Writes and Wrongs: On Bad Reviews

Best-selling author Shiloh Walker pens this bi-monthly column of online advice for writers. Walker is a full-time author who is published in both e-book and traditional print formats. Now she shares her experience and advice to help aspiring and published authors figure out the "Writes and Wrongs" of the digital world.

In high school, I think, a friend of mind tagged me with the description brutally blunt. Yeah, that's me. You know how you’ve got different friends…the kind of friend who will tell you how amazing you look, no matter what? And then you’ve got the friend who will honestly tell you that the dress you’re wearing makes you look like hell? I’m that friend. I won’t do it to be mean, seriously.

But I’m blunt and today, I'm going to be blunt. Be warned. If you're home and able, grab some wine or a margarita.

We are talking reviews.

Bad ones. If you write for a living, you're going to get them.

Are they fun? Of course not. Fun or not, we are going to get them. They are just part of the job. Just like edits are part of it, just like promo is a part of it, just like a lot of other things are a part of it.

If you write, you’re going to get a bad review at some point.

My advice? Suck it up. Deal with it. Eat some chocolate. Then? Move on. Because guess what…getting a bad review basically means one thing. Your book didn't work for that reviewer. That's all. It doesn't mean you suck as a writer. It means that reviewer didn't connect with your book.

A review is one person’s opinion of your book, in the end. Have you loved every book you ever read? 

Of course not. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have read books that we either just didn’t care for, or that we loathed, and hated.

Now you might be thinking…well, just because I hated it didn’t mean I had to go and tell othersabout it. That’s true. And maybe that’s what works for you. But something a lot of writers don’t seem to get is this…reviews, in the end, aren’t so much done for us. They are for readers. Yes, we can use the good reviews—the good reviews are wonderful promo tools. There is no denying that.

But reviews are for readers. They let a reader decide if this is the right book for them. If the only reviews they find are the happy-go-lucky-this-book-was-all-love-and-roses reviews, well, it’s hard to decide. And although it’s been said, bad reviews do sell books. I’m actually more likely to buy a book based off a bad review than a good review. A lot of readers do the same.

Of course, none of this applies to those who love to go on places like Amazon and make comments like… OMG, this book was sooooo stupid, and the author is sooooo stupid, and I just know I can write something waaaayyyy better, and you should try X author instead. Guys, when you read the reviews like that, yes, they might want to make you grit your teeth and scream, but they really don’t make that big an impact on the readers—other than irritation. Try checking out some of the comments left on reviews like that, sometimes. So these reviews aren’t even worth time it takes to read them, much less the time it takes to get upset.

Back to the critical ones—the well-thought out ones, the ones that seem like that hit every single last plot point. Ones that hit on areas you barely even remember writing and you’re scratching your head wondering…what

Then you realize what, and you start squirming around, getting uncomfortable. Did you not explain well enough? Did they not get your meaning? 

Maybe it’s something different, maybe they think you didn’t research, and you know you did—maybe it’s an area you understand or even specialize in. 

We live in the age of the internet and plenty of people think that means that makes them an expert…but maybe you work in that field and you know you know your stuff when you wrote that.

Should you try to defend yourself? Maybe you think if you go out there and try to 'explain'...? Defend yourself...? Whatever? Will it change things?

Eh, it’s possible…but then it’s also very possible it will just make it worse. Sometimes, you just can’t convince people. And when it comes to their perception, you can’t change that. You can’t fight how somebody perceives something, and you can’t fight their opinion—nor should you. When you fight somebody’s opinion, you’re basically telling them they aren’t entitled to that opinion. Is that the message you intend to hand out? Probably not.

But very often, that’s the message they hear. And you can’t change that, either.

You’re going to get bad reviews. Be prepared for it. And don’t look at it as if…but that book is my baby…no. It’s not. That book is your job. Yes, you labored over it, worked for it. But did you go to Lamaze for it? Are you willing to throw yourself in front of a bullet for it, die for it? Are you going to stay up at nights when the book is sick or running a fever? It’s not a child…it’s your job and you need to disconnect. Your life will be easier for it, trust me.

- Shiloh Walker

Check back for the next installment of Shiloh Walker's column in two weeks. Seeking more specific advice? You can ask the author any questions about the "writes and wrongs" of online behavior here. Your question might even get featured in an upcoming article. And of course, you can also follow the Shiloh Walker online daily at her website, on her Facebook page and via Twitter.