Dealing With Reviews: The Good and The Bad
When you publish your book or written project, you will get reviews on Amazon or whatever platform you’re using. Those reviews will be used by the platform’s algorithm to determine how much promotion the work will receive. For example, when you reach certain levels of reviews on Amazon, they will begin including you in their bulk emails and you will appear in more searches and recommendations. It’s just how it works. So, yes, as an author, we really do need those reviews. They help us on so many levels.
The aforementioned algorithm is just one way in which this happens. Reviews are direct feedback from your readers and from those you can gauge what you’re doing well, what you need to work on and what things your readers liked/disliked. You can glean a lot of information out of a simple two word review. The words “good job”, while sounding simplistic can tell you far more than merely good job. Let’s take a look at that, shall we?
First and foremost, it means that you did a good enough job that the reader felt it necessary to leave you a review, at all. Most readers won’t, despite our hope that they will. Remember, more reviews means more promotion from your platform. For them to take the time to leave you a review, good or bad, says that your work affected them enough to want to say something to you. That, in and of itself, is a victory. Now let’s break down that review.
Let’s say “John Smith” left you that “Good Job” review. Ok, he took the time to leave that. You did a good job. Also, what ranking did he give it? Five star? Three? Good job and a five star review speaks volumes that you have truly done well. Good job, while not telling you exactly what they liked, tells you that they enjoyed it. That was the goal, right? We want the readers to enjoy the books. If they leave a review, then so much the better.
Take that same “good job” with a three star. Hmm…not so good. That means they didn’t hate it. That’s not great, but it’s not horrible. It means you did some things right and maybe some not so well. That’s info you can work with. You can evaluate and see what you think you did well and what you didn’t. After all, we’re all our own worst critics. I know I am. No one is more critical of my work than I am.
I think I’ve made my point with the rating system. You want five star good jobs, not three star or less. Honestly, less than three isn’t really any kind of good job at all. That’s into not so good territory. Even those reviews can help to improve the writing, if we take the time to truly evaluate what we did and how we can improve it.
Now the hard part. Bad reviews. Trust me, you can write like Harlan Ellison and still get bad reviews. There will always be some people who won’t like it, no matter what you do. You have to accept that fact and move on. I loved the books by Tom Clancy but my wife hates him. It’s just a fact of writing. Some will and some won’t like it. Remember that so you don’t take the negative reviews quite so personally.
Bad reviews, if looked at honestly, can sometimes give you things you can fix about your writing. Too much of this, not enough of that. Look at what they’re saying and reflect on what you wrote. Are they right, even a little? If so, you can fix it on the next project or on later editions of the same project. Learning to find the honest criticisms, even among the negative ones, is how we grow as a writer.
Now there is another type of bad review, and it’s unfortunate that we have to deal with it. There are people, sometimes other authors, who seem to delight in leaving negative reviews on other author’s works just to bring their ratings down. It’s insane, but it happens. They will leave a nasty one star review just to bring your rating down. Sometimes, what they say in the review may be more directed at the author than the book. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve known authors who were bullied into pulling their works from Amazon and quitting. That should NEVER happen. It’s ridiculous. Those can and do happen for no reason other than someone decided to be petty. There isn’t much you can do besides report it as harassment, but please don’t let them force you away from your dream of being a writer. No one has the right to say who should and shouldn’t publish a book or their writing.
The best thing you can do on reviews like that or comments on your social media is not to feed the trolls. Some people thrive on the causing conflict and drama. Block them and move on. It’s the best thing you can do for your own peace of mind. Don’t engage them and block them. Then you move on. Keep writing and ignore them. If they post negative reviews, you can report them to Amazon as harassment and they will investigate it. It might take them a while, but they do get results.
Reviews, yes even the bad ones, can teach us something. We learn as much from the good as we do from the bad. Bad reviews don’t have to mean bad things, if you take it as a learning experience and build from it. We’re all working to improve our writing and the overall experience of the reader. We want them to enjoy our work so they tell their friends about it and then want to read the next book. That’s the best thing we can hope for. The enjoyment of the readers. That’s why we write.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to see my name on the New York Times Bestsellers list or the Amazon Bestsellers list or any other bestseller list. I thought that meant I’d made it as a writer. That would be the benchmark for success. Well, I’ve changed my mind about that. If I make it, great…if not, then ok. To me, the true benchmark of the writing will be the enjoyment of the reader. When I have a reader send me a message on Facebook or Twitter, email me, or leave a review; that is direct feedback from my readers. Hearing how much they enjoyed my work is the best measure of success. After all, I wrote the books so that they would entertain people. If I’m doing that, then I’ve succeeded. Anything else, is just a bonus.
So, read those reviews and take a moment of honest reflection. What can you learn from the review? How can you improve your writing for the next project? What can you take away from this? Those are the questions that we need to be asking ourselves. After all, we owe it to our readers to be as loyal to them as they are to us. Even if you never meet the reader, there is a bond there that will always be there. You poured your heart and soul into your writing and they experienced it and shared your vision. That’s a relationship worth having. I love to talk to people who have read my books and hear how they saw what I wrote. Sometimes it’s very different from what I envisioned, but that’s the really cool part. Seeing my story through their eyes. We’re all different and it’s those differences that make like interesting.
Never stop writing and never stop trying to be better. Give your absolute best in every word, sentence and paragraph. Push your creativity and ability as far as it can go and see where the ride takes you. Listen to the reviews and learn what you can to keep pushing forward. I think you’ll find that while you may not always like what the review has to say, you can take something away from it that will help make you a better writer. Never stop writing and never give up your dreams. It’s a crazy world we live in. Our dreams are all that keep the darkness at bay. Reach for those dreams, folks.
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