Writers in the Storm

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January 22, 2021

My Fragile Heart - A Bad Book Review

by John Peragine

As the date of the launch of my novel, Max and the Spice Thieves, approaches I have been seeking and receiving reviews. Every time I see a new one in the mailbox, I cringe a little before opening it. I brace for the worst and hope for the best.

There is a certain amount of courage that is needed to send your “baby” out into the world, not only to be read but to be judged. On purpose, no less.

Before I was a full-time writer, I was a symphony musician. Since I was a boy, I played the flute and had many years of lessons and education. By the time it was performance time, I would have rehearsed with the orchestra for two or three weeks. As I sat down, I still worried about missing a cue or hitting a wrong note. As the piccolo player, there was no hiding in the orchestra. If I played at the wrong time or missed a passage, it was very obvious. 99.99 percent of the time, I played well, but it did little to help me reduce my stress for the next performance.

Sending a book out, and having someone read it, is my live performance. When I finished a piece with the orchestra, the conductor motioned with his hand, I stood up, and there was applause. When I type “The End,” there is no such applause or feedback, and so reviews take the place of the applause.

How To Protect Yourself

Coming from a music and theater background, I often heard, “Don’t read your own reviews.” For many years, I believed this advice is to deter people from getting an inflated ego, but now I think it was for a different reason: to protect your confidence.

Even one bad review can wheedle away at your self-confidence and allow the fraud police to step in and whisper in your ear, “You see, they hate it. Give it up. You’re not a writer. You’re a fraud.”

There have been times I have read a review and heard those very words in my head. So, maybe I shouldn’t read my reviews? I don’t think that is the answer. Instead, I have to read them with the right mindset.

Not Everyone is Going to Love It

I have accepted (or I am learning to accept) that not everyone will love my book. To me, it is like taking my human baby out for a stroll in the park and someone coming up and saying, “Damn, that’s an ugly baby.” It’s tough, right?

But the truth is that not everyone will love my book. I have broken down the common reasons for this:

1. My book just wasn’t good enough. It could mean I need another edit, a better cover, or a rewrite. I have to watch for patterns of many reviews saying the same thing, determine they are right, and then being willing to do something about it. This is why authors MUST get reviews early and allot at least 90 days before they release their book so they can make changes before the book goes live.

2. The reviewer is a troll. You know, someone who just likes to trash another person because they are a coward or a bully. These are easy to spot, as they are usually one or two sentences, and from their remarks, it is obvious they never read the book. Moving on.

3. Jealously or competition can be a motivation. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. An author may trash another author to try to bring the book down and reduce its rating. If you know that this is happening, you should contact whoever is in charge of the platform for the review and report it. Most readers can recognize these types of attacks. Again move on.

4. It just isn’t their type of book. This is the category that most less-than-stellar reviews fall under. It’s not you, it’s not your writing, they just don’t like your book, and that is fine. You want honest reviews. Accept it and move on.

Reviews are Important

Sometimes people skip asking for reviews. They fear people are not going to like it. They may or may not like it, but reviews are very important for a couple of reasons.

First, they provide you with feedback about what works, what doesn’t work, and what your readers are craving. If they like a particular character in your first book, you should definitely consider putting more of them in your second book. If Jar Jar Binks appears in your book, then you should kill him off quickly and in a satisfying way in your next book.

Second, you are building buzz. You are getting people to talk about your book and hopefully convince them to buy a copy when it’s available.

Third, it adds credibility to your book. Good blurbs make your book worth reading. Adding these to your book listings, your cover, and inside your book make it look desirable.

Final Thoughts

Having a few imperfect reviews makes the other reviews look more authentic. No one gets all five stars, and it could look like to readers that you only had friends and family review your book.

Less than perfect reviews can trigger me a bit, but then I sit and analyze the review further and remember that someone on the other end cared enough to read my book and then sit down and write a review. And for that, I am grateful.

Where do you get your reviews? What is your best “bad” review? Please share your stories down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About John

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. You can learn more about his books at JohnPeragineBooks.com

His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released on April 20, 2021. Click here for a free first chapter. 

30 comments on “My Fragile Heart - A Bad Book Review”

  1. This is great, John. I don't yet have a book, hence, no reviews, good or bad, but I'm preparing myself. I hope to traditionally publish, and I imagine it works differently, depending on the publishing path, but where and how do you get your reviewers?

    1. NetGalley is a good place. But you can also Google book review blogs- each has a set of rules for submission. There are ton of those out there.

  2. One strategy that helps is to build a "Street Team" of people prior to publication who have read an advance copy and liked it and will post a strong, positive review on publication day. (You provide the advance copy in exchange for an honest review. I tell people that if they disliked the book, I would appreciate it they simply did not post a review, although you can't prevent that. That has only happened to me once, by the once, since I chose readers who I felt pretty certain would like my book.) That way, you already have enough good reviews so that a less-stellar or even snarky one is "landing on a softer bed" and doesn't feel as if it is dominating. In a context of glowing reviews, it doesn't sting as much.

    1. That is a great strategy. One of the things I have found is that if you pre sell your book Amazon will not allow people to leave a review until 90 days before a release date.

