The Valuable Lessons I Learned From My First Bad Review

There are certain moments in your writing career that are guaranteed to have a dramatic effect on you. For starters, there is the publishing of your first book. Traditionally or via the self-publishing route, it is a huge achievement and a milestone in your career. You’ll never have that moment again, so cherish it.

The next moment that will have a huge effect on you is your first batch of reviews, particularly those that come via complete strangers who have picked up your book having never met you in person, and bothered to read your ramblings from start to finish. These are incredible to receive, particularly if they are glowing in nature.

Nothing prepares you for a bad review though, and they’re coming. Oh yes, they are in the post.

It might not happen until you have a higher profile, and more books on your Amazon page, but they will show up one day, and when they do, things will never be the same again.

OK, that’s a little over dramatic, but bad reviews aren’t much fun. They cut to the bone, bring all of your insecurities and self-doubt to the surface and make you want to do something that is only usually seen in Quentin Tarantino movies. Suffice to say, you should never do any of those things. Take it on the chin and move on.

Everybody has an opinion and a different sensibility. They have different expectations that you will either meet or miss by miles. And that’s OK. Check out any of your favourite authors or filmmakers’ works on Amazon. Somebody somewhere thinks that its crap, as this hilarious post on BuzzFeed will show you.

I recently received my first bad review on GoodReads (I’m yet to receive less than four stars on Amazon, which is why I’m still sober and a functioning human being), and I have to admit, I was quite surprised as to how I reacted. I fully expected to go through four months of hell, where I stopped writing, stopped taking care of myself, and ended up doing a Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas and walk off into the wilderness.

What actually happened was an awakening of sorts. Here is what I learned from that review:

People Who Leave Bad Reviews Aren’t Evil or Trying to Destroy Your Career

When something is precious to you, it can be easy to get defensive, or fall into the mind-set of the victim, and writers are as vulnerable as any business owner who has built their empire from scratch. A bad review can make you feel less than nothing; like you have nothing to contribute. But this isn’t the case. In this instance, the reviewer just didn’t like the story I had told.

After getting into a dialogue with the reviewer, I learned a great deal, including that the reviewer hadn’t given up on me yet. It’s now up to me to win them over with the next book.

Reaching Out To Reviewers Can Be a Rewarding Experience

We’ve all heard horror stories of business owners who have forgotten the rules of online etiquette and ended in slanging matches with reviews on Trip Advisor, Yelp or social media. Many people are afraid to reply to reviewers, and many experts warn others to steer clear of the ‘Reply’ button.

I felt that the reviewer had missed the point of the novel, so I sent a message via GoodReads to begin a polite and friendly dialogue about the novel (and more importantly, thank the reviewer for at least giving the book a shot).

The response not only restored my confidence – which had admittedly taken a knock – but it also showed me that the reason for the reviewer having missed the point in the novel was my own fault, and that maybe I wasn’t marketing it correctly.

If I hadn’t reached out to the reviewer, I would’ve missed out on a vital opportunity to reconfigure my book marketing strategy to make sure it reached the correct audience.

You Learn More from a Bad Review Than You Ever Will From a Good One

This was known to me before I released my book, but it didn’t become abundantly clear to me until after I’d received one myself. The first lessons you learn are the obvious ones: You can’t please everyone all the time, etc. But if you are up for a little self-reflection, there is a lot of learn from a bad review. For example, are there plot points that don’t ring true (or have gaping holes)? Are there spelling and grammar errors in your book (pray this isn’t the case)? Could you have maybe taken a few more passes at it before you published the novel?

Questions don’t get asked of you when everybody is raving about your book with zero insights. A one or two star review – especially from a disappointed reader who expands on their issues with the book – can actually help you to become a better writer in the future, if you’re honest enough to take the criticism on board. I have, and learned plenty as a result.

What lessons have you learned from a bad review? Get in touch in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “The Valuable Lessons I Learned From My First Bad Review

  1. bookshelfbattle says:

    What about Quentin Tarantino movies?

    You feel the need to speak in carefully choreographed, longwinded, go-on-forever, don’t give the actor a chance to ad-lib dialog?

    You make two-smash hits straight out of the gate and then never really top yourself after that?

    You hire a guy who claims to be a world-renowned fixer who can fix all of your problems and then all he does is tell you to clean up your car?

    Quentin Tarantino awkwardly casts himself in your work?

    Oh, who am I kidding? I love QT.

    Like

  2. Carol Graham says:

    I haven’t received a bad review YET. I only have about 100 reviews and one book so I know that they will come and I really appreciated what you said. We really can only learn from ‘bad’ reviews because the ones that tell us we are awesome is what we already believe, right? Thank you for this insight and I will remember this when the bad reviews come in and I will also remember to react positively — just like you did.

    Carol Graham – Battered Hope

    Like

  3. Julia Lund says:

    In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “…the bad stuff is easier to believe …”.
    The first time I let someone read anything I’d written (and it was only a paragraph), I felt strangely naked. These days I am not so fragile and just hope that when I receive negative feedback from strangers that I will look for the positive (without changing my name to Pollyanna). One thing I will remember though is this post. Thank you.

    Like

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