By Alex Segura
So, I was making my Internet Book Rounds last week. You know what I mean, right? Every new-ish author does. It’s when you visit certain sites to see how The Book is doing. Places like Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Google Alerts, etc. You check your rankings, how many people have added the book and, well, you read the reviews.
I was on Silent City’s Amazon page and noticed that a few of my friends had rated the book. Cool. Until I saw one friend, a buddy I’d met in my day job, had given it one star.
Panic set in. Insecurities flared. I boarded the emotional rollercoaster: Anger, sadness, fear. Rinse, repeat.
Did I shrug and move on, vowing not to read any reviews from this moment? No. I emailed my pal and in a pretty passive way said I was sorry he didn’t dig the book.
This is a mistake and you should never do it. It doesn’t help anything and only makes you look bad - specifically, overly sensitive and whiny. And, in this case, it’s true – I happened upon the review, had an emotional reaction and tried to fix it. But most of the time, these things can’t be fixed or reversed.
On the bright side, it turns out he actually liked the book and didn’t even realize he’d rated it. But still. It shouldn’t matter.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, because I’ve saved the toughest topic for last. We’ve covered hunting for an agent and gathering blurbs. But what do you do when your book is out there, naked, for the entire world to read and form opinions about? It’s freakin’ scary! Your baby is in the middle of a busy intersection with no one to protect it.
Keep in mind I pass these suggestions on because I’ve been through the first novel shuffle and I’ve probably made all of these mistakes at least once – maybe twice.
Ready? Ok. Strap in and welcome to the wild, unfettered land of reviews.
Don’t read reviews. “Are you nuts?” Nope. “I have to read them!” You really don’t. “But, how else will I know if my book is good?” It got published, right? People you trust/know/value said it was good, right?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten about reviews came from a writer friend a few months before Silent City came out. I asked her – how do you deal with bad reviews? “I don’t read them,” she said. “Good or bad.” I thought this was amazing. Mostly because I couldn’t imagine anyone giving her a bad review, but also because on some level it felt really liberating – here was a way to just excise all the anxiety, fear and anger that comes with any kind of commentary on the work. It’s perfect!
But let’s be real – we’re probably gonna read our reviews. Even after this conversation and after realizing how great this advice is, I still read every review. That’s OK, as long as you’re prepared to deal with the consequences…
You’re going to get bad reviews. No matter what. It’s going to happen. Someone out there is not going to like your work. You have to be ready for that. So, what happens when you get a bad review? Move on. Maybe the reviewer made some thoughtful comments – about plot, character, setting, whatever. Take it as it comes. If you got something useful out of the review, all the better. If it was mean-spirited and not useful, then Move. The. Hell. On. There’s no upside to rehashing or wallowing in a negative review. A friend of mine who works in Marketing gave me my second favorite bit of advice in terms of reviews: “Feel bad for yourself for 10 minutes. After that, get to work on your next book.” It’s true. There’s nothing you can do to change the review – someone felt this way. Maybe they were having a bad day? Who knows/cares. All you can do is continue to get better. And hey, you have a book published that people you respect like a lot. That’s something. There’s always next time.
Do not engage when you get a bad review. Remember the story I told up top? Don’t do that. Don’t comment on bad reviews, don’t email reviewers and don’t respond via your channels. (I’ll get into social media in a sec.)
Why not? Well, it makes you look needy, thin-skinned and defensive. Even if all you do say is something like “Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book,” which in and of itself is fairly harmless – wouldn’t you rather be above the fray? OK, you got a bad review. It happens. Next.
Be thankful when you get a good review. Let’s assume that, like me, you aren’t as tough as my author friend. You’re reading your reviews. OK. You’re ignoring the bad reviews. Great. But you just got an awesome review – what do you do? If you know the writer, shoot them a brief thank you note. Drop a quick thank you comment. It’s OK. It shows you’re appreciative of the time they put into writing about your book. A lot of times, these exchanges can turn into publicity opportunities. If a blogger liked your book, they might be interested in interviewing you or doing a giveaway. It’s OK, especially as a new author trying to build a name for yourself, to network with people that like your work.
Plus, many reviewers are great – they’re smart, thoughtful, engaged and are fans of your genre. They read these books and analyze them for a living. Or, they love the genre so much that they give up their free time to talk about books. You want to connect with these people because knowing them might make you a better writer. Get on their radar. Find out what they’re reading. Pick their brains. They’re probably nice people that like the same things you do. You may end up making a new friend.
Spread the good news, do not harp on the bad. Got a bad review? Move on, remember? Don’t be passive-aggressive about it via social media or your channels. Bad reviews happen. But, when you get some good news, feel free to share it. It’s the kind of thing - like blurbs – that might grab a new fan’s attention and entice them to buy your book. I had the huge honor of having my debut novel reviewed in both major South Florida newspapers the day before a bookstore event in Miami. It helped! More people came to the event, online sale went up and so on. I think part of it was that I spread the word about the reviews (as did my publisher) once they hit. Everyone wants to read a good book. If you have people saying your book is good, share that.
Have a sense of humor about it. I’ve seen a lot of viral videos that feature authors reading negative reviews and having a laugh at how crazy some of them can be. Some authors post quotes that are just so batsh*t, you have to laugh. I am not the kind of author that can do that. But if you are – and you can do it in a way that is genuinely about being funny and not about swiping at someone for not liking your work, go for it.
Know yourself. This one’s a little new age-y, but it fits. Don’t beat yourself up if you break any of the above suggestions. They’re not hard and fast rules. Everyone is in a unique situation. So you sent a nasty note to the guy who ripped on your book on Goodreads? Not ideal. Don’t do it again. I get it, though. We’ve slaved over these books for months, maybe years. They mean a lot to us. They’re a part of us. It really stings when someone tears it down, sometime not thoughtfully. But this is the risk we run being authors. We put our work out there, for all to see and asked for feedback. They have a right to share their opinion. So, be forgiving if you can’t adhere to these suggestions 100 percent. Hell, I couldn’t. But you live and learn.