I’ll be upfront–this blog post is as much for me as it is for you. Catharsis.
My first book, Enemy in Blue, has been selling wonderfully. That means one of my goals in writing the book is starting to be fulfilled. Namely, people are reading a story about a difficult and challenging subject. What does that mean? It means that some people are getting REALLY pissed off.
Okay, no worries. I knew that would happen and am glad it has. How else can you draw attention to a controversial subject?
That said, it still stings to get bad reviews. I believe I had the honor of a recent reviewer saying my book would destroy Kindles because readers would barf all over them. Excellent.
With Enemy in Blue out a little over a year now, and having gotten a few bad reviews, I’m going to do this for you, and for me–okay?
There is No Final Answer in this Blog Post
Let me be upfront about one more thing. I don’t have the final answer regarding how to handle bad reviews. This is almost as much about me asking the question as me answering the question. Further, this is a very emotional analysis. You can’t really rationalize bad reviews, especially the really bad ones. So, understand off the bat that you may very well deal with bad reviews differently. Just like we all deal with emotions differently. That’s fine. In fact, it’s good.
Don’t Kid Yourself, Bad Reviews are Inevitable
I’ve heard this a few times. “It’s not going to happen to me.” Hold on while I choke back a laugh. If you’re selling books, even if you’re selling the best book ever written, you’re going to get bad reviews. Imagine if you went into a movie theater after an award-winning movie like The English Patient played. You think everyone in that theater would give it 5 or even 4 stars? That movie bored me out of my mind. Bottom line, everyone is going to have a different perspective.
Add to the whole perspective issue the fact that with our books, people sometimes buy our genres when they don’t really like our genres. For instance, if you wrote a romance and a person that typically reads and enjoys thrillers picks up your book, guess what, you’re behind the eight ball to start. The final exacerbating factor to getting bad reviews? Complete anonymity. People can hide behind nondescript profile names on Amazon and leave nasty reviews. Without the buffer of face-to-face interaction, there’s nothing stopping a bad reviewer from letting loose.
In short, if you’re selling more than a book a month, you are likely to get some bad reviews. So, what to do with them?
Don’t Feed the Monster!
You can respond or comment on bad reviews at Amazon’s site. Did you know that? Well, you do now. But, before you go responding to every person that leaves you a review, whether good or bad, remember this. That cloak of anonymity? If you, the author, start responding to people’s reviews, you intrude on the anonymity that people enjoy about Amazon. They like the fact that if they want to, they can leave a bad review to “warn” other consumers about a product. Similarly, they like leaving a good review when they have enjoyed a product. If you step into their space, it will no doubt get ugly.
As an example, I have heard an anecdotal story of an author that responded to a bad reviewer, got into it with the person that left the review with back and forth posts on Amazon, and then Amazon lifted that author’s book from the website. Yessir, don’t forget, Amazon cares about their customers more than their suppliers. And, rightfully so. Thus, think twice before you engage. Secondly, if you engage, I would expect that other consumers would be more inclined to do the same. Stated otherwise, your response could piss 1, 2, 3, etc. people off that may otherwise have just put your book down and not left a review. But, if they see you advocating on behalf of your book, then they may feel justified to advocate against your book.
Again, the short and sweet of this section is to take your punches and move on.
Can Those Bad Reviews Actually…Help?
Let’s just take a behemoth book for example. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. That book has a whopping 7,254 reviews! (An interesting analysis for another day is trying to determine the ratio of sales to reviews. At last count, The Hunger Games sold about 18 million copies. That means only 0.04% of people have left a review. Innnnteresting). Out of those reviews, Ms. Collins has 210 one-star reviews. You think those have hurt her sales? How about we take a classic, Pride and Prejudice? Over 1,000 reviews, including 57 one-star reviews. How about this trending book called Fifty Shades of Grey? Out of 3,360 reviews, there are 962 one-star reviews. Almost 1/3 of the reviews have been one-star! Guess where it is ranked? #1 overall on Amazon in the United States.
Our conclusion? Bad reviews don’t always spell doom for your book. Especially since we aren’t selling a high priced item, such as a tablet, people are still willing to plunk down a few bucks to give something a shot. On top of that, I have heard from readers that some bad reviews actually lend credibility to a book. When readers see nothing but positive reviews, they tend to think something fishy is going on.
So, remember a few things. You’re gonna get bad reviews. Cry, scream, throw things–you ain’t gonna change it. When you get bad reviews, don’t exacerbate the situation by responding to them. Create voodoo dolls, go for a run…whatever. Just don’t respond. Finally, those bad reviews won’t necessarily spell the end of your book. Work on getting some good ones by submitting your book to friends, family, and other authors.
There, I feel better. What about you? What do you think? Go on, comment and get a little healing yourself.