You put your heart, soul, sweat, and tears into writing and publishing a book. You’re overcome with joy when your book starts selling. Then, you notice a review has been posted. That’s right, when you publish a book, you’re open to anyone and everyone having an opinion about it.
The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down.” That pretty much describes every published author’s vulnerability. What happens if the review is so bad that it seems the reader hated your book, and, apparently, hates you too?
What you do next determines your fate as a professional writer. Yes, your response is that important. What you say to yourself after reading a review that rips apart your book and you, the author, determines whether you will give up or persist and write and publish again.
The good news is that even if you’re lacking in confidence and self-esteem, you can still survive bad reviews and keep writing. You just need to program yourself. After all, the human brain is the fastest, most sophisticated computer in existence. So let’s program your brain by designing a response system that protects your writer’s ego, indeed, your own personal ego as well.
That’s what my book, Little Book of Sunshine for Readers and Writers, is all about: programming yourself to survive not just the writing life’s slings and arrows—but life in general.
7 Ways to Survive Bad Reviews
- Separate your self-identity from your writing. You are not your writing.
If you don’t accept and internalize this simple truth, you’re going to be one miserable writer. You’ll be crushed by every bad review. In order to fully assimilate this truth, you need to look at ALL reviews with detachment. If you invest in the reviews that say your book is brilliant, then, by extension, you’ll subconsciously invest in the ones that say your book is crap. Smile at the good reviews. Shrug your shoulders at the bad ones. Move on. Keep writing.
- Collect inspiring quotations that feed your ambition and nurture your dream.
When you get a bad review, think of what Kurt Vonnegut said: “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
I bet that made you smile. Doesn’t that shine a different light on a negative review? Save quotations that have resonance for you. Write them in a journal. Read them when you need to boost your morale.
- Lighten up and get some perspective.
A review is just one reader’s opinion. The fate of the free world does not hang in the balance. I love what German composer Max Reger had to say about reviews: “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.”
Laugh it off. You can’t weep and moan if you’re smiling and laughing.
Start your own 1-Star Review Club and invite your friends to join you. Get together with authors in person and have a contest for the worst review. The winner gets free drinks or dinner. In other words, turn a negative into a positive because a review is just words, and there are many worse words—cancer, death, divorce, etc.—that will be flung at you as you go through life. By comparison, a review is nothing.
- Smile. A bad review is a sign you’ve joined an elite club.
You’re in the same club as J. A. Konrath, Stephen King, Lee Child, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Linda Howard, James Patterson, and hundreds of other famous, best-selling authors. Visit any book page by any bestselling author, and you’ll see scores of nasty reviews. Some seem to have more bad reviews than good reviews, but that doesn’t stop their books from flying off the shelves.
Grace Metalious, author of the famous novel Peyton Place—a book that sold millions and spawned movies and TV series—was once asked her thoughts on all the bad reviews her book had received. Many critics called her books “poorly written trash read only by those with lousy taste in books.”
The fabulous Ms. Metalious replied: “I guess there are a hell of a lot of people with lousy taste.”
Then she probably chuckled all the way to the bank.
- Adopt a long-time perspective.
You’re in this for the long haul, right? Be patient. Your popularity will grow if you keep writing and striving to improve. For every bad review, you’ll probably get a good one. Not every book is going to appeal to every reader so be philosophical about it. Take heart and hang onto the thought that there will be more who love your book than hate it.
- Stay away from your reviews if you lack confidence in your ability as a writer.
No news is good news. Right? Delegate review reading to a friend. Instruct your designated reader to give you a list of issues that might need to be addressed if the same elements are mentioned in reviews. Also ask them to apprise you of the good reviews, not to pump up your ego though they may do that, but to use them in Tweets and other book promotion.
- Use affirmations.
An affirmation is a strong positive statement. Create a series of affirmations that you will write so often and say aloud that they become second nature as your response when faced with negativity. Your brain can only hold one thought at a time. Make that thought positive and goal affirming. Write it ten times morning and night so it becomes the thought that pops into your brain when you get a bad review.
I truly hope you will design your responses to deal with those readers who, apparently, see themselves as the protectors of literature. Decide today, right now, if you will allow some stranger’s words to crush your spirit and kill your dream. That’s really what it amounts to. It’s your dream.
How hard will you fight to defend it?
I just bookmarked your blog! It’s excellent advice and I will come back to it often. I’ve had my share of good reviews as well as bad ones. I try not to take the bad ones to heart because as you point out, they’re just one person’s opinion. I also suggest that no writer respond to a nasty or negative review, no matter how insulting or ridiculous it might be. It just lends credence to it.
Jacqueline, thank you for commenting. You’re so right about not engaging with anyone who posts a bad review.
Excellent advice. I love the one by Kurt Vonnegut
Thanks, Linda. Mr. Vonnegut was wise and, from all accounts, a wonderful person.
My novella ‘Self’s Blossom’ got a very bad review in Rites of Romance Reviews. This made me look around for other reviews, and I got some 5-star ones
David, reading taste is so subjective. We always need to remember that. Good or bad, a review is just one person’s opinion.