Why Bad Reviews are Good for Authors
Reviews drive a lot of debate in the author community. We need them for several reasons, one being sales. It’s no secret that books with hundreds of reviews tend to sell better than those with few or none at all. Readers are human and, as such, are social creatures influenced by signs of social proof. If they see that a book has a lot of positive reviews, they assume it’s popular and become more likely to want it. Likewise, if someone they know, like and trust reviews a book favourably, they’ll search for it. This is why we deem reviews important.
The opposite goes for bad reviews. Shopping online, we’ve all probably passed over a book with a low review star average. Most of us have also trawled one-star reviews to get an overview of a book’s flaws and inform our buying decisions. It’s not personal. Though, knowing how casually we use reviews as readers, it doesn’t stop the ones attached to our books from feeling like attacks. A single poor review can ruin our day. They cause some of us to give up writing altogether or push us to commission more on-genre covers and write new blubs to avoid misleading future readers. Yet attracting negative reviews remains inevitable, no matter our response.
As you will find in today’s blog post, encountering criticism is unavoidable if you plan to build a career as an author. The key to coping with bad reviews is not to avoid or fight them but to accept that they exist and adjust your perspective to see their value. Only then can you make peace with bad reviews and use them to your advantage. Here are a few pointers to help you stop fretting over bad reviews and understand why they are actually good for authors.
They Prepare You
Some negative reviews do contain relevant criticism. After all, perhaps your critics have a point; your dialogue is stilted and your ending is unsatisfying. Seeing your weaknesses confirmed in print exposes them and gives you a clear way to improve. Having said that, many reviews aren’t so valid. Some can be overly harsh, claiming that your book is “littered with typos” when there are only two in 80,000 words. Others can be filled with misdirected scorn, giving a one star because the retailer delivered your book after their nephew’s birthday.
Irrelevant criticism happens all the time. It hurts the ego but getting it early in your career is good, because it allows you to worry, make rash decisions, recover and get over it before your platform grows big enough for anyone to notice you wobble. It thickens your skin over time too, desensitising you to the lunacy of the general public, and prepares you for more criticism in the future. Many shoppers ignore irrationally angry rants anyway, so there’s no need to fret over them because they don’t greatly affect sales. All they do is help to make you a more assured creator. Consider this early criticism mindset training – an internship for the pressures of superstardom.
They Improve You
New writers often fail to meet their desired writing standards even after years of formal education. This is because school has limits. While writing teachers understand the mechanics of language, they don’t typically make a living from their work, so they can’t tell you how to write like a bestseller. Nor do they typically represent your ideal reader.
Genre-specific editors can help you bridge the gap, but the only real way to learn how to write books that your readers love is to read your reviews. Poor reviews reveal gaps in your knowledge. What’s more, they come directly from the people who buy what you write, which means that you can trust the consensus of their opinions. Doing so can turn your struggling stories into fan favourites.
Similarly, reading criticism as an indie author can also enlighten you on your shortfalls as a publisher. For example, readers occasionally express issues with a book’s formatting or complain that the product description is misleading. You can analyse these comments to find out how you’re missing the mark and correct the publishing details accordingly. Harsh reviews highlight where you need to raise your standards, both as a writer and publisher so that, going forward, you can get more sales and make your readers happier.
They Validate Your Work
Books with several hundred five-star reviews and no negative ones make readers suspicious, and with good reason. Books are art, after all, and art is subjective. As a result, any book that has 100% approval from readers rings alarm bells. A perfect five-star average makes readers wonder what underhanded tactics a writer has used to game the system. In some cases, perfection deters them from grabbing a copy of their own, opting instead for a comparable title with overall positive feedback but a mixture of praise and disapproval. This is because its social proof feels more likely to be genuine. The portion of negativity works in its favour.
When searching for new books, readers don’t just look at novels’ review-star averages, either. Believing that there must be something wrong with every book, some bypass the praise altogether and look only at the negative reviews to see if the faults that exist are ones they can tolerate. They might, for instance, find that the critics liked a book’s plot but hated its “colourful language”, and choose to buy it anyway because they don’t mind the odd potty-mouthed character. Or they might look at the three-star reviews to read a fair, balanced opinion. Readers who do this need negative reviews to make up their mind and buy. Books with only glowing reviews actually stop them from taking that final step.
They Build Your Team
Readers can be painfully honest, but some are intelligent and only make harsh comments because they genuinely care about books. These individuals sometimes identify valid flaws in your work that you missed even with an editor and proofreader. It isn’t always possible to reach them. If you recognise their name as someone you know from your mailing list or social media, however, you might want to reach out to them to ask for extra help. While it’s unorthodox to recruit those who publicly criticise you, authors frequently use this strategy to strengthen their teams and win over their most ardent critics.
Many who try this tactic approach them first with a show of gratitude, bearing no ill will. They thank them for their feedback then offer them to join their team as a beta reader. Of course, lots of readers reject the offer or never reply, but some do accept. When they do bite, it’s a win-win; the reader gets early access to books free of charge, and you get an extra person to help with quality control. What you realise is that some of your most hurtful reviewers aren’t your enemy at all, nor are they mean. They’re just passionate readers with high standards – the type of people you want standing in your corner.
They Motivate You
Bad reviews can ruin your motivation if you take their words to heart, but they can also throw rocket fuel on the fire that keeps you writing. How they impact you depends entirely on your mindset. High-achieving authors tend to thrive on the criticism they gain. They see attacks as learning opportunities or challenges to succeed in spite of the negativity. Adopting this mentality is an effective way to make the best of your reviews. It enables you to approach them as learning experiences and changes your default response from “I can’t fix this” to “How can I fix this?”
Admittedly, some reviews slice deep even with this mentality, but take comfort in knowing that each cut heals as a scar that toughens you against future blows. As long as you persist and strive to be better despite the pain, you will create a habit of resilience. Some days will be rough but, slowly, you will evolve, iteration by iteration, until criticism no longer fazes you and you welcome new setbacks as if they were games to be understood and overcome.
Seeing that criticism isn’t necessarily bad takes some adjustment, but making the shift is worth it. Not only does it make you emotionally stronger, but it also helps you to grow your author platform. If you’re getting lots of bad reviews then see it as free feedback that you can use to improve. More importantly, though, remember that getting reviews of any kind means that people are reading your work. That’s a problem that many authors would love to have and a sign that you’re living what they would consider the dream.
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