  3. One of my perma=free books was targeted by trolls. They left positive or mildly negative reviews but only 1 or 2 stars. Some were identical copies of 5 star reviews but with 1 or 2 stars. There were a bunch that all said exactly the same thing. They were careful not to violate Amazon's standards. They also had no other books reviewed in their profiles. It took some doing, but Amazon finally understood and removed some of them. They dropped the book's star rating average, which is what infuriated me, since a lot of promo opportunities require a minimum rating.

    1. That is irritating and as an author you are at the mercy of the trolls and the platform with little recourse

  4. I had a reader write "it was a pretty good book, I just didn't understand the beginning"--2 stars. Huh? Also, I dislike that now readers can assign stars without any comment because if it is a poor rating, you never find out why. Nice post, John and I LOVE your "fraud police." They've come to my door on occasion. 🙂 BTW your cover is gorgeous.

    1. Thank you for your kind words about the cover! Vague reviews or just stats left are the worst... sometimes I wonder if they read or finish the book

      1. I often leave only a star rating without commentary on GoodReads- it's usually anywhere from 3 to 5 stars (if it's less, I don't leave a rating) but I often don't have time to write a full review but want to track my reading stack.

        1. I get that - it’s the 1 and 2 star ratings without explanation that can be frustrating!

  5. I have a friend whose book received a 1-star review that complained bitterly about a scene where the heroine is dragged through town by her hair.

    Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) no such scene exists in her very good book. Several people marked the review as helpful and now it appears first in her top reviews.

    She's contacted the platform but they don't seem to consider the fact that this isn't her book a valid reason to remove the review.

    So that's the nightmare scenario.

    1. That’s crazy... I dislike the rules platforms put around reviews- they are inconsistent and usually are in favor of allowing others to trash a book or like you have said put a bogus review and the author is stuck.

      1. I sort of agree. Reviews are sometimes directed directly toward the author- especially early ones prior to launch of the book. But yes, reviews after the launch are for the readers- but we, as authors, want them to be fair and balanced.

  6. I try to not take reviews personally. Some people think they're supposed to critique a book as if they're writing specialists.

    There are people who leave one-star ratings on goodreads to track their reading and don't understand that is a negative review. Stars are for reviews, not to track your reading. There are reading logs for that.

    I'll stop, there's so much more I could say because I've been a reviewer for years--not paid. I see so much abuse of the rules... on both sides.


    1. LOL. We will always want to tell them - FIVE IS THE BEST. I think this part of the business is so hard.

      When I was still teaching classes, I worked with an instructor (named Betty) who would close her class with this gem: "If you enjoyed the class, my name is Betty, and you are welcome to write that at the top of your evaluation. A score of '10' is the best. Otherwise, you can write 'Martha' at the top of that form."

  7. John, Great post. I am lucky that most of my reviews have been positive. I do remember one book review that I saw for my first book, Frankly Speaking, on Amazon. It was one word, Boring. I wrote and deleted no less than 5 replies to the reviewer and then decided to look at the other reviews that this person had left on Amazon. My book was a mystery and a work of fiction. The only other books this person had reviewed were 5 or 6 books on gardening, all with glowing reviews. My thoughts were, 1) I had moved someone who had only reviewed non-fiction gardening books to read my book and review it. 2) If someone finds gardening books engaging, but my book boring, I'm okay with that. I'm sharing your post on my blog for my followers as well.

  8. I write book reviews as part of my freelance work. My number one criticism is for books that have been self-published without editing. Grammar errors, comma errors, misspellings, etc.--these irk me so much I always put in a paragraph about how the book needs editing. Beyond that, I try to be generous--I might not be a fan of detailed bloody violence, for example, but I know some readers are, so I try to judge the book based on plot, character, and so on, not just my personal preferences.

    1. That is one of the problems I see in self-publishing. People either don't know or don't think it is important to get a good edit. Their mom says the book is perfect and off they go. I think it is an education process- and some people get it and some don't. Editing can be expensive, but what is more expensive are the number of people who will pass a book up, or write a review mentioning the grammar issues. Some people say they don't care about the lost revenue, but they also don't understand why they only sold 20 books.

  9. Excellent post, John. You've captured my sentiments, and I suspect those of most writers. Thank you!

  10. Thanks, John. Great advice. My "performances" were published newspaper and magazine articles, which resulted in both kudos and a thick skin. I didn't understand the need for reviews when I (self) published my non-fiction book. I get it now -- and your advice is most timely for me.

    1. I'm glad it was timely! Funny- on Friday after this article arrived, I received a 2- star review for my book. I had to eat my own advice! It was an unfair review- but I had to swallow it, and move on. NOT EASY!

  11. Thanks for your post. My first experience with reviews was professional and expensive reviews. Some times that was disheartening. It turned me off reviews, but your points 2 and 3 on "Reviews Are Important" was encouraging. I have had beta readers do critical reviews that improved my work. I have not ask for reviewers before the book is published. Your post has encouraged me to try that. They could balance out some possible low reviews later.

    1. They are important as you can get a temperature check of your book. Sure not everyone is going to love it- but even the bad reviews can have some nuggets of wisdom that can help you fix issues before you publish. Once it's out there- it's out there. Thanks for your comment!

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