Bad reviews and unprofessional behavior

A friend lent me a book recently called The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield, whose debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for screen. A film based on his book was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford.

The War of Art is for writers, artists, and anyone who hopes to breathe life into their creative works.

I don’t read many “self-help” books, but this was a quick read and contained a few gems. One section that resonated with me referred to how “professionals” behave. I’d like to expound on this in relationship to book reviews.

If you earn a living by writing, or are trying to make a living this way, this post is for you.

star-reviews

A review can be a double-edged sword.

A good review can help sell a book. A bad review can alert potential readers not to buy it.

Authors count on reviews as a means to promote their work to new readers. They are a form of marketing. They don’t need to be scholarly book reports, just honest accounts of what readers like or do not like about a book. Initial reviews are crucial for establishing a pattern for a book. Does it average 4-5 stars? Or is it more like 1-2 stars? Right or wrong, the star system is a how many readers determine the quality of a book before they buy it.

It’s why many authors, myself included, solicit reviews from a healthy cross-section of readers/bloggers once a book is released. The more reviews, the better, because as time passes, the 1 and 2-star reviews appear less important when the overall average for a book is 4/5 stars.

And though more reviews do not guarantee more sales, an absence of reviews may correspond to fewer sales.

What does this have to do with unprofessional behavior?

In his book, Pressfield writes: 

“Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.”

Whether you believe what he says or not, we can all agree that rejection and criticism (in the form of bad reviews) hurt.

No one likes negative feedback. If you consider your creation as an extension of yourself, then you probably feel a bad review as a rejection of who you are.

It may explain why some writers behave badly at times. I’ve seen authors attack readers both verbally and via the social networks. Sometimes, there are long threads of comments to discredit a reviewer (usually a faceless, unknown entity).

The degree to which each of us reacts to criticism varies. Though I can understand the public display of anger by some authors, it is not something I consider healthy or helpful for anyone. It certainly is not professional.

bad_review cartoon

Credit Firstsecondbooks.typepad.com – Mark Siegel

3 truths about book reviews:

1) No piece of writing is universally beloved, so as wonderful as it is to receive 4 and 5-star reviews, they are not the ones that will help you become a better writer. The 2 and 3-star reviews are more likely to provide clues to your writing deficiency, especially if it’s a recurring criticism.

2) It’s a waste of time to engage with online trolls, people who post ridiculous comments because … well, because they can. These are reviewers who like to push their own agendas on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. Remember, a reader can write a negative review for ANY reason, even just to be mean.

3) Reviews, good or bad, are not a measurement of your abilities as a writer. The actions and opinions of others DO NOT define your work.

reviewersBad reviews sting, but they don’t have to sting for long.  

I’ve had my share of bad reviews, but I choose not to dwell on the negativity or take them personally. I don’t allow negative comments to derail me. After all, external feedback is not the reason I write. I do it because it’s my passion.

And though I don’t look to reviews as validation of my efforts, I do appreciate praise. Who doesn’t? I also appreciate honest reviews, when someone takes the time to tell me what is wrong with my book. I know this is more difficult to do, so most people won’t do it, and that’s okay too.

The truth is, writing reviews is not obligatory for readers. It’s not their job to review a book even if they LOVED it, even if they know it might help the author sell more books. As professionals, it’s important to ask for reviews but not to coerce them from readers. Some people may choose not to write reviews, for whatever reason.

review_1aSo do opinions from readers matter?

Yes, they do. Feedback should be sought. Beta readers, editors, critique partners are not the enemies; book reviewers are not the enemies. Learn from constructive criticism and ignore the troll-like comments.

As a professional, grow a thick skin, not one that will numb you to bad reviews, but one that will allow you to believe in your own strengths while working on what needs to be improved.

You don’t have to crumble at the first sign of a 1 or 2-star review.

Bad reviews are part of being an author and not within your control. How you handle them, though, is entirely within your control.

Whatever you do, don’t let someone else’s negativity stop you from writing.

