That’s the word that sent me back to therapy, nearly ended my marriage, and stripped me of all confidence.
It happened on a blog tour, something I’d shelled out hard-earned money for, and it was a real kick in the crotch. The rest of the tour was a whopping success, and in truth, even my harsh reviewer still gave me three stars and wrote much good about my novel. Hers was, however, the first spark of negativity after a string of awesome reviews, and that single word she used—“LAAAAME”—obliterated all others. It settled into a corner of my mind where it festered for nearly two months. Nobody—NOBODY!—likes their work to be criticized, let alone called lame. It cut me to the quick.
I’ve grown into a big girl since then, and looking back, I’m grateful for that reviewer’s honesty. Fellow newbs, we will get bad reviews. Sometimes, we’ll deserve them. Sometimes, we won’t. And one thing I’ve learned since my debut release is that bad reviews often say more about the reader than our work.
For example, I am presently enjoying a novel set in very early 17th century America. The author’s style and voice are fabulous, and her setting authentic, including her hero’s adherence to religious principles at a time when men probably prayed before farting. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I checked the book’s reviews and found single stars because readers thought the book “too religious.”
This is a perfect example of what I mean by reviews being more about the reader. Sometimes, your story will unwittingly hit a reader’s hot button. I’ve even seen some bad ones given merely because a the book contained a swear word, or because the reader doesn’t like stories about dragons.
We need book reviews, good and bad. How do we get them? And when we do get those bad ones, how do we handle them?
I asked our trusty Seasoned Authors. Here’s the lineup this week! Please feel free to click on their names to learn more about them.
Collette Cameron is an Amazon bestselling (3 times Amazon Kindle top 100) and award-winning author of Regency and Scottish romance. If that’s not enough to convince you she knows what she’s doing, how about this? She won the 2013 Sneak Peek Contest, was a 2014 RONE Nominee, a double RONE Finalist in 2015, Aspen Gold Finalist 2015, and 2015 Wisconsin RWA Write Touch Reader’s Choice Winner. At this time, she has nine books under her belt with contracts for four more. She self-published a series, has four group projects already published and two more coming out in early 2016.
Tema Merback ‘s first book was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist entitled “In the Face of Evil,” the story of her mother’s survival of the Holocaust. It took her four years to write, but it was worth it, as it continues to be one of the highest rated books on Amazon and Goodreads. With her hot romance and suspense, she went the self-publishing route. She also writes under a nom de plume, Belle Ami.
Tina Susedik writes romantic mysteries, children’s books, and history books using her real name and erotic romance as Anita Kidesu. Her novel, “Riding for Love” was a finalist in the 2014 BTS awards. She has eleven books and two short stories in print, with two more on the horizon.
Catherine Castle writes sweet and inspirational romance. She has published one novel under the pen name of Catherine Castle and three as a coauthor with her husband. Her books consistently win awards, including the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award Winner for Inspirational Romance, and a RONE in 2014 for inspirational romance. She was a finalist in the 2014 EPIC awards for an action/adventure romance and was a 2014 Carolyn Readers Choice Award finalist.
Ryan Jo Summers writes romance she calls “a mishmash of inspirational, time travel, shape shifting, paranormal, mystery, any and all combinations of the above.” She has three novels out now and another three coming in 2016. She blogs at https://www.summersrye.wordpress.com
Stacy Hoff writes contemporary romance. She has two anthology stories and three full-length novels to her credit, along with a 2015 “Rising Star” nomination from BTS emag’s Red Carpet Awards.
Jessica Jefferson is a bestselling author of historical romance. Her fifth novel is about to hit the market.
Samanthya Wyatt is a Golden Rose finalist. She writes both historical and contemporary romance, and has four books out at this time.
Petie McCarty is the author of five books, with the sixth coming in December. She writes contemporary paranormal romance for Desert Breeze and Soul Mate Publishing.
Aven Ellis is a bestselling author of sports fiction.
Why do you think most readers don’t review books they purchase?
Collette: Quite simply, it’s a time thing. It takes time and effort and everyone is short on time these days. They also don’t have a connection to the author.
Tema: That’s one I haven’t figured out yet. I write a review for almost every book I read, both on Amazon and on Goodreads. It’s my favorite kind of blog, a promotion I heartily enjoy. People are lazy, they’d rather get the notches on their belt of amounts of books I’ve read, then take the time to analyze what they’ve read and spend the time sharing it. We are all so busy in our lives, running on the treadmill of life. I guess it’s hard to find the time.
Tina: It may be simply a time factor.
Catherine: Procrastination. A busy life. They don’t like the book. They mean to leave a review, but forget. Take your pick.
Ryan Jo: Time for one. Trying to figure out what to say. Fear of being found out if they didn’t like it and left a bad review. Perhaps they don’t realize how important it is to the leave reviews for shoppers. I never did until the last few years. I’ve read thousands of books and never left a review until last year. Because I never realized the importance. But people are busy and tend to forget too.
Stacy: Maybe readers don’t understand the massive impact reviews really do have on authors. The more reviews authors have, the more customers will take a chance on reading someone new.
Samanthya: I think a lot of people don’t think it’s necessary. Sometimes, if the book isn’t good, they don’t want to give a bad review. I’d rather not paint anyone in a bad light or discourage them. But I do have a pet peeve with series. I like a beginning and an end in every book I read. That’s why in my series, each book has a hero and heroine and their own love story with a satisfying end.
