The Silver Lining of Bad Reviews

by Jami Gold on July 3, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Clouds with a glint of sunlight and text: Are Bad Reviews *Always* Bad News?

Rejection in some form or other is part of life. From the Christmas present Santa didn’t bring us (despite our begging) to the cute guy/girl who wasn’t interested in us, rejection happens and it’s no fun. Add those emotions to a project that we invest a lot of ourselves in and spend a lot of time on—writing—and we’re bound to be upset.

Whether we pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing, rejection is a given for writers. That certainty is especially evident when we consider that rejection includes the usual rejections from agents or editors who don’t love our work, the potential buyers who decide against clicking the buy button, and the negative reviews that will accumulate.

Since rejection is a given, we can’t avoid it. Our choice simply comes down to how we’ll handle it. Will we let rejection hold us back, or can we see it as a sign that we’re doing something right?

Rejection Isn’t Personal, Really

Deep down, we know reading is subjective. We know that with every trendy book “everyone” loves but we don’t care for. We know that with every book on our shelves we haven’t yet made an effort to read. We know that with every free book we don’t download because we know it wouldn’t be worth our time.

(Just the other week, I received an email from Klout, offering to send me a free advance copy of an upcoming release. (The fact that sentence—along with their assumption that I have “clout”—exists in my life is crazy, but whatever.) I turned it down because I knew the book would be a “hate read” for me due to the premise, and I don’t have energy for that.)

Despite knowing all of that “reading is subjective” stuff, we still see authors take bad reviews personally. If that attitude results in public complaining, the situation usually turns ugly.

Business 101: We Can’t Appeal to Everyone

Business 101 states that it’s easier to start a company by appealing to a small group of people—a niche—and growing bigger over time. I’ve seen countless advice tidbits along these lines: “Don’t try to appeal to everyone. Concentrate on a niche target audience first.”

This advice recognizes how it’s easier to keep a small, focused group happy. If we and our readers are all focused on the same thing, such as our love for such-and-such story trope or sub-subgenre, we don’t have to worry about appealing to those who don’t love that aspect. We won’t be tempted to split our focus on other story elements.

Many start-up businesses fail because they try to grow too big, too fast. Their limited time, money, and attention is too divided to do any aspect very well.

In the writing world, this might mean that we focus on one series or genre at a time until each one is rolling and successful enough to require less of our energy to keep the momentum going. Once we have a solid base, then we can look to expand into other markets, other niches, other series or genres.

The Problem with Expanding Beyond Our Niche

Yet the rejection problem accelerates when we appeal to those outside our initial niche. Wait, appealing to others is the cause of rejection?

Yep, if we’re appealing to only those in our initial niche market, our readers are more likely to have similar expectations, and thus be satisfied with our stories. Hello, positive reviews! However, that means we’re also limited in our potential readership.

On the other hand, if we’re appealing to those outside our initial niche market, our readers are more likely to have varying expectations, and thus have wildly different levels of satisfaction. Some might be very dissatisfied—and we need to brace ourselves for negative reviews.

We see this in the business world too. A USA Today article by Bruce Horovitz quotes Forrest Morgeson, director of research at the American Customer Satisfaction Index, on why McDonald’s ranks lowest in customer satisfaction among fast-food chains:

“”With size comes a much more diverse group of customers,” says Morgeson. “As your customers get more diverse, it gets more difficult to satisfy them all.””

Notice the message there? McDonald’s is the biggest fast-food chain, so it’s a given that their customer base is harder to keep happy.

The Bigger We Are, the More Will Be Unhappy

There’s a reason experienced, multi-published authors say that receiving bad reviews is a rite of passage. On Twitter, Yasmine Galenorn shared this truth about bad reviews:

“If you can’t handle bad reviews when you’re starting out, wait till you have a lot of books on the shelves. IT GETS WORSE. #dealwithit”

Laura Anne Gilman added her take:

“The moment your books go beyond a dedicated readership, you’ll get negative reactions, too. All part of the gig.”

Bad reviews are often a sign that your readership is expanding beyond your dedicated fans. This is usually a good thing. Yes, some of those outside our target niche won’t like our work, but some will like it.

Growth Brings Pains and Opportunities

That’s the silver lining. Yes, we will face rejection and bad reviews, but many times those hits to our ego come with an expanded readership and opportunities. Some of those new readers will become just as dedicated as our original base.

