When my debut book DATING CAN BE MURDER came out, the publication Kirkus reviewed it. If you want to see my first lesson in humility as an author, go read it here. I was crushed. I’d struggled for eight long years and had collected countless rejections on several manuscripts to get that very first contract, then waited yet another year to see it in print. I’d poured my heart and meager skills into that book, and someone was…gasp…mean.
Welcome to life as an author and artist. The reality is this: While we’re writing and polishing the book, it’s ours to love and protect. But the instant we publish it, our book changes from being our “beloved passion project” into a “product” for the consumer to judge. It takes time and practice to learn how to handle this. But here’s some of my thoughts that I hope will help:
A few bad reviews won’t destroy your sales or career. My print run of DATING CAN BE MURDER sold out, the publisher did a second print run and the series continued until the publisher moved me into romance. By allowing that Kirkus review to upset me for an entire day, I gave it much more weight than it deserved.
Reviews are important but they are for readers not the author: Reviews really help books get noticed, but the actual reviews are meant to give readers an idea if the book is for them. Bad reviews tend to highlight “triggers” for readers. Maybe they are offended by graphic sex or swear words in a book and gave the book a one star review based on that. Or they loathe secret baby tropes, or some other device in your book. It could be anything. We all have different tastes and reactions to the same books and movies. The point is, the reviews are meant to tell other readers what to expect. The author already knows what’s in the book.
Yes, the bad review will turn some readers away but that can be a good thing. You want the right readers to find your books. The readers that love it so much, they talk about it everywhere; to their neighbors, their pharmacist, their mother-in-law and most definitely, online. Those readers are pure gold, and they are the ones who will help your career grow the most. You don’t want more readers bad-mouthing your book. There’s real danger in accidently drawing a lot of readers who don’t like the type of book you wrote. A few bad reviews can warn off those readers who, in huge numbers, can cause real damage.
As a reader, I read and buy books from bad reviews. When I’m browsing for books, I check out one and two star reviews. Why? Because the very thing they hate is often the thing I love in a book. Woman in jeopardy with a protective hero that annoys some readers? I’ll buy it! Too sexy? Just what I’m looking for! A bad review is often more specific than a raving review, and helps me zero in on what I want to read. So not only can bad review warn off some readers, they can gain you readers who want to read the story you wrote.
Never Respond to a Bad Review. The temptation is great, but resist the urge to correct or lash out. Reviewers sometimes get details wrong, but it does not help your sales or reputation to correct them. Responding can cause way more damage to your career than anything the reviewer said. I’ve seen flame wars break out, the author’s name get smeared, and in a few cases, authors were stalked by trolls who posted bad reviews on every book. Don’t respond, it’s not worth the potential problems. If there really is some issue you think must be addressed, politely contact that platform that posted the review.
Don’t let a bad review on your book define you. No review deserves that power. You decide who you are, and demonstrate it by your choices and actions. No review can do that, so don’t let a review ruin your day. If you want to gripe to your spouse or friends for a few minutes, have at it. I’ve done that too. Then let it go and write your next book.
Since my Kirkus review in 2001, I’ve written twenty-five more books, won awards, hit the USA Today Bestseller List, various other lists. I’m living proof a bad review doesn’t destroy your career.