Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On dealing with bad reviews -- Jules

I'd been meaning to do an "unsolicited advice" post on the subject of how to cope with bad reviews, but hadn't got to it in the aftermath of Eastercon. And then a week or so ago an enormous blogstorm erupted over one author taking bad reviews far too seriously, giving an example of authors behaving very badly indeed. It's a *very* touchy subject at the moment, so I'm simply going to pull up a comment that I posted at Dear Author back in January, in a completely different discussion.

On the topic of less-than-rave reviews, I don’t like getting them any more than the next author does. But one of the useful bits of advice I’ve had out of hanging around more experienced writers is this:

There is no book written that is going to appeal to everyone who reads it, because people have different tastes. So if your book reaches a wide audience, sooner or later it’s going to get a bad review, no matter how good a book it is. If it reaches a really wide audience, it’s going to get the sort of review that strips paint from walls. The thing to worry about is when you *don’t* get any bad reviews — because it means that not many people have read the book.

The duelling reviews on Dear Author and other sites occasionally demonstrate the truth of that. What one reviewer adores, another loathes, and sometimes for exactly the same reason. Bad reviews are part of the job description. You don’t have to learn to like them, but you do have to learn to live with them. And an honest review of the book isn’t an attack on the author, even if the reviewer didn’t like the book. A thumbs-down review may help sell the book to someone with different tastes, if the reviewer sets out clearly why the book didn’t work for her.
And I said something along the same lines a year ago in a comment on an EREC thread. I can't even remember now what outbreak of angst we were referring to, because authors regularly get in a public snit about less than glowing reviews.

Bad reviews hurt. But they're part of the job. And yes, I put my money, or at least my review copies, where my mouth is. I don't send out many review copies, because my publisher handles the routine review copies, including all the ones sent to the fluff review sites. But the few that *I* send out go to reviewers who are willing to say that they didn't like a book and why they didn't like it. Reviewers like Mrs Giggles, or Jan (the manga reviewer) at Dear Author. I know what sort of reviews I take seriously when I'm looking at reviews with my reader hat on, and that's the sort of review I want for one of my books, even if it means taking the risk that they'll shred it.


Erastes said...

Excellent post. A bad review can often produce its own benefits. Mrs G hated Standish, but I know she generated some sales because people saw something in the review that they liked.

If a reviewer totally slags off a book, I don't feel they are doing their job - because there is always something positive to be said. I'm not advocating the cult of nice, but it's easy enough to find a positive, as well as constructive criticism.

I wish authors wouldn't react in public to bad reviews, it looks terrible.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty tough when you know there's hubris involved. Most times, it's all in your head--but occasionally, one grudge-review pops up and just breaks your heart.

I had some of my early short works reviewed poorly [and by that I mean, they spent most of the review slamming the company and the artwork, instead of the story I wrote]. I wrote them off, arrogant of me I know. But then, I wrote a short that didn't sit well with many fans of the genre I write for. It hit a nerve with many readers because of the subject matter, and so this led the gateway for other critiques. It all hurt. Every last word. I ate it though, because I knew, it's the readers right to review something they've read. I went offline for a week or two and felt sorry myself.

The next short I sold [different company] went into a book that got mixed reviews; but no said anything bad about my story. In fact, it was praised in most reviews--except one. Of course, I let that one get to me. :/ I said nothing, because hey, he had some legit gripes about the plot he didn't like.

I finally lost it when I had a series published with Dramaqueen. This one reviewer based her review solely on 'what she knew of the author' and used the words bitchy and whatnot to describe my characters. 0_o I didn't make a huge fuss--I made a snark or two in my blog and just refused to deal with them anymore. Here's the thing, I felt guilty about that because I felt that somehow, even though it was clear she was the one with the issue---I was the one falling short of my public responsibility to play it cool.

I learned my lesson. Now I just ignore the bad reviews, and hype the good ones. :)

Jules Jones said...

Very occasionally you get the genuine article when it comes to "psycho reviewer". They are out there, even if they're rarer than some authors like to think. But if they really do have some axe to grind, sooner or later it'll become obvious to other people. It's better to just ignore it in public, because provoking a response may be what they're after.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I take bad reviews in stride.
Most of the time, I find they are for stories I wasn't as committed to, or didn't feel as deeply about.

I had one get universally panned. I got paid.
Another, which reviewed amazingly has sold a whopping 10 copies.