Why I’m Excited That My Book Finally Got Bad Reviews

Anything to do with book publishing and promotion is a challenge, whether you’re leaping through the hoops of traditional publishing methods or putting elbow grease into self-publishing. As for me, I took the self-publishing path because it suited my needs. I published early this year on Smashwords, and I followed up by publishing through Amazon in the summer.

I’ve been playing the long-and-slow game since March. I’ve been seeking connections, looking for ways to reach the target audience, and shamelessly requesting reviews. I even memorized a passage of the book and performed it in the hallway at BlogHer ’13.

I put so much time and effort into promotion that I got burnt out by the end of summer. My fuel ran low. There’s nothing surprising or wrong with that — it’s just a normal part of the process. In case you’re a fellow struggling author, let me repeat that: Running low on energy or motivation is normal. It doesn’t mean the game is over. It’s simply the internal challenge of promoting a book (as opposed to the external challenge of reaching readers). Sometimes it’s necessary to take a break, regroup, and then get back to work.

So I’ve been resting and recharging. However, this morning I needed the Amazon URL for my book, and while I was on the page to copy the URL, I noticed that I had new reviews. A couple were good, but two were one-star slams.

As I read them, my eyes got big. I felt the corners of my mouth starting to stretch and lift. And then I laughed with delight. I finally got my first negative reviews, and it happened when I wasn’t even looking!

In case my reaction seems a confusing or even downright deranged, let me explain. When I started my book vacation, I was down. I thought that my book was too far hidden, tucked away so far into a dark corner of the Internet that I couldn’t shine enough light on it to make it visible. Readers can’t read what they can’t find. But, but, if my book can receive both bad and good reviews from the vast reaches of the web, I’m on the right track.

Receiving those reviews made me feel like a real author, half a year after first publication.

The bad reviews are motivation to go out and find the right audience so I can get the good reviews. This is opportunity. This is…exactly what I needed! I found a new source of fuel.

To all authors and authors-to-be who have concerns or fears about bad reviews: You WILL get bad reviews. No book can be right for everyone, which means there’s someone out there who’s going to call your book a flop. The bad reviews that will come your way won’t be a surprise or a shock when you see them coming. And the good reviews will always be a delight.

There’s always another reader out there waiting to fall in love with your book. You can’t reach that person without effort, and you might have to cross some bridges with trolls under them along the way.

As my theatre professor used to say, “No news is bad news.” That is to say, even bad news is good news because it means someone is talking about your work. Utter lack of any coverage or discussion, though, means an empty void.

When working to fill that void, an author must accept good and bad alike.

That doesn’t mean it’ll always be easy to get bad reviews. They can be rough. So here are my five suggestions for what to do if bad reviews get you down:

5. See whether there’s anything valuable in the bad review that you can use to improve your writing in the future. If there isn’t, maybe the reviewer needs to work on his or her reviewing skills.

4. If you’re a mystery or horror novelist, write the reviewer’s grizzly death scene. Oh heck, feel free to write it even if you aren’t a mystery or horror novelist.

3. Look up your favorite book(s) or author(s). Read through a couple of the negative reviews. Remember that even your most beloved stories have faced bad reviews. (This tip was suggested by my author friend, Linda Morris.)

2. Conversely, think of a book you loathe. Go read some positive reviews for it. Remember that everyone has different tastes.

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