From the moment you hit send on those final pass pages or click submit to upload all your hard work to Amazon, the novel you lovingly poured your heart into for the past two, five, ten years now belongs to everyone but you. It belongs to every reader, critic, reviewer, blogger, and consumer. This is both exhilarating and terrifying and sometimes you just have to drink vodka and that’s okay.
So you drink and wait for feedback. And maybe you hit refresh a few thousand times but who’s counting. Eventually, the reviews start dribbling in, day by day, little by little, and some are great and you are happy. Relaxed. Maybe you can even start book #2.
Then it happens. The meanest, nastiest review you ever read. The characters are ridiculous. The plot doesn’t make sense. Nothing was believable. The reader wants their $5 ($10) back and hopes you are surrounded by hellfire for eternity. Or maybe it’s a scathing professional review.
Either way, you guys. This is hard. And we all know the golden rule: Do not respond.
So, how do you cope? How do you keep writing when you clearly suck at this, people HATE YOU (Everyone hates you *sob*)? How, HOW, HOW?? <shakes the collar of the nearest stranger>.
Because you don’t suck at this.
Because even though it feels like everyone hates your book, if you do the math, like three people hated your book.
Take a deep breath. Let’s look at the different kinds of negative reviews and how to deal with them:
1. The blatant hate.
These kinds of reviews are the best kind of bad review, in my opinion. A review that is mean, crass, vulgar, nasty says more about the reviewer than about your book.
This sounds like hokey lip-service but think about it. Would you, as a high functioning member of society, ever walk into an art gallery or ballet or any kind of artistic endeavor and rail on the performer where they might hear you or see it? No. No you wouldn’t because you are a decent person.
My theory here is that readers don’t believe that writers read their reviews. The get validation from how clever they can be, either on Goodreads or Amazon. Amazon has set up a system where particularly cunning reviewers, whose reviews are marked “helpful” can then, in turn, be rewarded with free books and products. Sometimes people who are downright cruel enjoy the “likes” they get from this. This is why I skim my Amazon reviews periodically, and rarely look at my Goodreads reviews.
But I do have my weak moments. Anonymity on the internet makes this phenomenon particularly contagious. TRY to not let it get to you. This is weak advice, I know. I have nothing else, except for me, it helps to understand the motivation of the reviewer.
2. The 3-star meh.
Oh, these hurt me. Mostly because they’re logical, smart, and at least half the time, the reviewer is right. The characterization was thin here, or the plot hole didn’t totally make sense. You’ll never write a perfect book. NEVER. EVER.
For me, I read these with one eye shut. I digest them. I take them to heart. I figure out if it resonates with me. If it does, I learn from it. I keep it in mind when I’m writing from here on out. If I get a handful of these that touch on the same theme, I know that I dropped the ball. That’s okay. We’re only human, we’re going to drop at least one ball. There are eighty-five thousand words, a few of them will be not perfect.
3. The 1-2 star “not for me.”
These hurt less than the 3-star meh for me, but they still kind of grab me. I could have had them. Something was missed. Sometimes, they weren’t my reader. And that has to be okay.
Sometimes the reviewer is wrong. “How can a child have blue eyes when both parents have brown eyes? DO YOUR RESEARCH!” And the answer is simply, genetically this is possible. They’re one-starring you for their ignorance. Your fingers itch, you want to type back (with sources, dagnabbit!). Step away from your computer!
4. The harsh professional.
I’ll be honest here. I didn’t *love* my New York Times book review. YES. I GOT ONE. YES. That’s amazing. I should be grateful. This is literally what every person I’ve ever told has said. I did buy the paper and save the review in print, for this reason. I won’t link to it, but you can look it up. It had some great parts. It had some petty swipes. My editor said, “You haven’t made it until you’ve been ripped, just a little, in the New York Times Book Review.”
Eventually, this is the balm that did it. Eventually. But it took some time. I spent a lot of time reading other people’s terrible NYT reviews and that helped.
Remember this: Kirkus is called Cranky Kirkus for a reason. Almost everyone in the business gets a not-so-stellar professional review at some point. When the new reviews come out, read them. There’s a camaraderie that develops here. If you ever happen to be in a room with other writers who have gotten less-than professional reviews, the topic can come up, especially after some wine. Revel in being one of the gang.
Remember, everyone who writes has been there.
Think of your favorite contemporary book in recent memory. I picked BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson. I thought this book was basically brilliant and a total mind mess and yet someone said this about it (read this review only if you’ve read the book because it contains spoilers). That’s like almost 500 words, a numerated list of all the things wrong with it. 124 people found it helpful. It has sixteen comments (lots of cheerleading).
Here’s the kicker, it’s the reviewer’s only review. Nothing about this review rang true to me. AT ALL. I’ve done this for some of my favorite suspense authors: Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Caroline Kepnes. I’ve read their 1-star and 2-star reviews and I’ve vehemently disagreed with every word of them. Sometimes I find myself getting madder at my favorite book’s low reviews than my own!
The world is made up of a weird mix of people. Your opinions, as a person, will jive with only a small fraction of them. Expect your books to be similar. It’s a hard little pill to swallow, and sometimes the only thing that heals it is time. But just know, we’ve all been there. We’re with you.
What do you do when you get bad reviews? If you feel up to it, share a few choice phrases in the comments.
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Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of the women’s fiction novel, Thought I Knew You. Her second novel Binds That Tie was released in March 2014. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life. Her latest book, The Vanishing Year is available for pre-order and will be out September 27.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like. Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.
Top photo credit: Thad Zajdowicz (@thadz, Flickr)