The Bad Review—Rising Above It

It’s going to happen; someone will leave an unfavorable review. It could be a simple matter of differing tastes or something more elaborate—like cyber-bullying—but sooner or later, there’s bound to be a doozy with your name written all over it. And regardless of whether the review is deserved or not, your reaction speaks volumes  to your readers.

Does that mean you’re not allowed to be human, not allowed to have feelings? Of course not. Bad reviews can hurt—a lot. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your words, spent years writing and revising and proofreading, and finally it’s your turn in the spotlight. Your book is published. So when a reader doesn’t seem to appreciate it, for whatever reason, it’s only natural to be at least a little upset.

But that’s not the point.

No, the point is your reaction, not your feelings. Because, as any good therapist will tell you, you cannot control the way you feel. What you have control over is your reaction–how you choose to react or not  react .

Simple, right?

Not so fast, sunshine. No one said it was simple or easy, but you can do it if you keep one very important thing in mind the moment you read a bad review. You can rise above it.

Rise above it? What? You mean I can’t jump on Twitter and rant to my followers about how rude this review was? I can’t update my Facebook status with a snarky response to the reviewer? I can’t cry foul to all and sundry?

Yup, that’s what I mean. Don’t do any of these things. Is that really the person you want your readers to see? Remember that part of your brand is you—a mature writer who can accept criticism.

So, first things first, take a deep breath. Take ten or twenty of them and calm down. Nothing is accomplished by flying off the handle and acting rashly. No, really. Nothing. Trust me. Remember that review is just one person’s opinion. So step back and take a minute—or sixty—to let the words settle.

Are you calm now? Good! The next step is to find the constructive part of the criticism. Most often you’ll find something helpful in a negative review, even if it’s heavily disguised. A review that says the characters were flat or one-dimensional tells you that you should  consider adding depth or layers to your future characters. If you’re told, “I couldn’t connect with the story,” perhaps there’s an unrealistic feel to the story line or you’ve made a tweak that doesn’t fit the genre. If it “seems rushed” or “falls flat,” then your pacing may need an adjustment. Instead of only seeing the negative, look for something positive.

But keep in mind that sometimes there simply won’t be anything constructive to pull out of a harsh review . . . and that’s okay, too.

Once you’ve found the positives, decide if and how you’re going to address them in your writing. Anyone can agree or disagree with a critique, but only you can take those remarks, determine if they’re valid, and use them to improve your writing. They’re not called growing pains for nothing, you know. Growing as a writer is tough, and yeah, it can be painful, but aren’t the results worth it?

Now that you’ve gone through the negative review, taken a moment or so to calm down, looked for the positives in the criticism, and decided what is valid enough to make a difference in your writing, the last thought I’d like to discuss is your external reaction.

Do you even need an external reaction? For some, the knee-jerk answer is, “Hell yes.” But for the most part, you don’t. Negative reviews don’t necessitate a response from the author simply because it can spark an unnecessary interaction between two individuals with differing viewpoints. And let’s face it; this isn’t a debate, and you’re not going to change someone’s mind. So take the high road, smile, and move along.

In some cases, you might want to reply with something like, “Thanks for the constructive criticism regarding the pacing in my book/character development; I appreciate your honesty.” Is this a hard thing to reply? Sure is. But it’s honest. As writers, we all need to be open to constructive criticism and appreciate when someone is forthright enough to give it to us. I’ll never forget the first time I saw an author respond to a negative review with, “I’m sorry this wasn’t your cup of tea. I appreciate you taking the time to review—thank you.” Now that’s class. She didn’t have to say anything at all. But she took a moment and turned what could have been a negative experience into a positive one.

Hopefully all your reviews from this moment on will be wonderful, showering nothing but praise and accolades upon you. But on the off chance you stumble upon an unsatisfied reader, take the criticism, find the positive, and use it to make your writing even more fabulous. But most of all, always take the high road.

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