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Monday, October 01, 2012

Dealing with Mean-Spirited Book Reviews

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Of the top five things I hear authors struggling with on writing loops are the dreaded REVIEWS. It isn't easy taking criticism, but let's face it, after years of being in this business most of us learn to receive genuine feedback and develop a thick skin. It's the mean-spirited reviews that most of us struggle to get past. 

These reviews can be self-defeating or inconsequential, depending on how we react. If it is a well-deserved review that teaches us a lesson, it can also be positive once we get past the sting of the pain. Chastisement never feels good, no matter how it's delivered. Still, there are well-mannered professional reviews and mean-spirited unprofessional reviews. 

Social Media and the entire Internet has opened up reviews from people all around the world. Most of these reviews are from non-professionals, but they are the buying public, so their opinion counts--A LOT. There are also the free Kindle and Nook downloaders who will read anything as long as it's free--a few select will still read books in genres they dislike and feel compelled to leave reviews. I've never understood why, but it happens. 

Others are not exactly mean-spirited, but very sarcastic and/or spiteful. Most of us in the CBA market expect this sarcasm from the ABA market, but there is a bit of extra hurt and betrayal when we see a Christian reviewer leave a sarcastic review. Can they not express their honest displeasure in a way that doesn't sound so spiteful and sarcastic? I believe they can, but perhaps they haven't learned how to be professional about it or they don't realize how bad it sounds. If you are a Christian reviewer, I implore you to read lots of reviews from others and learn how to tactfully give a criticism without being sarcastic, spiteful, rude, or attacking. 

Tips on Reacting to Bad Reviews

1) Don't read any reviews - Some authors make it a habit to never read reviews from the public. They only read reviews from endorsers or influencers. The bad reviews sting and drag down their spirits. It interrupts their writing flow and makes them second-guess themselves. They feel defeated and depressed and struggle with bouncing back. If this is you, I strongly urge you to stay away from the review boards at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and Christian Books. 

2) Let the numbers speak for themselves - If you have a total of 50 reviews and 20 are 5-stars, and 15 are 4-stars, 8 are 3-stars, and only two are 1-star, it's pretty obvious that the two 1-stars are in a lonely category by themselves. Forget them. Your work can't appeal to everyone and they simply fall into that category. Concentrate on the other 48 who like your work. They are the majority and are your target audience since something in your work resonated with them. 

3) Don't respond - It may be tempting to defend yourself, but don't. Let others do it for you. Just ignore it and allow it to gain very little attention so it can fade away. Don't write a blog about it either or complain in another open forum such as Facebook or Twitter. 

4) Consider the source - If you write Christian fiction and a reviewer is harping about the Christianity or religious theme in your book, consider the source. A non-Christian must have picked up your book and is struggling with the reality that just hit them square in the face. Sin never likes the sting of truth and it makes them very uncomfortable if God is trying to reach them. The fact that they found your book and it might be rubbing them wrong, is no accident. Rejoice!

5) Overcome sarcastic reviews by other Christians - It's sad to say, but this is going to happen and they will do it in the "name of being honest" or "being true to their blog readership". I know no other way to say this, turn the other cheek. Pray for God to deal with them and teach them how to give honest criticism without being mean-spirited about it. They don't have to like everything they read, but they can learn to be professional and not tear down other individuals and still get their point across. We are not supposed to look like the rest of the world, even in reviews.  

6) Ignore the ones who didn't read the book - Some people are just negative people and it's their mission in life to spread their negativity around and try to get reactions out of people. All you have to do is read a few comments on Yahoo articles to see this in action. It's obvious when a person hasn't actually read your book, they don't have anything "specific" to say about the characters and/or plot. All their comments are too general and broad. The best thing you can do is ignore them.

7) Learn from bad reviews that mean something - On the other hand, if a person has actually read your book and they are being very specific about what they didn't like and several other reviewers are saying the same thing, take notes. Learn from this experience and try to avoid it in future books. 

8) Use reviews to find your target audience - Most authors use a list of influencers to launch their book and populate the Internet with a few decent reviews. I always tell influencers that if they cannot recommend my book to others after reading it, there will be no hard feelings. I don't want them feeling obligated. However, if I see someone who has taken it upon themselves to review my book and they liked it, I might contact them to review my next book as an influencer. They are my target audience. They like my writing style and what I write. They are the ones I want to spread the news about my books "by word of mouth". Likewise, if I have an influencer that doesn't like my work, they go off the list for the next book. They are free to review it if they want to, but I won't be asking them for future books. 

Remember, even the best-selling authors receive bad reviews. It comes with the business of writing and making it available to the public. 


Excellent advice! I am thinking I will be one of those that doesn't go and read the reviews once my book is out there. That's just me. I have a pretty thick skin as it is, but I don't need to toughen up that much. I will eventually read them, to see if I can learn something... but might be awhile.

I have to be in the right mood and frame of mind. This industry does take developing a thick skin so that will definitely work in your favor.