How to survive a bad book review
Reading bad reviews of your work can be tough – we might feel that they’re unsubstantiated, that the reviewer simply “didn’t get it,” or that they have a bone to pick with us personally for some reason. Regardless, bad reviews can hurt, and we may feel tempted to respond in kind, with harsh words and criticism of our own.
Three words: don’t do it.
Not once. (Okay, five words.)
The one thing you’ll have to remember as an author with published material out in the world is that all sorts of different people are going to read it, and they’re going to have all sorts of different opinions on it. Art is subjective, and you’re not going to be able please everyone. There will be some who simply don’t like your work, and they’ll tell you about it. Sometimes they do so constructively, politely, and thoughtfully. Sometimes they go for the jugular.
Bad reviews don’t often go viral – they might if they’re particularly harsh and hilariously-written, but by and large, reviews don’t get much attention from anyone other than those who are either thinking about reading a particular book or have just finished reading a particular book. But there is one way to make sure a bad review gets seen by everyone in the industry: react poorly and publicly.
There are countless examples online of authors (or their agents, or their spouses) getting defensive and antagonistic in comment threads on bad reviews about their books. There are even reports of authors creating “sockpuppet” accounts from which to praise their own works and trash the reviews of those who dare to disagree. None of this behaviour is appropriate, professional, or helps convince people that the reviewer is mistaken and you’ve in fact written a brilliant piece of pure genius.
Here are some tips on how to read criticism of your work and minimize the personal impact:
- Allow yourself your first reaction, but keep it private. Rage, cry, vent to a good friend, write a scathing reply, do whatever you need to do to rid yourself of the initial emotional reaction to a bad review – but keep it to yourself. Rage into a pillow, vent in person to a friend (not in email or on social media), or write the reply by hand and then destroy it. Feel your knee-jerk emotional reaction, and then purge it. Letting it run away with you will do you no good.
- Once calm, re-read the review. Pay attention, and look past the insults, if any. Sometimes the criticisms that cut us closest to the quick are those that hit closest to the truth. Does the reviewer have a point? A valid concern? Are these things you can keep in mind for your next story? Something to bear in mind is that if you’re getting multiple bad reviews that all make similar points; it might be worth it to listen, and give it some serious consideration.
- If you must reply, you can. If you’re just starting out building your fan base and are trying to engage your audience as much as possible, don’t suddenly fall silent on the one review that doesn’t praise you. Don’t stoop to their level, however. Returning insults for insults will make you look petty, unreasonable, and unprofessional, no matter how vicious the initial attack. Acknowledge the review and thank them for their time. And that’s all.
- Move on. Don’t obsess. Bad reviews happen to even the most successful and popular authors of all stripes. Think of it this way: you’ve just joined their illustrious ranks! Rejection and bad reviews are all part and parcel of being an author. Call it a learning experience and get on with your next project.
Regardless if the reviewer has some well-articulated, polite, and valid criticism, or is an erupting volcano of vitriol insulting you, your skills, your parentage, and your pets – your reaction should be the same in all cases: either complete silence, or a polite acknowledgement and genuine gratitude for the time they spent reading, thinking about, and writing about your work.