If we’re not getting any bad reviews, that’s probably a sign we’re not reaching beyond our base yet. Maybe for some of us, that’s exactly what we want. Some authors are happy with a small-but-dedicated readership. I know some very niche authors who have zero interest in finding new readers. That’s not a bad attitude to have if it matches our goals.

But others do want to expand and grow. In that case, we have to be prepared for an increase in bad reviews. That doesn’t mean our story is “bad” and everyone else was just lying or coddling us before. Those new bad reviews simply mean that not everyone caught up in our expansion plans will be a good match for our writing.

That’s normal and part of the growing pains that come with growth of any kind. Writers aren’t immune.

If we’re trying to grow and expand, we should consider bad reviews a “badge of honor.” Be proud of those bad reviews. They’re evidence that we’re not letting fear of rejection hold us back, that we’re not being timid, and that we’re successfully reaching beyond our base to find new readers—some of whom will love us. *smile*

Do you struggle with feelings of rejection? Are some kinds of rejection harder to take than others? Do you agree that rejection is often a result of growth beyond the familiar and comfortable? Does that idea help rejection seem like less of a “bad” thing? (And don’t forget my 4th Blogiversary Contest!)

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37 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee July 3, 2014 at 6:57 am

Despite being active online (in fanfic and original fiction writing) for more than 12 years, I have yet to encounter a critic who’s as harsh as my family.

That said… Someone finding a story so worthless they want their 5 minutes back makes me cringe and wish I could give it to them, but my response isn’t exactly “This story must be terrible!” It’s more, “What did I do wrong, that someone so outside the target audience picked it up?”

Nah, I wail “This story is HORRIBLE!” over the ones I haven’t told anyone else about or that nobody else has seen yet. (Which is one of the many reasons I use Wattpad: Scenes I’m biting my nails about? Readers are loving. And, especially if I say, “I’m not sure how this turned out. What do you think?”, I get answers shortly after posting. :))

I’m actually pretty comfortable with my writing overall. I mainly get “Gah!” moments now and again, barring a panic attack. (Note that panic attacks aren’t normal for me—or at least they aren’t natural. Some of my triggers have already gone away, though I think I’ll always have a preference for sitting with my back to a corner.)

Now, if only I could figure out how to target specifically the audience(s) who’ll enjoy/appreciate/like what I write. 😀

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 10:45 am

Hi Carradee,

That’s a great question–how can we ensure our work is picked up by the “right” audience? I think some people from outside our targets will pick up our writing if we’re “big” enough. People want to check out what their friends are reading or gushing about.

However, barring the “recommendation” style of learning about us, others who come across our stories are more likely to check out our story blurbs, I’d think. So our blurb (and cover) can pull a lot of weight in setting reader expectations.

I’ve seen authors on Amazon include a few notes after the marketing-style blurb in the book description area, specifying if a book is a standalone or continuation of a series, its “spice” level (if it’s a romance), its length (if shorter than a novel), etc. All those–in essence–tell people “if you don’t like a story without a clear ending/with this level of spice/with this story length, don’t bother.”

Some people try to stay vague in their descriptions, so as to appeal to as many people as possible, but if story elements are likely to work against you with the “wrong” audience, I think it’s better to make them clear. I’ve seen too many “bad” reviews complain about something that could have been clear in the book description.

As I talked about in this post, we need to manage reader expectations as far as genre, themes, and marketing. And as I mention in this guest post I did, this gets even trickier when we mix genres. So believe me, I know this isn’t easy. 🙂

Hopefully others will share if they have other suggestions, because those links are all I’ve come up with so far. 😉 Thanks for the comment and great question!

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Carradee July 3, 2014 at 11:28 am

One problem is that I tend to be more focused on internal conflict rather than external conflict. Lots of psychology (unintentionally, but there) in my work.

So some folks read, for instance, Know Thy Frienemy, and pitch a fit about how Destiny doesn’t really do anything in that book, being more reactionary and struggling with internal “…I’m still alive?”—while others read it and go, “That is so accurate to how someone in her situation would probably respond!”

I plan to intentionally read some literary fantasy, one of these days, to see if it qualifies. I don’t know enough about the genre to be certain.

