Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why a Bad Review is Not the End of the World

Getting negative reviews is never fun. Here you have this story that you worked hard to write and get published (by whatever means) and here comes this random person who doesn't understand the Process who tears your story--your baby--apart. It's tough. It hurts.

Over the weekend, I got my first two-star review on Goodreads, for my novel Heart of Steel. Two of them, actually... one of them from InD'Tale Magazine. Now, to put this in perspective, this is out of 19 total ratings, and my average rating is still 3.75 stars.

Still, it stings. This is a fact of any writer's life, and why so many of us are terrified to release our work into the wild because What If People Don't Like It? Heart of Steel is actually the first novel I ever wrote, but I sat on it until after Sheep's Clothing was released because of this fear. Heart of Steel isn't a conventional love story. People who like conventional love stories wouldn't impressed, and this was clearly the case with at least one of the ratings.

And that's okay.

But why is it okay? Don't they understand what genius my story is?

Probably not, and nothing requires them to.

Reviews and ratings on places like Goodreads and Amazon hold power, but not the sort of power an author might thing it does. I've seen people (not naming names) offering to exchange five-star reviews. I've also heard of websites (again, not naming names) that sell five-star reviews. This is cheating, and largely frowned upon by people who want to get by on their own worth rather than paying for fake accolades.

Complicating matters is a recent rash of the opposite problem: review trolls who careen through Amazon and Goodreads giving 1-star reviews at random, just to be jerks. Fortunately, both sites allow you to report the trolls so their douchebaggery doesn't affect your score.

But what about the others? I hear you cry.

Well, all things being equal, more reviews = GOOD THING, because it means more people are reading your book. If you wrote a good story, their feedback will reflect this. If they just weren't that into your story... well, their comments will likely help you improve as a writer. Reviews that aren't entirely stellar cal also help your legitimacy as a published author, since it proves that you're not stuffing the ballot box with people who would praise you as the next coming of Ernest Hemingway even if you wrote absolute dreck. (Not calling your stuff dreck, but I've read some bad books that got rave reviews.)

Besides, bad reviews are not about you, the author. They indicate that the reader didn't like your book. Maybe your choice of topic isn't right up their alley. Maybe your writing style doesn't inspire them to read more. Maybe you stepped out of your usual genre and it wasn't a resounding success. What matters is they read your book. They gave it a chance and decided it wasn't for them. Not everyone shares your taste in stories, but hopefully enough people do in order to build a decent fanbase.

Eventually, the good reviews will outnumber the bad, and you will feel vindicated. If not, you will have learned something

Both results are just fine.