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An author’s take on reviews

Bad Reviews: Do they make or break authors?

I’ve recently come across a number of posts by authors on social media feeling hurt by negative reviews. The temptation is to want to hit back, have the reviews removed (not going to happen), or be reassured by others that the reviewer is the enemy which is not the case. 

When I received my first one-star review, like so many authors before me, I was devastated. How can someone dismiss my work out of hand when it took months and months to create something decent enough to put out there? It turns out, quite easily in fact because mostly it’s not personal. It was amazing how, in spite of loads of positive reviews, all I could see was that one-star – I read it over and over – it was almost like self-mutilation. Many authors respond in the same way because we are seemingly programmed to focus on the negatives!

I have since realised that bad reviews are quite acceptable and the one and two star reviewer is entitled to his/her opinion, after all that’s what the review process is all about. Not only that, but when I got things in perspective, I realised I had arrived as an author. Every author has one-star reviews at some point.

The reality is that not everyone is going to like your book. Once an author puts their work out there, its in the public domain and someone, somewhere is not going to like it. Some reviewers will be just plain rude about it. 

Since that first low star review, I have developed a thicker skin in terms of reviews but if the reviewer offers any useful nuggets of information as to why they didn’t like the book rather than comments like, ‘utter drivel’, I will try to improve the next book. 

Thankfully, the good reviews far outweigh the bad which means that the majority of readers enjoy my work and I assume that’s the same for other authors. On balance, if someone has taken the time to write a review, I am pleased they felt strongly enough about the book to do so, no matter what the star rating. I have read books that are bestsellers with hundreds of five star reviews and hated them so why shouldn’t someone be entitled to dislike mine?

There are trolls out there, and some unscrupulous competitors or friends of competitors who might leave a poor review because they misguidedly believe it helps their own or a friend’s book but these people are few and far between, and pretty obvious. It only takes a minute to look at their reviews and discover that all books in the genre receive one-star reviews except for one! 

Some reviewers are just plain negative with a reviewing average of one to two stars, perhaps they have exacting standards or perhaps they are unhappy people, who knows? Whatever the reason, it’s not my problem and I will go on seeking to improve my craft.

I have occasionally discovered a flaw in my writing if a consistent theme pops up in the lower star reviews, this makes them helpful. I would be distrusting of any book that only has high star, good reviews because it’s just not possible to please everybody.

When I see a one-star review these days, it’s less of a dagger through the heart and more of a sigh moment, sometimes I have to laugh at the comments! One thing I never do is to respond or engage with the reviewer. Firstly because it would look like sour grapes and secondly, it could also seem like I’m stalking reviewers. Neither do I contact Amazon or other platforms and request the review be removed. Why should it be? I think the only time I would do this is if the review was in breach of Amazon’s terms and conditions. 

Instead of focusing on the negatives, we need to read all the positive reviews of our books and realise that the majority of readers appreciate and enjoy our work. This is what motivates me to write more and to put my work out there for criticism and for praise. 

Don’t let bad reviews break you, let them make you a better author and a stronger person.

Dawn Brookes is author of the Rachel Prince Mystery series and the Hurry up Nurse series of memoirs.