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Hi Carradee,

Interesting! And that’s a good point about how we have to be well-read in our genres, a) so we have better insight into the tropes and expectations of the genre, and b) so we can decide if our story is actually the genre we think it is. Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung July 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Hi Jami,

Just read your guest post on mixed genres. YES, my stories are ALMOST ALWAYS of mixed genres; I don’t understand how it’s possible to NOT mix genres! XD Or maybe my Muse just doesn’t like sticking to genre categories…

Hmm, looking at CreateSpace’s categories (since I’ll be using CreateSpace), you can only choose 1 category, though some categories let you choose subcategories. If I were to classify my novel as fully as I can, I would say it’s mainly romance and action, with plenty of comedy, some adventure, a tiny bit of fantasy, some horror, and some mystery. If I were free to choose two genres, I would just say romance and action, but alas I can only choose 1 genre on CreateSpace.

So, I’m deciding between:
1–Action & Adventure
2–Romance: Romantic Comedy
3–Romance: Paranormal or Fantasy (but there is SO LITTLE paranormal/ fantasy that I think maybe Romantic Comedy is more suitable)

For 1, there’s a lot of action in my novel (MANY fight scenes, and these people all learn martial arts, and the main setting is in a martial arts training camp, lol), yet there is only SOME (not a lot) of adventure. So I would worry about readers expecting constant adventure like the typical action & adventure story, and their being disappointed that I actually don’t have THAT much adventure in it. Also, I don’t want to neglect the romance part of it, since “action & adventure” makes the romance arc seem subordinate to the action/ adventure plot, whereas the romance arc is actually the more dominant plot, lol! (Or at least in MY mind…)

As for Romantic Comedy, this is my favorite “label/ category” at the moment, because so far, I think more than half or at least many of my scenes are rather lighthearted, though NOT ALWAYS outright funny, and my favorite scenes are the rom com scenes, lol. However, what I worry about is that the label “Rom Com” seems to ignore my other elements: adventure, action, fantasy, horror, mystery–especially action! Also, there are some people out there who really look down on romantic comedies because they sound like “soap opera fluff”, lol. 🙁

So argh!! I wish I could just write: Romance, Comedy, and Action! XD That would probably be the most accurate set of categories if I could choose three categories. Or at the very least, Romance & Action. Alas that romance and action have to be two separate genres….OTL

However, you make a good point about making our own labels within our blurb/ book description. 😀 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed when the book description completely misled me in making me expect something very different from what was in the book! Argh. So I hope my blurb will create the right expectations.

Haha, I’m afraid I’m one of those readers who can be a bit particular and specific about my “expectations”. So, for example, if the heroine mentions and compliments the hero (in her thoughts) for this particular ability or strength he has, I expect the hero to use this special ability at a huge/ crisis moment, so if he DOESN’T use this ability at all, or only uses it at a rather minor moment, then I’m disappointed, lol. Another example: If the heroine is a swashbuckling, kickass girl who is extremely good at fighting (she never loses a fight against anyone, and also saves the hero’s life), then I would be aghast and enormously disappointed if she submits to be the SECOND wife of the hero, ugh. How can she be perfectly happy with being a co-wife, with SHARING a husband with another woman??? Anyway, just my gripe against those one husband multiple wives systems, lol. But seriously, I expect kick-ass girls to be feminist and not succumb to misogynistic marriage systems like that, sigh.

However, not meeting my more particular expectations for a genre USUALLY won’t make me like the story less, unless it’s something as outrageous as that kick-ass heroine consents to sharing a husband with another woman type of expectation violation, lol.

Ooh, interesting tip with the worldbuilding to create expectations that our story will be different!

For your example of the original label: dystopian romance with steampunk elements, I was surprised that some readers thought the premise was too dark for a romance, since I thought “dystopian romance” implied VERY dark romance already. XDD But that just goes to show that different readers interpret the same labels differently, haha.

“Er, yeah, the world the heroine lives in is misogynistic to the extreme with sexual slavery and alluded-to rapes, so those readers have a point. But it has a happily ever after ending.”

