Dealing with a Bad Book Review

Background: This blog post was inspired when I learned that an indie author who received a “bad” review from a book reviewer actually attacked that reviewer, and encouraged their fans to do the same. Don’t ever do that. It’s petty, unprofessional, bad for your career, and honestly, bad for other indie authors’ careers as well. Do what’s suggested here instead.

Do you want to be an author? Are you an author already? If so, I have some shocking and terrible news for you. Someone, at some point, is going to dislike one of your books. And they’ll tell other people.

So how do you deal with this? Before we move further, we need to define some vocabulary words.

Subjective: existing in the mind (essentially, one’s personal opinion)

Objective: Unbiased and provable (based on facts, not opinion)

So, how do you make a bad review hurt less?

The biggest and most important way to lessen the sting is to remember that all reviews of your books are subjective (see definition above). Reviews of your books are people’s opinions, not indisputable facts. If someone says of your book “This book sucks!” that is an opinion, not a fact. It is not objective.

Everyone has opinions. Guess what? You also have opinions! And getting angry at someone for having an opinion is unprofessional, unfair to that person, and, frankly, a waste of your time.

Imagine if the author of a book you disliked came after you, and said you were a terrible person. How would you feel about that? Is it fair for the person who wrote the book you disliked to blame you for disliking it? Is it your fault for not recognizing their creative genius?

Now flip that around and tell me you can find any way to justify lashing out due to a poor review.

An opinion is one person communicating how they felt about something. You cannot control the opinions of others, and you should not stress over doing so. Learn what you can and move on.

This may be enough to let that bad review roll off your back. If it isn’t, try the steps below.

Step 1: Remember, you are not your book.

When someone dislikes your book, that’s all they are disliking … your book, not you. How can they dislike you? They don’t even know you, certainly not well enough to form an opinion about you. It’s highly doubtful that when they posted their review, they thought “This author is a terrible person and I hate them”. It’s far more likely they thought “Eh, I didn’t really enjoy this book.”

You remain an awesome person whether someone likes your book or not, and even the person who disliked your book would almost certainly agree! (And if they don’t, that’s their problem, not yours).

Step 2: Remember that everyone likes different things.

Think back on every book you’ve ever read. Can you think of a book you disliked? You can? Guess what that proves? You are not the only person who ever wrote a book someone disliked!

Remember, not even the most successful author in the entire world has ever achieved a 100% “I love this” score, for their entire body of work, from everyone in the world. Don’t despair because you didn’t achieve the impossible. No one ever has, even the most successful authors in the history of everything.

Whether or not a person likes your book is always going to be subjective, and we’ve already talked about what subjective means above. A book you love, another may hate, and a book you hate, another may love. Whether or not someone loves your book is entirely out of your control.

Accept that you can control only the objective quality of your book, not how people react to it. If you plan to continue to write books, someone will eventually dislike one. Accept this, and accept that opinions about your work are opinions, not facts, and it hurts less.

Step 3: Remember that you’re going to write more than one book.

This can be especially difficult when you’re just starting out. If you’ve only had one book published, ever, and someone dislikes that book … that’s rough. As authors grow more established, they have an increasing number of books for people to like and dislike, and an increasing number of good reviews to balance out the bad ones. The more reviews you have, and the more books you have, the easier it gets.

Think of it like completing a college class. If your entire grade is based on a single test, it feels like your whole world rests on that one test. Fail, and you fail forever. But if you recognize that you’re eventually going to take two tests, and three, and eight, and your “grade” as an author will become the average of all of those tests … well then it’s not so scary, is it? You can do poorly on a few tests out of many. Your success is not tied to a single book, and a person who disliked one book may love another of your books.

Celebrate because you actually finished a book. You actually created an entire world, its characters, and tumultuous events in their lives, from scratch. You, with almost godlike power, created this thing in the confines of your mind and made it possible for others to experience it. Congratulations!

Not everyone gets that far.

Step 4: Understand the Responsibilities of Authors, Reviewers, and Readers

So let’s say you’ve tried all this, and you still hurt. Even knowing that all book reviews (including bad ones) are subjective hasn’t erased the hurt. You still really want to contact the person who questioned your amazing creation and punish them for not liking it. Well, here’s what you should do.

Don’t.

By making your book available for sale to others, or asking a book reviewer to review your book, you have made a promise to be a professional. Professionals don’t respond to bad reviews by unfairly attacking the reviewer. A professional reads the reviewer’s feedback, considers what the reviewer didn’t like, looks for clues as to how they might improve their next book, and moves on to that next book.

Professionals are professionals because they can handle subjective criticism. If you can’t handle that, you are not a professional, and you should not be publishing books. Full stop.

The information below is fact, not opinion, and as a professional creative person, you are required to acknowledge these facts. If you can’t do this, you have no business ever selling your work to anyone.

An Author Is Responsible For:

  • Writing the best book they can, every time. Each book should be readable, immersive, and entertaining. Recognize that opinions regarding success will always be subjective.
  • Working with an editor to ensure their book is as polished as possible in its intended language. This includes clear language, no typos (or close), and proper formatting (for both print and e-books). This is actually objective feedback, but that’s good, because you control it!
  • Recognizing that feedback they receive is about their book, not about them, as a person.
  • Behaving and interacting professionally with others at all times, both in-person and online.

An Author is Not Responsible For:

  • Writing a book everyone in the history of everything loves.
  • Correcting the “incorrect” opinions of those who just “don’t get” their work.
  • Being infallible.

A Book Reviewer is Responsible For:

  • Reading an author’s book, then telling their readers what they thought about it.

A Book Reviewer is Not Responsible For:

  • Making the author of the book feel like the most amazing author in the world.
  • Refusing to mention things about the book they disliked because others might like those things.
  • Selling the book for the author.
  • Sparing the author’s “feelings”.
  • “Proving” their subjective opinion of the book is “correct” with “indisputable facts”.

A Reader is Responsible For:

  • Paying an author for their book.

A Reader is Not Responsible For:

  • Liking it.

These are objective facts you must accept if you wish to become a creative professional. And if you can’t accept these facts, actually, that’s perfectly okay! Just recognize that in that case, you shouldn’t be selling your work.

Find something else that fulfills you and makes you happy, because if you can’t accept that someone, somewhere, may eventually dislike your book, you will never be happy writing books. Ever.

Revel in the characters and world you’ve created, bask in the glory of the good reviews, and most importantly, improve, improve, improve. Keep writing, keep getting better at writing, and keep creating new worlds and new books because you love doing so … not because you need everyone to like them.

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One thought on “Dealing with a Bad Book Review

  1. Very well written.

    In fact, I give authors an automatic one star just because they wrote the book and had the balls to get it published! That’s more than I’ve ever done, so yes, even if I freaking HATED your book…good on you! You’ve done more than I’ve ever done! Have a star!

    Like

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