~eden 

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40 Comments

Filed under Craft of Writing

40 responses to “Bad reviews and unprofessional behavior

  1. raymondbolton

    Although most of the reviews I’ve received are downright encouraging, I did receive a one star rating once. Although it stung at first, it seemed to bring everything else into a more realistic perspective. Perhaps I can make this clearer when I point out that every successful writer or entertainer have people out there who HATE them—The Beatles, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, George RR Martin, Donna Tartt—everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lisette Brodey

    Great blog, Eden. And yes, there doesn’t exist one of anything in the entire world that everyone will like. NOTHING.

    I have read reviews, not just of my work, but of other author’s work that have infuriated me. Not even so much because a reader didn’t like something, but the review reflected what the reader didn’t understand, or worse, what wasn’t even in the BOOK! Most authors I know have had bad reviews as well reviews that didn’t make sense (or weren’t even about their book!) To me, the worst thing one can do is publicly rant. It screams that you are unprofessional.

    One of the many benefits of having fellow authors as friends is the outlet it provides for venting. But to do it in public is just wrong. I have seen exceptions, but even in those cases, it is not about throwing a tantrum, but setting the record straight. I won’t get into that here. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lisette, I hear you. I’m pretty sure a few readers have read someone else’s book before they reviewed mine! Fully agree it’s great to have author friends to rant to, at least other writers can relate. It’s the instances when writers have reamed out their readers on their own author pages, or attacked particular reviewers like stalkers. In this age of public social media and news going viral — that type of behavior unforgiveable and just invites trouble.

      Honestly, if a few people’s negative opinions puts an author over the deep end, I have to wonder about that author’s true motivation to write.

      Thanks for the comment, hon. xox
      eden

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Well said! Never let yourself be discouraged. Learn from criticism and move on, and never let negativity get the better of you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re brilliant Christoph. You encourage, write reviews, and you write a hell of a lot of great books! You are one of the most positive people I know. Thank you for your support always, xox
      eden

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Karin

    Thanks for sharing this article and for your thoughts as well. I had never quite thought of reviews in those ways or realized the extreme of a good or bad review. Thanks Eden

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karin! So great to see you here and thank you for your thoughts. It’s always helpful to know what readers feel. The gap between readers and writers really isn’t that big when there is a dialogue. Really appreciate your comment. xox
      eden

      Like

  5. Lance

    Thank you for the recommendation . I have publishing’s block right now. I’m writing a lot just not hitting publish on the internet or whatever.

    I’ll track this book down and I’m about to read your latest, which I’m sure is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Lance, oh my goodness, so great to see you. Publishing’s block, wow…I think Pressfield’s book might help. The first section talks a lot about ‘resistance.’ Thank you for being a great reader and supporter, xox
    eden

    Like

  7. Something must be in the air, I’ve had two separate conversations about reviews and professional behavior in the last 24 hours… Thanks for putting your thoughts out there on this — often tender — subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I once had regular interactions with another writer at a writer’s forum- she’d published a couple of barely thrown together biographies of musicians that you might find in a remainder bin, and was pretty much despised by fans of both musicians. I’ve seen her attack bad reviews at Amazon with a vicious streak that doesn’t surprise me, given that I’d been attacked by her as well in those forums. It’s very, very unprofessional of her to do that in a review, but very fitting with her personality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting point William. Readers who attack will do it for whatever reasons. As an author, there is not much I can do about their motivations. What works for me to come out of it as unscathed as possible is to ignore this type of vitriol. I’m not fighting with a vendor to have a review removed, and I think that type of venom says more about the writer of the review, than the author / author’s book.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing, hon. xox
      eden

