Bad Reviews? Be Happy!
An author friend to whom I had offered my book in exchange of a review emailed me recently feeling in a quandary. She had read the book but drafted a review she found so ‘harsh’ she hesitated to publish it online. In fact, I had to reassure her and insist for her to upload it! That's right: as a writer, I specifically requested to get an unenthused review, from a reader who, herself, felt bad about doing so… Was I mad!?
Of course not! As author, we delight in positive reviews of our works. We also agonise about bad ones, that we receive as being hurtful and damaging both for sells and our ego. But are we right feeling this way?
To be clear, I am not writing here about the rude and deliberately offensive comments posted by trolls. Such nasty remarks are sorry eyesores in the review section of your books, but they can be reported and deleted, and the trolls who authored them be dealt with accordingly. What I want to focus on here are the negative reviews coming from serious readers who have been genuinely disappointed by your work, and left you with poor rating and criticism. They hurt, but you should welcome them. Why?
First, as an author you should not be chasing rapturous reviews but honest ones, even if bad. This is not about sabotaging yourself by masochistically inviting unenthusiastic or dismissive comments. This is about offering a sense of balance to people reading the reviews, and then having to decide for themselves, as consumers, whether they will buy your books or not.
In fact, a negative review might not be as negative as you and the reviewer who wrote it might think it is. For example, there are readers who might dismiss your work as being ‘clean romance with cheesy characters’, or ‘clichés horror story full of senseless violence and gore’; but what about romance readers who love their story to be clean and cheesy, and horror fans who love their plot classic and bloody? Tastes vary, and what will put some readers off is precisely what will attract others. Who knows what will trigger a decision to buy?
Then, because negative reviews help to cull your audience for the better.
If a reader happens to dislike your work, it will most probably be because they had expectations which went unmet. Them writing a negative review to outline the point is not a bad thing. It will avoid potential buyers with the same kind of expectation to get your books and end up disappointed too. Be grateful that someone warned them against it! They are, as such, a tool to understand your target audience. I am a case in point.
Regarding my poetry, my disappointed reader mainly complained about two things: how scan could be improved, and my overemphasis on rhymes at times at the expense of syntax. These observations were expected. In fact, the same issues had been pointed out to me by beta readers and a professional editor prior to publishing. I had just decided to ignore them.
The main lesson here is not that you must subject your work to objective and critical eyes before publishing. Indeed, beta readers (especially professionals) will always make useful recommendations to address flaws. Up to you to ignore them, but, as had happened with my book, once published there will be general readers taking issues with these same flaws... and pointing them out in their reviews! You'll do so at your peril, then.
The main lesson here is that negative reviews can strengthen your resolve as a writer. How?
What my reviewer and others before her saw as ‘flaws’, I, the author, see in fact as being part of my voice as a poet. They are unique to me. They are part of my identity, and it should be the same with you whether you write poetry or not. Let me explain briefly.
My native language is French, not English; and French, unlike English, has no accentuation -equal emphasis is given to each syllable within a word, as everyone familiar with how a French accent sounds like can attest! As a foreigner who had hijacked English, I therefore decided to ignore rules when it comes to stress in order to reflect my own language background. Did I know this may be an issue with certain readers? Yes. Did I care? No, because I also knew that most of my audience do not have English as native language, and, so, like me, think of accentuation and stress not only as alien linguistic features, but negligible ones too.
I also wanted my poems to rhyme, and rhyming, in English, at times requires to take liberties with syntax or enrol the help of wrenched rhymes to produce an effect (hip hop artists will relate!). Did I know this may be an issue with certain readers? Yes. Was I ready to sacrifice the effect I wanted to satisfy them? No. Again: tastes vary, and what has put some of my readers off is precisely what has attracted others.
As a writer, you too will have to make such subjective decisions to define your voice, and not every reader will agree with you. Some of these readers will even express their disappointment through negative criticism. Should you feel hurt? Certainly not! Having a voice is an asset, and there always will be readers grateful for yours. Who knows? Your negative reviews might just be the ones that will attract them!
The point is, if you know why you are doing what you are doing, then there is no reason to be upset when naysayers point out at your choices in bad reviews. Au contraire, mes amis! Enjoy your low ratings too, for they are part and package of being a creative being out there! You don't trust me? Here's a quick exercise to end this post, and, hopefully, help you putting things in perspective: think about your favourite author... Now, go on Amazon or Goodreads, and count how many bad reviews cling to their work... Ain't you surprised!
So, bad reviews? Be happy! And if you need more motivational post about the ups and downs of being a writer, then feel free to... subscribe to this blog!
Thank you for reading. :-)