Dealing with Bad Reviews

Early in my writing career, I don’t recall finding much information about dealing with bad reviews other than to put on your big girl panties, suck it up, and move on.

I never found that helpful.

I’m on the other side of bad reviews now, but I sure was in the thick of them for a while. I became a target for bad reviews, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

Most of my negative reviews are on my permafree books. It’s easy to download a free book, and if it isn’t your cup of tea – ding it. (Or download a free book for the sole purpose of leaving a negative review.)

I still have emails from the first two years I was writing. Here are some things I wrote to family and/or friends as I was tortured by bad reviews. My comments from these emails are in quotes.

“This whole review system is a kick in the gut.”

“I don’t think this writing gig is for me. … I just want to walk away. … I don’t have the thick skin needed for this.”

Becoming a target from people who read my blog was painful.

“Every time I post good things about my books, covers, whatever, on my blog, a few bad reviews are always right behind – sometimes within minutes.”

“Reviews have been the hardest part for me. I wasn’t prepared for them. I went back through my blog and edited and deleted posts where I felt someone could use my words against me.”

I felt as though my personality was changing.

“I really don’t have what it takes for this. I don’t. Some things with writing and self-publishing have practically paralyzed me. I’ve never had so much depression in my life. This is not who I am.”

What saved me?

February 28, 2014. Two years in. I had an ad run with BookBub for Sunshine Hunter.

There were in excess of 80,000 downloads the first two days. I was quickly able to see that approximately 300 people were making their way through the entire series of books. Sales were brisk.

Reviews started coming in – from complete strangers – not peers and/or readers to my blog. The good reviews far outweighed the bad.

That’s how I was able to get on the other side. That’s when the thick skin began to grow. I can honestly say I rarely look at my reviews now, and I certainly don’t flinch when someone doesn’t like one of my books. They may be an acquired taste anyway. My Susan Hunter books are pink and fluffy. My Murder books are uncouth.

So, what’s the takeaway here?

I honestly don’t think there is one answer. I do believe once your good reviews outweigh your bad by a good margin, you will breathe easier. You’ll develop that thick skin. Then force yourself to let the reviews go. Focus on writing your next book.

I realize not everyone can get a BookBub ad and be able to rocket past the bad reviews. So, do what I did for two years – rely on friends and family to listen to you complain and moan like crazy. Cry at times. Shake your fists at the Heavens and ask, “Why?”

You need an outlet to release the frustration and pressure. However, don’t stop writing. Never stop writing.

Before I let this topic go, I must add that I am of the camp where it is a no-no to respond to reviews. People have the right to free speech, and I don’t need to engage. Usually, nothing good will come of it.

I also think it’s wise to see if there is anything you can take from a bad review and use to either better your writing or fix something within your book. I’ve done both.

How have you handled bad reviews? Do you have some advice you can add? Leave a comment!

I should note that although I was distressed by some bad review “bombing,” the good reviews on my books were always more than the bad. I was never in the negative with my reviews. I liken the situation to the new car that gets a tiny scratch on the way home from the showroom floor. All you can forever see is the scratch. Negative reviews have a way of taking away all the good things people said who loved your book(s).

Buying Influence

ImageReviews are on my mind today.

I’m irritated with my Readers Favorite review. They corrected the spelling and most of the grammar/sentence structure on their site, but the original review stands at Barnes & Noble – where the reviewer, an ex-teacher no less, appears to have had trouble with the English language, and where racquetball is spelled racket ball. RF would be happy to post the edited review, but only an author can request the removal of their first one. Good luck with that. It’s irritating, but not worth losing time or sleep over. I’ve made the request to B&N twice, and if they ever remove it, I’ll the RF people know.

It’s hard for a new author to get reviews. I wrote to an online friend of many years and asked if she would have time to read my book. I told her I would send a gift card through Amazon, and all I wanted was an honest review. She was excited for me and said yes. Three months later she is sheepish, but she simply hasn’t had time to read the book with summer, kids, back-to-school, etc.  I told her I completely understood, and I wouldn’t be offended if she never read it.

Now I’m reading across many forums that it was unethical for me to ask for the review in the first place. Giving a book away for free in return for a review, or paying someone to read your book then leave a review, is a shunning offense as an author.

The payment to Readers Favorite was to have someone read the book and post the review within two weeks – nothing more. There was no guarantee of a positive review. They will review any book for free if you are willing to wait three months or more. But with five stars across the board in all categories, and then the racket ball misspelling; well, I can’t help but to wonder if the payment had a bearing on the review.

