The Positive in the Negative

If you’re a writer who has published work, sooner or later you’re going to get your first really negative review. You’ll know before you see it, because your average rating will have dropped overnight. Yes, friends, there it will be–the dreaded one-star. If you’re anything like me, your throat will tighten and your blood pressure will rise, causing a slight throbbing in your fingertips, the primary sign of dread.

We can’t be blamed for reacting this way. Making a book available to a huge and varied public is a scary business, and we are never sure how it’s going to go. So far, our work may have been well-received, and we’ve been thinking “All right so far…no sign of sharks or herds of rampaging wildebeest…I might survive…” Then it happens–someone doesn’t like your stuff and says so. You might feel as though the wind has been knocked out of you, but trust me, it’s for the best.

If the reviewer puts forth his/her opinion in a generally constructive way, this is actually a good thing. Don’t expect too much, as people who don’t like something often just want to rant about it, but it can and will actually benefit you. I know, I know, reviews are for readers, and this is exactly why you shouldn’t fret over a bad one. We should recognize the positive in the negative–a few things you might not have thought about. Let’s examine how a negative review is actually a good thing for the writer.

1. Everyone of any reputation gets them.

That’s right, my friends–even Shakespeare gets one-star reviews. Having that one-star may be considered a rite of passage–you’re not a “real boy” until you get one.

2. Having a wide range of reviews lends credibility.

With all the pay-for-play services and underhanded ballot-box-stuffing tactics going on, readers have become suspicious of any book that has too many five-stars, especially when they appear in quick succession. NO book is universally adored by everyone, and it won’t hurt you at all to have representatives in all five categories. As long as your average rating stays up there, you’re golden.

3. Reviews are meant to help readers find the books they’ll enjoy. If the bad review is constructive, it will help some readers avoid the book.

Avoid the book you say? Surely that couldn’t be an advantage. Well, it depends on why you got into writing in the first place. My primary goal is to write books that readers will like, not to foist as many copies as possible on people who will not enjoy them. In a less altruistic vein, think of it this way–the one negative will prevent ten others. I have been known to discourage people from purchasing Elfhunter if, for example, they are looking for another “Game of Thrones.” It’s in our best interests to attract readers who will have a good reading experience, and help those who are obviously looking for something else to, well, look somewhere else.

Mind you, a well-constructed positive review can do the same thing. Example: “I loved the occasional intrusion of the classical narrative, as though I were hearing a story told around a campfire.” Though this reader enjoyed that aspect, others might immediately click on to the next book.

OK, so how do we get over the feeling of dread when we encounter a real stinker? Not all negative reviews are constructive, and some are downright trollish (I remember being trolled by another author several years ago). I have a few coping mechanisms. I prefer to not read reviews anymore; I’ve read enough to know and understand what people like and don’t like about my work. If you can’t stay away, try this: read the review in the voice of the “Monty Python Housewife.” Seriously–you’ll burst out laughing. Try it with this “faux” example:
“War and Peace was absolutely the worst book ever written. It was obvious that the “author” didn’t speak English, had no idea how to write, and should be relegated to wallowing in a festering pool of pus. And talk about depressing! I paid all of 99 cents for this stinker, and I couldn’t get past the first chapter. What a complete waste of money! This author should be brought back from the dead so I can properly tar and feather him.”

Now, didn’t that help a little? If that fails, there’s always the quart of “Moose Tracks” in the freezer.

If we learn to embrace the negatives, we’ll avoid doing silly things like castigating reviewers, reacting badly to them on public forums, melting down online…I know, many words for the same thing. Let’s choose to think of them as affirmation–you’re not a “real boy” until you get one.

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