How a Negative Book Review Can Be a Good Thing

“…poorly written, reads like a first draft of Mary Sue fanfiction where the author inserted himself into the main character to get back at all the bullies in his life…”

What you’ve just read was an actual review for my book, “Dodger’s Doorway”. Seems harsh, right? How can someone be so brash and blunt when reviewing an independent author’s first piece of work? I mean, give us a break, right? We’re out here putting our sweat and blood into our writing; the least you could do is cut us some slack when reviewing our books.

Well, hold on a minute. While it does indeed suck to read such a negative review about a project that I’ve worked on for a long time, I can’t help but feel grateful. If you want me to be completely honest, I get more annoyed when I see a negative review on my book that was clearly written by a troll. For example, this was a great little paragraph that someone left on my book along with a two-star rating a few years ago:

“I thought this book way about the baseball team, the Dodgers. BOY WAS I WRONG! I only read books on sports, so I didn’t enjoy it, but it seems like a great read for a kid struggling with obesity. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to coax their son away from the compute screen. It is like a mix of the “Star Wars” cartoon series and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, mostly because it is set inside a closet.”

Clearly, Ebert here was just trolling. I shouldn’t be bothered by his review because it’s fake. But I’m more annoyed with this than the previous review I posted, mainly because it’s a waste. That two-star rating is stuck on my book forever, and even Amazon said they couldn’t remove it. The worst part of all this is that I didn’t learn anything from that review except that some people can be real a**holes.

When I see or hear a negative review on my book, I get the feeling of defeat. It honestly sucks when someone doesn’t enjoy my work. But it’s nobody’s fault. People have their preferences. However, if I see a negative review because of the poor writing or weak storytelling, then I begin to look at things differently. I see this as a learning opportunity, something that I can use to hone my abilities for future projects.

I fully welcome negative reviews to my work as long as there is something I can learn from them. Give me a two-star rating, but at least provide some helpful feedback! Does that sound crazy? Of course it does. Most people will scoff and think, “Well, we need to support independent authors for trying to get their work out there. Negative reviews aren’t necessary.” Um, no. If you truly think that self-published authors are exempt from negative feedback, then you are in for a harsh surprise in your future writing career.

EDIT: Apparently, people are confused and think that my previous paragraph means that people are obligated to leave feedback when writing book reviews. I’m here to say that in no way, shape, or form is it mandatory. It is just a small personal request. Ultimately, it is up to the reviewers’ discretion if they want to share feedback or not.

Everybody makes mistakes. When you’re a writer, you’re going to become best friends with either an eraser, a red pen, or the delete button. You need to ensure that you are creating the best piece of work you can before sending it off for publication. While the occasional error can slip through the cracks every now and then, it doesn’t mean you can simply write a first draft of a book and then immediately start selling it. If you try to do that, you might have some angry or frustrated readers. What happens then? They start spreading the word via their groups of friends, their social media profiles, and possibly some book review channels, such as Amazon or Goodreads.

That negative review is permanently linked with my book. There’s no way to get rid of it. I’ll admit, I’m a bit upset that this blemish will forever taint the name of “Dodger’s Doorway”, but if it wasn’t for that review, I probably never would’ve seriously reconsidered and rebuilt my career as a writer.

Once I saw that review, I went back and re-read “Dodger’s Doorway”. The reviewer was right about most of her feedback. I had left some plot-holes open, the spelling and grammar was hit-or-miss, and overall, the story was just weak. I couldn’t believe that I had once thought my book was a literary masterpiece. It was just… bad. I had to do something. I had to go back and use my newly-developed writing experience to re-invent the story. A few years later, I released the second edition of “Dodger’s Doorway”.

Looking back, I wonder what would’ve happened if I never saw that review. Would someone have eventually told me the truth? Would I crack open the book one day and stare appallingly at the horribly written story before my eyes? Probably not. That negative review was a wake-up call. It inspired me to take extra care in my writing (it also taught me the value of hiring an editor and not rushing to publication).

 

So what should you do when you see a one or two star rating for your book along with a negative review? Let it sink in. Read what the reviewer is saying. Does it sound like legitimate criticism? How can you use it to improve your work for the future? In time, you might come to appreciate this negative, yet honest feedback.

It’s important to remember that if you’re willing to put your work out there for the world to see, you better be prepared for some harsh feedback every now and then. Luckily, you’ll develop a thick skin as a writer (or as any kind of artist).

In the meantime, all you can do is EDIT, EDIT, EDIT your work so that it’s as perfect as can be before you publish it, and if you see a negative review, figure out how you can turn it into a learning opportunity.

 

Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave a comment, or head on over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts!

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4 thoughts on “How a Negative Book Review Can Be a Good Thing

  1. “I fully welcome negative reviews to my work as long as there is something I can learn from them. Give me a two-star rating, but at least provide some helpful feedback!”

    I hate this attitude because it implies that the reader owes you something. They ponied up money for your book. The subsequent review has nothing to do with you. It’s not so that you can improve your work. It’s not to support you.

    The sole purpose of a review on Amazon is for customers to help other customers decide whether or not to buy the book.

    If the review happens to help you, great, but if someone simply wants to say, 2 stars – it sux!!! that is their right.

    Like

    • It is absolutely within their right. Nowhere am I saying “Don’t you dare leave a negative review unless you’re helping me!”. I’m just saying, “Hey, if you’re going to say something negative, at least tell me why.” It’s a simple request – just like I request people leave an HONEST review rather than just a pat on the back.

      Like

      • So people have the right to leave whatever kind of review they want, but I don’t have the right to ask for constructive criticism? Sound logic you got there.

        Overall, it seems like you’re too hung up on one tiny aspect of the big picture in this article. The main point is about not letting negative comments get you down, and how to look for a silver lining. Instead, you’ve turned this into a discussion where it sounds like you’re trying to justify negative reviews. And guess what? That is entirely your right. You’re fully entitled to argue that point, just like I’m allowed to ask for common courtesy. Enjoy your day 🙂

        Like

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