Petie: In my humble opinion, reviews have become their own little art form with a standard protocol of providing anywhere from a short to lengthy rewritten synopsis of the author’s book and then a final paragraph or more with the reviewer’s personal opinion. I think the synopsis portion scares a lot of readers away. Authors hate writing a book synopsis, and we write for a living. Imagine how a reader feels about producing one.
I wish there was a way to let all readers know authors would be happy with just a few sentences as long as the reader did a review. Also, Amazon won’t accept a too-short review. I’ve had that error message myself when I critiqued a product and tried to do a single short partial sentence review. Amazon apparently has their own length requirement, which may reduce the number of overall submittals by readers as well.
Aven: Time. It takes time to sit down and review a book.
What advice would you give new authors about reviews, either how to get them in the first place and/or how to handle bad ones?
Collette: Building a solid reader audience and building relationships via social media can lead to larger number of reviews. Street teams work well too, but they take time to develop. A few honest, sincere reviews are far more valuable than a bunch of one-word reviews too.
As far as bad reviews go, they are inevitable. Aside from trolls, whose intent is to cause trouble and just be nasty, poor reviews are usually the result of taste. Not everyone likes the same thing. On the other hand, if you repeatedly see similar comments in critical reviews (editing, research, etc.) you might want to take a look and see if your writing could use a bit of polishing.
Tema: Reviews can be painful, and romance reviewers are notably some of the worst (the cruelest) on the planet. There is a line that must not be crossed; every author will tell you—never respond to a bad review.
In fact, I wrote a blog on bad reviews on Goodreads entitled: How Thick Does an Author’s Skin Need to Be? It’s pretty humorous. https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7180298-how-thick-does-an-author-s-skin-have-to-be
As far as getting reviews is concerned, I’m a firm believer that you must throw your manuscript, book, against as many walls as possible. Keep throwing, asking, pleading, begging, and banging—someone’s bound to open the door.
Tina: My advice would be to ignore them. I once had someone review my first book and admitted they didn’t really read it, then proceed to give me a 1 star. I was upset, then brushed it off. Everyone likes different types of books. There have been books I’ve read, or tried to read and gave up because I didn’t like it for one reason or another. When I look at their reviews on Amazon, I’m amazed at the people who loved the book, while I didn’t. It’s all a matter of opinion. Both my publishers say to ignore them and not get in an argument with the reviewer. I’m not sure how to get people to review books. Many are happy to get a free one, with the idea that they review it, but then never post a review.
Catherine: On getting bad reviews, remember reading is subjective. Your book was good enough to get the attention of an publisher and/or reader. Hyperventilate for a few moments then go on, and never, never respond to the author of a bad review.
Ryan Jo: First, ignore bad reviews. It’s hard. It’s crushing. But don’t be tempted to respond. Call a friend, get drunk, binge your fave food or TV show, but don’t respond to a negative review. Ever. Please. Okay, second, wait a little while (days, weeks) and go back and read the review with open mind. Is there any grain of truth to the claim(s)? Is there something you could improve upon? Or is this person just an unsatisfied troll who likes to dump on writers? Check them out, look at their other reviews. Do they love some books and hate others or just hate every printed book known to man? Finally, move on. It’s one person’s opinion. Let it go. If you see a slew of positive reviews, and the occasional bad one, shrug it off. If you see an overwhelming amount of low reviews, check your ego and investigate. They might be trying to tell you something.
I wish I knew the magic formula for getting reviews. Offer to review for others and hopefully they’ll reply in kind. Stick to similar genres you write and like. Push to blogging sites and hope for the best. Don’t be pushy though.
Samanthya: It is always good to have reviews. Celebrate when you get a good review. For one you don’t like, you can do one of two things. One- You can ignore it completely. Or Two- decided if it has any merit and if you can learn from it or if you disagree and then just ignore it. Not everyone is going to like your work. Feel confident and keep writing.
Petie: Reviews are a sink or swim ordeal. If you go out on your own and try to obtain reviews by finding review sites and querying them individually, you will probably sink. I used to send out 50+ review requests for each new release, and I would be lucky to get four to six acceptances, and then not all of them would follow through.
For my last release, I did a few book review tours with promotion companies and obtained 19 reviews that way and additional reviews on Reading Alley. Whether we like it or not, reviews sell books. We need them. Book promos are not the cheapest, but they are the most successful means that I have found for obtaining reviews.
How to handle bad reviews? Have a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir [if you’re a red fan] and holler, “whatever!” or something worse at the top of your lungs. You won’t believe how good that feels. Just remember you can please some of the readers some of the time, and all of the readers some of the time, but you will never please all of the readers all of the time. Me? I shrug, stick out my tongue or flip a finger at the bad ones on my computer screen, and move on.
Aven: I highly recommend that new authors do blog tours. You will not see sales from them-but you will connect with book bloggers who might love your work and become bloggers you can put on future review lists. This is how I cultivated my go to group of book reviewers and my beta team.
[Regarding reviews], you have to decide if you are an author who wants to read them and take what you can learn from them OR if you are an author who would rather not read them. I personally do not read my reviews.
There you have it. Advice from the pros. Have you ever left a bad review? Have you ever received one? How did you handle it?
Up next: Blog Tours. Are they worth it?