      Like

  9. justinbog

    I enjoyed reading this post today, eden. And all the comments too: one for all, I hope, since I feel similar about negative reviews. I’ve even mentioned some of the humdingers to you. Startling bad ratings or reviews for books I love I’m beginning to try to find “interesting” and this helps me not take them personally. I imagine the person rating the book, surviving a spiteful upbringing, perhaps, or the loneliness of readers who must deal with their own creative impulses, and often fail as well—leading to their poor ratings of a book that sparks jealousy, or possibly a religious doctrine, strict in its judgement, forcing the penitent to ding a sinful author’s book with a low rating. Can’t take any of their actions personally, so I shrug it off, and begin to write another story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re amazing Justin. I think you’ve got the foundation for a great plot right there! The self-doubting wannabe-writer who writes bad reviews and eventually gets himself killed by an author.
      Hmmm … 😉
      xox
      eden

      Like

  10. I don’t solicit reviews, and, to be honest, only read them if they are pointed out to me. Everyone reads a different book. Many books I love, others hate, and vice versa. I have never used reviews to choose books, and I doubt I ever will! My only goal is to improve with each piece I write, and to feel good about my work.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Sessha! I use reviews as an initial marker to choose a book, but it is not the only criteria. More often than not, I’m reading books that were recommended to me, so there is already the ‘word of mouth’ aspect that gives the book a boost even if the reviews are not great.

    As an author, we have some idea of how reviews work, and know of their reliability or lack thereof. I think for general readers, it’s good to have some way of gauging whether a book will appeal to them. Many might not take the time to read individual reviews or the “Look Inside” feature that provides a much more in-depth way of determining if the book is a right fit for them.

    As for improving and feeling good about your work – High five to that! xox
    eden

    Like

    • I guess I look at it this way – for decades I chose books based on cover/blurb/sample, after all, reviews were few and far between until on-line buying became big a few years ago. Why change a system that worked so well for me for so long. When I add to it not knowing the reviewer’s tastes/prejudices/ reading habits I fear that going on reviews is more likely to end up in disappointment than sticking with my tried and true methods!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I understand fully. I do believe the electronic age has made us so dependent on others’ opinions before we make a purchase of ANY KIND, and that includes a book – sometimes for 99 cents! And the fact that readers hold so much power to be able to return the book within a week (don’t get me started on this one), but anyway … your method works for you and that’s great. When I go to a brick and mortar store and buy a print book, I’ll flip to the summary and see if it appeals to me and usually pick it up if the price is reasonable.

        I’m not one of those buyers who needs to solicit multiple opinions before I make a ‘buy/no-buy’ decision, but many people are, and it’s because there are so many opinion polls, forums, etc, so it is possible to do so.

        In a way, it’s good. In a way, we’ve enabled people to be indecisive about the smallest of purchases.

        xo
        eden

        Like

  12. Wonderful post, Eden–bravo! As career novelists, we must remember many readers have a favorite genre. If they stumble upon our books and we don’t write stories of which they’re familiar, the review may reflect nothing more than a quick reaction to unfamiliar work. Of course, the great reviews always provide impetus to make one’s next release the best work, ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Christine for your comment. You’re right about genre differences. Some readers probably need a bit more guidance to make a ‘buy’ decision, particularly if they are trying out a new author or genre.

      As authors, it’s always encouraging when readers tell us they love our books and say so in a review. Writing is often a solitary profession, so hearing from readers provides me with a temperature check. Am I on the right track? Do they like what I’m doing?

      Positive, honest reviews make me feel like a reader wants me to continue writing. For me, that is one of the best feelings as an author. 😀

      eden

      Like

      • On a related note, we should remember that many avid readers don’t award 5-star reviews often. Some of the reviews with the highest praise will arrive with 4-stars. And 1-star reviews? They’re rarely helpful. A reader posting “I didn’t like it” doesn’t give enough information for the next reader to make a buying decision.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, the number of stars don’t always correspond with what is said. I’ve seen some readers rave about the book and only give it 3 stars. Just goes to show some reviewers are more conservative and some more generous.
          Thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge, Christine,
          eden

