Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dealing Positively with Negative Reviews by Michaelbrent Collings

Okay, so, you’re published.  Your book is “out there.”  It’s “in the world” and “up for grabs.”  People can “read it” and “peruse it” at their “leisure” (I like quotation marks). 

And at first, things seem all right.  Fairly predictable.  The book doesn’t become an instant bestseller, but it is selling.  Your mom bought it, and your dad bought two copies, and so did that slightly weird person who sits in your closet and mumbles a lot.  Or maybe that’s just what happens to me.

Regardless, your work is now on its own.  Living, breathing, and (hopefully) being passed from hand to hand by readers who are – slowly but surely – going to become Your People.  Your Followers.  Your Army.

And then it happens.  Among the four- and five-star reviews that have made you feel higher than a kite on meth, suddenly this rears its ugly head on Amazon:


I picked this boock up because of all the good revuews.  But I guess the revuews were all dun by, like, the writers’ parents and stuff.  Because the book stunk.  It stunk a lot.  It stunk like a dead skunk that has severe dysintary and then drowns in its own poop.  Also, the author is a ca-ca doodie head and probably has lice and kix baby seals and stuff.  Dont read this book, it will give you cooties.

- 1 star

You read it.  And the questions start.  Is my work really that bad?  How could this reviewer have so completely missed the point of my book?  Where did he learn to spell?  What if I do have lice?

And, most urgently… how do I respond?

To that last, I have three little words: Ig.  Nore.  It.

Okay, maybe that’s four words, I don’t know.  I’m a writer, not an accountant.

Seriously, though, when you get a review like the above, you must simply rejoice within yourself.  Why?  Because it means your book is being read.  It’s getting out into the world, meeting new people, getting beyond the closed circles of your family, friends, and writers groups.  It will inevitably meet up with people that hate it – because it’s not their style, because you did an objectively terrible job writing the piece (it does happen), or even for no good reason at all.

And like any good parent, you will have the urge to rush to your “child’s” defense.  RESIST.

There are really only two likely outcomes if you choose to wage war on the review or (even worse) on the reviewer himself. 

1)      You try to show the review is “wrong.”  The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you.  You now have a dedicated enemy who will attack you at every possible turn, giving you low ratings wherever possible and urging his/her friends and family to avoid your work like a sack of rotten meat.  You have just accomplished nothing more nor less than magnifying the effect and range of the viewer’s bile and hatred.  Result: you lose.

2)     You try to show the review is wrong.  The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you.  You mobilize your friends and followers and fight back.  A comment war ensues!  You beat back the scummy, evil, poor-spelling reviewer.   He/she is silenced forever.  Huzzah!  But wait… those comments are there forever.  And you look like nothing more nor less than a prima donna bully.  This will keep people from buying your books in perpetuity.  Result: you lose.

Of the two, the second is gratifying to the author, but far more damaging.  I am friends with a great many authors, some of them legitimately Famous People.  And occasionally one of them will get their undies in a wad over some disparaging comment made re their work and will mobilize their fans to attack.  The fans attack.  Or some of them.  Some don’t.  Some become “un”fans, turned off by the author’s childishness.  And though maybe Famous People can afford to lose fans, the average author just can’t.

An example: my most recent novel, Darkbound, just came out.  It’s a deeply disturbing horror novel about six strangers who get on a subway train that turns out to go everywhere BUT where they want it to.  When it was released, a very eminent horror review site called Hellnotes wrote up a stellar review.  So did several other review sites.  A friend who had received an advance copy sent me a note saying he was… well… less than enamored of it.  It was too dark, too violent.  Worried, no doubt, about typical author ego, he asked what my response would be if he posted such a review.

My response: “Do it!”  People have a right to know others’ thoughts.  The fact that this reviewer didn’t like Darkbound as much as he had liked other books I’d written was a bummer.  But it didn’t mean the end of the world, and insisting that he love everything about my work, all the time, would be not merely ridiculous, but counterproductive.

