How to Handle Bad Book Reviews

By Jody Hedlund @JodyHedlund

I recently got a REALLY bad review on my book, Love Unexpected. The title read "No! No! No! Dirty, dirty, dirty!" The reviewer left one-star, but I'm sure she would have left a negative number if that were possible.

When I first saw the review title, I was startled. I thought there must be some mistake. After all, my book is a Christian romance. It's devoid of bare-chested men, bodice-ripping, and bawdy bed-rolling. In the publishing industry, my book is categorized as a "sweet romance."

Granted, within the spectrum of sweet fiction, my books tend to be a bit edgier, truer-to-life, with grittier themes. Even my new medieval YA series doesn't shy away from darker themes like Bubonic Plague and gruesome torture methods. It's also true that the romantic elements in all my books (adult and YA) while "sweet" are definitely more realistic and emotion-evoking. However, the relationships are all very chaste (especially in my YA).

So you can understand my confusion when I saw the title of the review. After clarifying that the review was indeed referring to my book, then I chuckled. I thought it was funny that someone in this modern age of Fifty Shades of Gray considered my book "dirty."

Besides, dirty is a word I'd use for those slushy muddy footprints on my kitchen floor left by my children when they don't take off their boots. Dirty isn't something I'd use to describe a budding relationship and the ensuing sensuality that develops between a man and a woman. I'd actually describe it as beautiful.

My point isn't to elaborate on how sad it makes me that there are people who view sexuality as dirty. Rather my point is to say that ALL authors get bad reviews. This isn't the first I've received and it certainly won't be the last.

Authors will get stinging, biting, and even caustic reviews. Readers may nitpick about things we can't even remember writing or not say anything specific at all except that they hated the book. Sometimes an issue, character, or theme may upset them, and we can only scratch our heads and ask, "How did they get that out of my book?"

But the thing about reviews? They're for readers, not writers. Reviewers are allowed to say whatever they want (although even as a reader who sometimes leaves reviews, I have the personal policy of being graciously honest).

All that to say, writers have to learn how to handle bad reviews because it isn't a matter of "if" we get them, it's a matter of "when." So here are several pieces of advice for handling those bad reviews:

1. Either develop thick skin or don't read the reviews. 

As I mentioned, the reviews aren't really intended for the author to read. They're there for other readers. So if we read them, we need to go into them with the mindset that we'll face open, honest, feedback. If we can't handle it, then we need to stay away (and that's perfectly acceptable; everyone needs to know his or her limits).

2. Don't take the reviews personally. 

Remember this is a business. Nowadays every product out there gets rated. Recently when I was in the process of buying a new comforter for my bed, I scoured the reviews of each potential purchase. I wanted to be alerted to problems or flaws in the product before finalizing my decision. I appreciated the reviews in helping me narrow down the many choices. Reviews are helpful, even the "bad" ones.

3. Remember that reviews are subjective.

Readers view the pages of our books through the lens of their unique backgrounds, personalities, and values. All of that will shape their reading experience. Some readers who are accustomed to reading erotica may find my books boring. Other readers who prefer the sweetness of Little House on the Prairie may be offended by the kisses.

4. Focus on the positive. 

The "dirty" review is the only one-star review I have on that particular book. The majority are 5 stars. And the majority of readers have only positive things to say about the romance relationship. If we're pleasing the majority, we can't cater to or worry about the minority.

5. Never respond to those bad reviews. 

We can commiserate in private with other author friends. We should share our frustrations (or our humor) with our inner circle. But we should never, ever, comment back on reviews or defend ourselves (even if it's legit). When we do so, we only make ourselves look worried or defensive (too much like a hovering parent who always comes to the rescue of a bullied child). We should let our works stand on their own two feet without intruding as the author.

How about you? How do you think authors should handle bad reviews?

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