Charlie, thatgirlwhoreadsbooks, posted this article in a reply to one of my posts. It’s from the New York Times and is an article about book reviewers for hire. By the way, I enjoy Charlie’s blog immensely as she attempts to read every book in her house. You should check it out.

The entire article was interesting, but I found the mention of John Locke to be especially noteworthy. Everyone who self publishes knows who John Locke is. He is the first self-published author to sell more than a million eBooks through Amazon. I would love to know his true sales numbers, as I believe even his free downloads were considered a “sale.” Oh, I’m not taking anything away from the amount of money he’s made; I’ve contributed! A quick check of my Nook shows 13 John Locke books which I purchased at 99 cents each.

What interested me so much about the article was that Mr. Locke “commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledgling service’s best customers.” Mr. Locke went on to say “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”

It reminded me of the disc jockey scandal of the 60’s. Disc jockeys took payment in return for playing certain music tracks more frequently on the radio. Just as hearing a song over and over again can run it up the charts, seeing a book with hundreds of positive reviews can bring more and more buyers.

I’ve set aside a budget for advertising. When I originally set my budget, I allowed for free books in exchange for honest reviews. So far, I’ve only done that with my friend who doesn’t have the time, but I’m wondering if I should even consider this given the current review climate – especially at Amazon. I received a glowing review for one of my books, and it has disappeared. It was a verified purchase, I didn’t know the person, and I have no idea why the review is gone. Do I really want to pay for reviews via free books when they could disappear at any time anyway? I think not.

Having at least one positive review on each book right now is just fine (none were paid for!). I can live with that.

But I am curious … have you had any experience with offering a book in exchange for a review? Or have you paid for a review? Did you change your mind about the practice after you did? What does Scrooge McDuck have to do with any of this?

Surprise! You Can Buy a Review!

Writing a book, doing your own editing, self-publishing, and finally marketing isn’t a difficult task in some respects, but leaves me terrified in others.

Marketing is most definitely a downfall. I’ve already accepted my failure in social media, although I may revisit that later. I’m not good at asking family and friends to buy my books. I don’t post notices about my books on other sites or use a signature line for promotion. I guess this is where some of the satisfaction factor comes in. It will be nice if the books sell, but I’m really just so tickled (as my grandmother would say) to have written and published a few books with the hope of a few more to come. I realize there’s a fair amount of hubris in this self-publishing thing we do, and I find myself laughing quite a bit at my own folly.

Reviews are where the real terror comes in. I read reviews where the reviewer has used phrases such as “compelling characters” and “unforgettable read” or “page turner” and “extraordinary achievement.” Ha! I’m terrified for the day when one of those reviewers will stumble upon one of my books. I know what my books are, and I don’t present them as anything other than a light mystery, with a little humor, and a little romance. So how do you find the right people to guide them to your books? The people who will enjoy an easy, breezy read that will entertain them?

Last night I was perusing blogs. There is some fun stuff out there. Most people probably know that, but this is all pretty new to me. I actually love the voyeuristic quality of blogs. People from all over the world share and show us aspects of their lives, and it’s easy to get lost for hours jumping from one blog to another.

I happened onto another indie publisher’s blog. I don’t know enough blog protocol to know if it’s acceptable to mention another’s name in a blog post, so let me just say when I read these words in respect to publishing a second book, “Maybe I’ll be able to move on then… maybe not. Jeez, this sounds pitiful,” I knew I liked this person right away. It’s hard sometimes to move forward and sounding pitiful works itself in there, too. I clicked on the link for their book, and read the description. I was intrigued. But then I noticed the reviews! Professional reviews. One 4-star and two 5-star. I looked at the site for the reviews and was amazed. When you jump headlong into this like I did, it doesn’t take long to realize how much there is to learn.

The site gives free reviews. You only pay for them if you want them expedited. They publish 3-stars and up. If your review is one or two stars, they offer constructive criticism. The best part is the person who will read and review your book already likes the genre you submit. I wouldn’t have to worry that a person who prefers to read a vampire thriller will get stuck reading and reviewing my blonde-run-amuck story.

I’m going to try to carve out a bit of every day so I can blog-hop. I know there is more yet to find that will help me. Has my writing taken a hit since I starting blogging? You bet. But I am still writing, so I’m not too worried about it yet.

Oh, about the book from the writer I stumbled upon yesterday … I bought it a short while ago. Not only will I enjoy reading it, but it’s a small way to say thank you for pointing me in a direction that might help me in my self-publishing efforts.