          Like

  13. Nice post Eden! I love Steven Pressfield and have read everything he’s written…except this book! Gates of Fire is my favorite. I’ll have to pick this one up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay! Thanks Mary, so many people know of him. He has a good reputation, and he’s obviously learned many things while trying to find his own way. Great that he’s sharing it. Appreciate the comment, xo
      eden

      Like

  14. Wow, girlfriend! Did you read my piece where I go on and on about Pressfield’s book? http://tobyneal.net/2015/04/24/lessons-from-life-drawing-3/
    I am doing a hard thing and blogging about it. Just read from this book to a high school when talking about Developing Creativity. It’s such a handly psychological construct to externalize resistance. It’s helped me a LOT as you can tell! xox Toby Neal

    Liked by 1 person

    • What? No way, I’ll have to go read your post Toby! What are the chances we both refer to Pressfield? My friend who lent me the book is a screenwriter and loves all his work and just decided to drop the book off to me last week. Such a quick easy read but full of good information for creatives.

      The first part about ‘resistance’ was huge for me too, and you are the epitome of someone whom I thought would not need that piece, but it is amazing how reading it helps to clear the cobwebs that build up over time. Resistance – Be gone! xox
      eden

      Like

  15. Although bad author behaviour is not confined to self-publishing, I do believe it is more prevalent there because a) there is no publisher to tell the author it’s a bad idea and to threaten to revoke a contract for bad behaviour and b) a larger number of self-published authors have not gone through as many hard knocks. Many self-published authors have never been rejected by a publisher because they came to publishing after self-publishing became the ‘in thing’. Those of us who have been rejected learned to accept the criticism and to work harder to improve ourselves, instead of jumping to the conclusion that the reader didn’t ‘get’ our work. This is not to say these self-published authors can’t also grow a thick skin, only that many have not been forced to it and equally don’t seek it out with beta readers and critique groups.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Ciara, What you say makes sense. Just because it’s so much easier to get into publishing now, so many more writers have jumped on the bandwagon, some without the skills to write, market, and behave like a professional on a public forum.

    I sought trad publishing and was rejected and quickly moved to indie, but I certainly worked in the ‘real’ world long enough to know how to behave.
    Just because one ‘can’ publish does not necessarily mean one ‘should.’

    There may not be a watchdog for self-pubbed authors, but their product should still be the best they can produce. And I agree with you, this isn’t always the case.

    Thanks for your comment, xo
    eden

    Like

  17. What a wonderful and smart post, Miss Eden. Such sound advice for writers at any place in their journey.

    I crumbled when I got a couple of 1 star reviews, especially because there were no comments for me to see as feedback once I stopped moping around.

    But looking back, I’m happy to have a couple of those. Now the variety shows I’m not paying people off for book reviews. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  18. So true Britt! No matter how great a book is, how loved by all the big critics, they will have a cross-section of 1,2,3,4,5 star reviews. And this does show it’s not just friends/family reviewing the book. Almost a relief in a way that it’s attracting readers outside of the author’s immediate circle.

    So happy you don’t mope around anymore! xox Happy Anniversary again!
    eden

    Like

  19. Wonderful post, Eden. Bad reviews do hurt, but I take them as they come. The only ones I truly dislike are when it’s obvious that the reader only read part of one of my books. But I guess that’s life and the misery of writing for a living.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Naomi

    Reblogged this on The Reader In the Tower and commented:
    So I know I’m horribly behind in reading and reviewing, but I’ll be onto that in the next few days. In the meantime, I found this post really interesting: “The truth is, writing reviews is not obligatory for readers. It’s not their job to review a book even if they LOVED it, even if they know it might help the author sell more books. As professionals, it’s important to ask for reviews but not to coerce them from readers. Some people may choose not to write reviews, for whatever reason.”

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Eden, this is a very healthy perspective. We can’t grow if all we hear is “good job”, but it also takes a lot of maturity to receive “criticism’ with an open heart and keep striving to be a stronger and stronger writer. Thank you, great piece! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris

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