Tuesday, March 31, 2015

7 Ways To Deal with Positive and Negative Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I was on a panel in mid-March at Left Coast Crime in Portland. We had the “dead zone”. That is the name conference organizers give to the last time slot of the conference. And there were four other sessions going on at the same time so we were one of five options.

There were sessions I wanted to attend rather than my own! Our session had 30-ish people out of the almost 700 conference attendees. Of course, a bunch of them were sleeping in from the previous night’s hilarity or took early flights home. So the attending percentage isn’t as bad as it might sound. And, as one panelist pointed out, these are the hearty souls, those with a thirst for learning. A mighty group, albeit, small.

Our session title was: One Star: The Dos and Don’ts of Reacting to Reviews”. Joining me on the panel were Chuck Rosenberg-moderator; Christine Kling, Dana Kaye, and Bill Cameron. This was a spectacular group whom I enjoyed learning from and with. Our audience was similarly wonderful and participative.

The only direction the moderator gave us in advance was to be prepared to read both a good and a negative review and what that meant for us. Easy, but then I was uneasy about the range of other questions that I might not be prepared for. So I did what any former academic would do. I googled book reviews. Research is a standard in the academic world, and Google was good enough for my purposes. Especially for what they were paying me to be on the panel. (Righto! Zippo!)

I came across tens of thousands of links about good and negative reviews. I distilled a number of common elements and actually was able to incorporate most of them into the responses I gave.

As a published author you just need to get over yourself. After your mom and your bestie write their reviews, you may well, in fact likely will, receive less than positive perspectives on your work. EVERY author/book has received negative reviews. I just typed in “the Bible” on Amazon. The first version that popped up had over 5200 reviews with 4.5 out of 5 stars. There were 205 1-star reviews. So, as I said, get over yourself.

That said, I and many others don’t talk about the “bad” reviews received. Rather, we call them “negative” reviews. We probably learn more from our legitimate negative reviews than from the positive ones. If you see a trend in the comments, you should pay attention. Too late to fix this book, maybe, but the next one can correct the deficiency that many noted.

So get a cuppa and read your reviews, but remember some principles so you keep perspective. Here’s the list I compiled from multiple sources:

7 Ways To Deal with Positive and Negative Book Reviews

1. Make a list of your fears about what readers will say.
Before you ever read your first review, figure out what will hurt most and make a list. Just confronting the options is sort of like the desensitization exercises to get your over your fear of heights.

It would bother me if several said my culinary mystery wasn’t mysterious, that they figured out whodunit on page 5, that I have weak characters no one cares about, that I write poorly, that I left ingredients out of a recipe, that the resolution wasn’t satisfying. Stuff like that means I didn’t do my job. Next book, those are things I have to attend to. I must listen to my readers’ legitimate concerns.

2. Make a list of irrelevancies that readers might note.
Before you ever read your first review, by the same token, you need to identify those issues, that if raised, won’t cause you to rethink your book and author as your career choice. These are the little things that reflect personal preference.

For me, that would include that they didn’t expect that many suspects, or thought there were too few (or too many) recipes, thought it was too long (or too short), or that it had a rich vocabulary. While I would consider those aspects mentioned, things of this sort wouldn’t give me an anxiety attack.

3. Book reviews are more about the reader’s expectations than about you or the book.
If expectations are met, you likely get a positive review. If for some reason, the reader didn’t get what he/she expected, you likely get a negative review. That helps to explain some of the range you find. It also explains why your erotic romance title, Santa’s Night Out, wasn’t well-received by someone who thought it was a children’s story.

4. Any review is publicity.
Readers are suspicious (and so am I!) when my book has all five-star reviews. The average reader probably thinks I have a very extensive friends and family network “salting the mine.” I see the flaws oh-so-clearly. Surely EVERY reader couldn’t have missed them.

By the same token, I am more inclined to check out a book with lots of reviews rather than a few if the book has been out for a while. If the book is “old”, why haven’t readers found it? I cut some slack for new releases. And it always surprises me to see a bunch of reviews for a new book. Wow! How do they do that? Let me in on the secret.

Whether positive or negative, however, keeping your name in front of eyeballs is typically good. Most won’t remember the number of stars or whether the review was positive or negative,

5. Don’t respond to negative reviews overtly.
Oh the temptation is great to take on a Negative Nelly, but I agree with those who say don’t take it on yourself. You might ask a friend (as I did once) to rebut the negative part, if the reviewer agrees it is inaccurate or inappropriate. There are tales of long exchanges among your fans and the negative reviewers as they rush to defend you, so you don’t have to do anything.

Some of the articles I read did say to engage reviewers. Thank them for taking the time to review and that you will think about their comments. And that can work when you have only 20. But imagine when your reviews are in the hundreds or thousands. I choose to err on the side of treating everyone the same. No comment.

6. Dwell on the positive reviews and positive parts of negative reviews.
Don’t obsess over the negativity. Figure your percentage of starred reviews. If you are in the 90s, heck even the high 80s, a bunch more people liked your book than didn’t.

7. Make yourself feel better by reading negative reviews of books you loved.
When you see that even the bestest of best selling authors of books you really liked got dissed, you’ll feel better. The classics and the current best sellers. The literarily acclaimed and cult faves. All of them have their detractors. You think you should be any different?

One more note: Reviews come from many sources. Amazon is the behemoth, of course, but there are independent reviewers, review sites, blog reviews, Facebook and Twitter comments, critique group responses, grocery store asides and all sorts of other sources for information about how others perceive your book. Attend to them as suggested here, and you will live to write another book.

A post on what authors want from book reviews is at "Romance Righter". Check it out. 

The next Left Coast Crime Conference is in Phoenix end of February, 2016. If you attend, please look for me! I’d love to chat about writing with you.


  1. Thank you for this, Sharon. Very practical & a helpful reminder to keep everything in perspective. I like what you say about learning from the reviews--especially the negative ones.

    1. Sue, you are always so supportive. I appreciate you coming by. This post reminds me I need to put a review of your book up on Amazon today!