Wow, this is almost the exact situation with my current story, lol. Except maybe not as extreme as yours. All of the MAIN male characters are very nonsexist and egalitarian, but in that society, I think the majority of males ARE chauvinistic and condescending towards women. 🙁 But there IS sexual slavery and alluded-to-rapes in my story too, but it also has a happily ever after ending…So yeah, mixed genres definitely! ^^

As for being well-read in our genres…I consider myself pretty well-read in fantasy and the martial arts genres. Not sure about romance because most of the romance I read were subplots to those fantasy/ martial arts plotlines, haha. And the only “pure romances” I’ve read were almost all literary classics…But hopefully these experiences from romance subplots and literary classic romances would be enough for me to judge my genres! I do think nevertheless that my main genre in my WIP is romance, as in I think the romance plot between the hero and heroine is THE big plot that threads through the entire book, and the development of their relationship is the most important part of my story, lol!

For the horror genre, I honestly haven’t read much beyond Stephen King’s The Shining and It, as well as some literary classic gothic novels and Edgar Allan Poe’s dark short stories, lol. So maybe—NOT that well-read in horror!

For mystery, I read SOME mysteries, but not a lot. But when I think mysteries, I’m thinking detective stories, yet I’m not sure all stories under the “mysteries” category HAVE to involve detective investigations. Perhaps stories with a lot of mysteries in them where the characters gradually find out the truth behind it all (without directly investigating the mysteries), count as mysteries too? I’m not sure what qualifies as a “mystery”, actually, haha.

Finally, for comedy, I haven’t read much explicitly comedic books except for the many funny children’s/ preteen books I’ve read in my childhood (mostly Jacqueline Wilson’s!) and some literary classics, I suppose. So most of the comedy I’ve absorbed were sideplots to the main fantasy/ sci-fi/ action & adventure plots…Thus, I’m not sure how familiar I would call myself with the comedy genre. It’s like my position with respect to the romance genre, lol. Yet INTUITIVELY I feel my story is mostly very comedic (really lighthearted and friendly and occasionally funny), and that it’s very romantic comedy-esque.

Despite the problem of picking just one genre, on Amazon, there isn’t any explicit mention of WHICH genre my book is in for my book’s webpage. So unless readers want to browse genre categories (which it seems not a lot of readers do), it doesn’t really matter what genre I choose on CreateSpace.

I think I’ll just rely on the book description and world building methods, then. ^^

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Hi Serena,

We can “tag” books with multiple keywords too, which can help them show up in searches. Also, CreateSpace is JUST print on demand, and you’ll probably be getting more sales with ebooks, so you’d want to check KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for their categories (and I believe they allow more than one).

I hope that helps! Otherwise your plan for being specific in the blurb sounds good. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Serena Yung July 4, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Oh yeah! True for the multiple keywords point. Mmm that would be nice if Kindle Direct Publishing allows more than one category! My problems with publishing on Kindle though, are: 1) One of my series includes a big map, which gets jumbled up as an ebook–not sure how to fix it; and 2) Chinese may not appear perfectly on everyone’s Kindle. My own Kindle replaced some of the Chinese characters with squares when I sent the MS Word docs to it…=_=

Well, maybe there will be a way around that somehow in the future.

But yeah, being specific in the blurb is the way to go! 😀

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Jami Gold July 4, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Hi Serena,

Ah, very true. Different alphabets and characters are probably a completely different issue for Kindle. The MS Word to Kindle direct translation isn’t perfect, but there are formatting steps we can do to make the translation cleaner. Or maybe off Kindle, an epub or PDF format would work for other distributors.

So much to learn! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Serena Yung July 3, 2014 at 7:06 am

Hey I really like this new perspective of yours. 😀

I didn’t explicitly think of that business tip of focusing on a niche, but that makes sense. Interestingly, I’m aware that some of my readers like my style of work more than others, yet I never try to only show my work to them—instead, I just let whoever’s interested in reading read! For instance, I’m very aware of some friends who are particularly fond of romance (me too! ^^), so they tend to be very positive about my work because nowadays my stories are very romance focused. However, I have some other friends who are either bored with romance or are CYNICAL about the possibility of true love, so I tend to get more negative reviews from them, lol. E.g. Because they think it’s unrealistic for a boy to be so devoted to his wife. Very cynical, eh? 🙁 If I were a man, I can totally envision myself as being really devoted to my wife too, though at the same time not neglecting the other parts of my life. Or maybe I’m just very romantic-minded. XD

Hmm, cool that negative reviews means that we’ve probably reached outside of our niche, and that it’s a badge of honor, a sign that we’ve expanded our readership and taken risks to grow as writers!