The reviews of our work will at times be insightful, helpful, warming.  And sometimes it will be shallow tripe that looks like it was probably written in crayon by a five-year-old struggling against some weird form of Tourrette Syndrome.  Both are part of being a writer.  Don’t respond to either (even the good ones – that can be a bit “stalky” and can also mess with your fan base).  If you want to interact with fans, get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or stand on a box in Hyde Park.

But leave the reviews – and reviewers – alone.  Ig.  Nore.  Them.

It is three words.  I counted with my fingers.

Reprinted with permission.

Michaelbrent Collings has written numerous bestselling novels, including his latest novel  His wife and mommy think he is a can that is chock-full of awesome sauce.  


  1. I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope to see you again commenting on posts.

  2. I couldn't agree more. As a book reviewer, there is nothing I hate more than authors arguing with me. I lost a friend because I wrote a 3 star review where I presented concerns about her portrayal of the character, about how the story progressed, my doubts about the growth of the character and her capability of sustaining said growth.

    This is a sample of a message I received from said author and an example of what NOT to do as I'll never review another of her books again. I'll also never promote another of her books, which I do quite often for my favorite writers.

    Hi Danielle,

    My book sales stopped cold today, and I didn't know why until I saw your review. I'm so hurt. My family relies on the meager income from my book sales as my husband is out of work, so when sales stop cold, it's immediately obvious (and very hard to take). I didn't realize you didn't like the book that I'd gifted to you. I'm glad you expressed your honest opinion, but I'm confused as to why you thought the character was bigoted, which means racist (FYI - no it doesn't - Danielle). I had two friends email me today after seeing your review and say they wouldn't be buying the book if it was indeed racist. I was horrified. ... I taught in the inner city for years and have African American people in my family, so if my book in any way is racist, then I'd like to know where and how. I'm horrified and appalled that it could have read that way.

    I know that with any book there will be negative reviews. Everyone has different taste, and I respect everyone's right to write their honest (and differing) opinions. But I wish you would have emailed me first so I could have been prepared for the review, or so I could have explained the characters and the conscious choices I made within each chapter to show *** growth and character arc. It would have meant a lot since I deeply respect your opinion and your input. Reviews do affect sales and lives. I am glad that you at least liked ***. I'm a dog lover, and I'd hoped he read well. At least I have that to comfort me right now as I lick my wounds. :( I would've hated to think I got that aspect wrong, too.

    I am grateful that you took the time to write the review, though, no matter how hurtful and detrimental it might be. I'm glad for the three stars. It could have been worse (and in some ways, I'm wondering why you gave it three stars at all, although the headline of your review makes it seem like it could be a four or five star review... either way, it's confusing). … It was my driving motivation for writing it, and to have that aspect so misread is both disheartening and demoralizing. Obviously, I failed in what I intended to do with this book.

    Now, I can understand readers misunderstanding my use of the word bigot in the review, but a writer? The character in the story WAS bigoted. For no reason, she hated certain people and groups of people based solely on perception instead of getting to know them.

    Though the comment was made in private, it was a very bad idea. Not to mention, the review drove a great deal of controversy regarding the story and I have had countless people comment on my review of her book, usually to disagree with my point of view so it is likely that my review wouldn't matter that much in the long run.

    This is hardly the only example I have in my limited experience as a book reviewer, sadly. I was called a pedant once because I refused to review a book due to excess editing mistakes in the sample I read. I have had people argue with me, saying that the book was professionally edited. I have had people practically cry through email when they see the private critique after I've finished reviewing. I've even had an author try to emotionally blackmail me into changing a review because I wanted to put in how poorly edited it was.

    In closing, be professional. Otherwise, I'll lose all respect for you.

    1. Danielle, thanks so much for sharing your experience. Writing reviews for friends and authors you know well can indeed be very tricky. I've stopped reviewing books for friends. There are so many books out there and I get so many requests, I can afford to be picky about which books I agree to review. If a sample is badly edited and has typos, then the book is never a go.

  3. I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!

    1. Hi Marilou, thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you around.


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