I see a lot of authors (generally those who are self-publishing) dismiss bad reviews of their books. Google the topic and there is no end to the number of budding authors explaining why they don’t care if someone gives their book a bad review. Or, even worse, why they don’t even read what other people say about their book.
Well, I say that’s a bad attitude. I think it is a dangerous stance to take where you choose to shelter yourself from criticism. This is especially true, I believe, for indy, self-published authors. I think you SHOULD care about bad reviews.
Look, unless you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, and going to sell books no matter what you write, then not caring about criticism only hurts you. Face it, only once you are at a point in your career where you actually don’t have to worry about the critics, because you’ve proven yourself as someone who knows how to write and sell books, should you even remotely consider no longer worrying about the critics. Frankly, most my fellow authors out there whom I have seen state they don’t care about their critics are not at this point in their careers yet. In fact, most of them are FAR, FAR, FAR from that point.
Personally? I love negative reviews of my work! I’m not talking about petty negativity. I’m talking about negative feedback that is constructive and honest. In fact, I have actually threatened to kicked people out of my review groups for NOT giving negative feedback!
Don’t get me wrong, negative reviews scare the bejezus out of me whenever I know they are coming. But I have learned how to roll with those punches. I have learned how to accept the legitimate criticism. It still stings at first. But then I digest it and figure out how to move on.
It seems odd to me that so many authors choose to make a big production by boldly blogging how they don’t read negative reviews. What advice do we always hear being giving to authors who are trying to make a name for themselves? Isn’t it for budding authors that they get into a good review group? Isn’t the real reason for that so that we can have our literary babies torn to shreds before our very eyes and get real, honest critiques of our work and ultimately become better at our craft?
Of course, I suspect that most (note I said “most”, not “all”) authors who rush to self-publish don’t have their work critically reviewed. And that is why I see this articles about “not listening to negative reviews” springing up on their blogs. They then opine about why they feel justified in dismissing bad reviews of their work. Usually, this justification falls along the usual lines of:
“Yeah, well, sure I got a dozen two and one star reviews. But look at those twenty “five star” reviews I got! They say my story is great! I must be doing something right! And those people that didn’t like my book? Well, they obviously just didn’t get it, or are jealous, or it wasn’t their cup of tea, or they were just so unnecessarily mean! I mean, can you believe it? One actually complained that I had a misspelled word on every single page! That’s just petty! Yeah, it’s true, but I shouldn’t pay attention to them! They said my book was horrible! What do they know?!? Look! I have twenty “five star” reviews!”
The problem is, and this comes from my own personal experience with self-published authors who have this sort of attitude (unfortunately I have know quite a few), that these authors are usually only fooling themselves.
First of all, I can speak from experience about getting reviews. Even though I have yet to publish, I have allowed several dozen people give me their opinions on my current work in progress. And those images that I have scattered throughout this posting that you might have noticed? Those are critiques I received on several stories I wrote for a creative writing class way back in college. Yes, I have kept them. I have kept them because I want to be a better writer and these comments, even though often mean, have helped me become a better writer. At least, I hope so.
Experience has taught me that the most honest reviews you get come from people that have no emotional attachment to you. That’s why, in addition to the writers group I belong to, I assemble my review groups from people who aren’t going to worry about hurting my feelings.
As an author, especially one without a track record of published works, you want to know what the person who didn’t get a free copy of your book, who isn’t your BFF or spouse, or who isn’t a fellow author just hoping for some quid pro quo really thought about your book. You want to know this, because those will be the most honest reviews you will ever get.
Usually, again coming from personal experience, the self-published author who writes off the poor reviews because they have such great, glowing 5-star ones, have a dirty little secret that they only admit to hesitantly. You want to know what that dirty little secret is? You know those five star reviews that hail their debut novel as something akin to The Hunger Games or as thrilling as classics like the Lord of the Rings? Those reviews were almost wholly written by the previously mentioned, non-objective reviewers.
The real reason so many self-published authors say they don’t look at the negative, low star rating reviews? It is because they are afraid to see what non-biased reviewers really think. Because up until the time they put their work on the internet for sale (or even for free), they got nothing but coddling and smoke blown up their butt. The only people this isn’t obvious to are the authors who are guilty of this sort of deception.
Look, I don’t care what rumors are being spread about the respectability of self-publishing these days and how it is losing its stigma. The fact is that, as it has become easier and easier for anyone to write a “novel” and put it up on sites like Amazon.com, more and more trash is getting published than ever before. 95% of those novels put up by self-published authors are garbage for one reason or another: bad story, horrid prose, misspellings galore. 80% of that remaining five percent are passable. Just one percent are actually good or better.
Don’t fool yourself. There is still a very negative stigma to self-publishing. Worse is that everyone knows it, even if they won’t admit it for whatever reason.
There’s a reason why so many ebooks are sold for as low as $0.99. There’s a reason why many more are given away for free. It’s because that’s the highest price they can command in the free market. Yet, pick any of them and you see that they still get a plethora of over inflated, glowing “5-star” reviews from someone … yeah … someone, as in those previously mentioned. Look, I’m not saying that the book isn’t good, but seriously, who is going to believe that a novel hanging around in the 10,000 – 20,000 range on Amazon.com, and written by an unknown author, is really as good as books that have spent weeks or months on the prominent best seller lists?
I talked previously about a now former friend of mine who acted with a poo poo to you attitude towards negative reviews of his own self-published ebook. He was sure that the negative reviews complaining about misspellings galore, poor plot, and terrible prose were all “just being mean”. But, when I read his book, I am sorry to say, all the negative reviews were spot on. But, that’s what you get when you only let your wife review your work!
And FYI, this guy hasn’t talked to me since I broke the news to him that, yes, the bad reviews were indeed accurate. His excuse? Well, I was just being a jerk because, get this, he gave my work in progress such great praise during its review group phase. Now I have to wonder if I can trust anything he said about my WIP. Was he just kissing ass? Well, at least I relied on many other people for opinions as well. And a lot of those opinions were not very good or pleasant to read.
But what I never did was to run and hide from them! Heck! I’ve even posted excepts from some of them! Once again, I reiterate that I enjoy negative, constructive reviews. I enjoy them because they will help me become a better writer.
No matter how good a book is, there will be people who don’t like it. For example, I am not a very big fan of most of Stephen King’s work. The only one I can think of that I even enjoyed reading was The Stand. But he must be doing something right, because he is loooooooooaded and sells books every time he releases a new one.
And you’ll never catch me reading anything by Nora Roberts either. Yet the woman churns out a new book every couple months and keeps on the best seller’s lists. Obviously there are enough romance starved housewives out there to keep her in business. If you ask me anyway.
But these are about differences in taste, not the fact that King and Roberts are poor writers. Structurally, grammatically, etc. their books are good. It’s just the stories don’t do it for me.
But if you aren’t someone like King, Roberts, Rowling, et al, with a track record of selling books and success, you had better give a damn about what people have to say about your book. Especially if it is so bad that the only hope of getting people to pick up copies of it is to give them away for free. Because even those “mean” reviews might just be pointing out something very important that you need to work on for your next release.
If you have lived your writing life in a bubble, surrounded only by yes-men/women who told you everything was “wonderful”, it is even more important that you listen to what real people, your customers, think. It’s easy enough to recognize if they are telling the truth or not by simply looking at what they say and comparing to what you actually wrote on the pages of the book. And if more than one reviewer has the same negative comment, maybe, just maybe, they are on to something that you don’t see because you are simply too close to your own work.
This is all, of course, just my opinion. If you have anything negative at all to say about it, then I highly encourage you to do so in the comment’s section below.