. A lot of reviews is proof a book passed the popularity test. Huh. So maybe I should pick it up, too...

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  4. Responding to reviews is a bad idea. It makes us look petty, and, unfortunately, not everyone is going to like our work.

    I did a very similar post last week. Hopefully including the link won't get me banned. :-P
    http://rdmeyerwrites.blogspot.com/2013/02/reviews.html

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  5. 'A passive form of word-of-mouth'. Well said, Ed. That's exactly it.

    RD, thanks for the link. That's exactly what I was getting at.

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