Jennifer Lyon

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021
Do Bad Reviews Have Value?

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.

6 comments to “Do Bad Reviews Have Value?”

  1. B.E. Sanderson
    January 20th, 2021 at 8:19 am · Link

    I’ve never read that one. And it’s not on Kindle. =o( I wishlisted the paperback for next time I do an Amazon order. Nope, not reading the Kirkus review because it would likely piss me off. I know bad reviews can be good, but when I see bad reviews of my friends’ books, it gets my dander up.

    Yay for you moving on and writing all those amazing books! If you’d let that review stop you, I never would’ve met you and wouldn’t have read all the stories you’ve produced. You’re awesome. And anyone who says differently obviously has no taste. So there. =op

    As for my own books, I’ve gotten a few bad reviews. My favorite was for Accidental Death. The person said it was well-written, but “Every character is vile, bigoted, and hateful in their own special way.” :shrug: People out there in the world are like that sometimes. I tried to make the characters gritty and real, so I guess I did my job. No worries. And I’ve published 13 books since AD, so it’s all good.

  2. Silver James
    January 20th, 2021 at 9:57 am · Link

    What B.E. said. Exactly my sentiments. I tend not to read reveiws, even the good ones. In many cases, it’s the quantity, not the quality that matters. I totally agree that the bad reviews can often pull in readers. I had one (I only know this because another author writing in what was then Kindle Worlds pointed it out to me) say that overall, the book was good but there was *GASP!!* a wolf shifter in it and that ruined the book for her because she doesn’t read *those* books. (And not like it didn’t explain that in the blurb–just sayin’…) That review got me two new readers. One, because she loved paranormal and didn’t realize that a. there were paranormal books in the world and b. I had other series set in MY world. She’s a dedicated fan now. The other reader didn’t read paranormal but she enjoyed that book so much, she picked up one of my non-KW books and she also ended up a fan. Crazy how that works and crazy how we sometimes let bad reviews drive us crazy. My current WIP is #53. I haven’t made a list but I’ve won some awards. At this point, as much as I’d like to make a list, I don’t care. I just want to write my stories and hope they find a home on a reader’s keeper shelf. That means more to me than lists and reviews.

    Great topic today, Jen! And yeah, I 💖 your books and you. ;) Keep on writing!

  3. Viki S.
    January 20th, 2021 at 4:14 pm · Link

    Another great post.

    I can see how a bad review on your very first book could hold you back with doubt. I’m glad you were able to see beyond that and note that what one person hates another loves.

    Even when I hate a book, I try to point out in my review that that is my opinion.

    When taking your post and applying it to life in general, I find it very hard not to respond to bad comments. It’s very difficult but you are wise to point out that it is best not to respond.

    I hope you are having a nice day. It’s very chilly here (22F) but the sun came out ;).

    Take care.

  4. Jenn
    January 20th, 2021 at 6:56 pm · Link

    B.E., aw thanks for looking for Dating Can Be Murder :-) It’s out of print, and I have the rights to the series now. But it’s possible it’ll turn up in a used bookstore somewhere.

    Good point, if either of us had given up, we wouldn’t have met. I would have missed knowing you for sure!

    Reviews like that are hard to read. I don’t read much of those on mine (I’ve learned not to over time) but I do get annoyed when I read them on others. I’ve read Accidental Death, and it definitely called for gritty characters, so be proud of that book and the 13 more you’ve written!

  5. Jenn
    January 20th, 2021 at 7:12 pm · Link

    Silver, I always cracked up at the reviews like that! See that’s another review where I would have bought the book too. Especially when it’s right there in the blurb.

    But you got the right reader from that negative review, so it’s a win. It’s really hard to convince new authors (including me) that reviews work both ways.

    You are building a great career and have much to be proud of! If making a list is a priority for you, then I hope it happens! But like you, I value readers over list creds.

    I’d also like to mention you’ve done a lot in the romance community both with your local chapter and national of RWA, plus I think you do some support for writers participating in NANOWRITMO. That makes you special too.

    And thanks. I’m trying to get back into the swing of one serious blog a week. I hope it helps one writer out there somewhere :-)

  6. Jenn
    January 20th, 2021 at 7:21 pm · Link

    Viki, Thanks! I was lucky, too, in that I have good support in my husband, sister, friends and all the team at my publisher then, Kensington. All that helped me deal with a few ugly reviews. I’m aware not everyone has that support.

    I hope it didn’t sound like I was criticizing anyone for writing a review about a book they didn’t like. It really does help readers. I believe that 100%. And ultimately it helps authors. We authors just have a bit of a learning curve in realizing that :-) But it’s true.

    I have the same problem applying it to my everyday life too. I just try to spare myself the emotional energy. And on my FB pages, when I see comments that I find unnecessary or offensive, I quietly delete them. I don’t even debate it with myself anymore, I just delete and move onto someone who I want to spend my energy on. However, it’s not easy and I’ve written responses then deleted them before I hit post :-) I also write emails that I delete too.

    Today was good–even if I did have to clean bathrooms. Hope you have a nice night!

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