I also think negative reviews are good (as long as they are SPECIFIC in what they’re negative about), because they make you more aware of what different readers there are, and what different tastes there are in our world. We learn a lot from negative reviews because they show us many different perspectives that we might not have thought of. :D. This also helps us as writers, because sometimes we might agree with some of the negative comments or find that they are very reasonable, and DO want to edit your story according to that. There was a story where I was experimenting with a story telling method used prevalently in literary classics. Many of my readers disliked this method, and I found that I didn’t like this method that much either, so I do actually want to modify this, haha. I am much more tolerant of this method in the classics, though, but much less tolerant of this method in modern novels, including in my own books!

Even if I disagree with some negative feedback, they still give me clues as to what sorts of things would please these types of readers, and what things would please these other types, haha. So you know that if you write in x way or about x subject matters, group A will like it but group B will be unhappy. And vice versa if you write in y way or about subject y! So this gives you a feeling of power, the power to choose WHO you want to please, and that you have the KNOWLEDGE of how to please whom! lol.

And I also think your point about how getting negative reviews doesn’t mean your work is “actually bad” and that your previous positive reviewers were “coddling or lying” to you, is important to keep in mind! It really is subjective what good or bad means, so it’s dangerous when someone assumes that this ONE party of reviewers holds the absolute truth on how good the novel is, and dismisses other readers’ opinions. 🙁

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 11:02 am

Hi Serena,

Yes, I’ve heard so many stories of authors thinking the way to success is a huge, buzzed-about debut, and something about that idea always felt “off” to me. It was only after seeing these connections to the business world that I figured out why.

For a traditionally published author, yes, the big, blockbuster debut might be necessary to meet the publisher’s expectations (because they don’t think long-tail sales but just look at debut month numbers). But the publishers behind those huge expectations are putting money into book-signing tours and billboard-style marketing.

Authors without a budget to do the huge, broad marketing blitz are doing a disservice to themselves to think an unfocused approach is right for their release. Especially if we’re self-published, we shouldn’t put that extra pressure on ourselves by having expectations for a big debut.

And you’re exactly right that it doesn’t do us any good to change our writing to make one group happy OVER another group, because if we change a lot, we’re likely to make our original group unhappy. We can’t please everyone, so we’re better off being true to ourselves. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung July 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

“Authors without a budget to do the huge, broad marketing blitz are doing a disservice to themselves to think an unfocused approach is right for their release. Especially if we’re self-published, we shouldn’t put that extra pressure on ourselves by having expectations for a big debut.”

Good point for the self-published, self-sponsored authors! I didn’t think of this explicitly, but it’s quite true that it’s better to expect only some/ one group of people that will like our stories. Of course, some subject matters and styles may be more popular than others, but there will always be people who dislike the popular things too, lol.

And as you said, we should be true to ourselves. Even if most people aren’t interested in the issue we care a lot about, there are bound to be SOME people who share this interest with you. So the challenge is how to FIND this niche of people you’re targeting! Maybe through beta reader matching services or something. (Not sure how I could do this for my Chinese story though, since I am a second language writer, haha, so the other Chinese beta readers might not want me to be their beta reader!! Alas. ^_^” Or maybe I could just practice until my level reaches first language proficiency, haha. But the problem is that I don’t even know what “average first language proficiency” looks like…XD And comparing my Chinese with nationally renowned Chinese authors’ is kind of an unfair competition, lol, so I shouldn’t use them as a comparison point….I DON’T KNOW XD, so I hope I’ll figure something out eventually, haha.)

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Hi Serena,

Yes, I think for our sanity, a smaller, more focused release is better and easier. 🙂

I’m sorry that I don’t have any suggestions for you on how to find your target audience. :-/ Could you start with other Chinese language learners? Or are there Chinese clubs you could connect with? If they’re just readers, they wouldn’t expect you to do a reading for them in return. Hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung July 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm

“I’m sorry that I don’t have any suggestions for you on how to find your target audience. :-/ ”

That’s okay! At the moment, I’m just focused on actually getting the story done. XD So I’m not bothered yet about the how to find readers problem, lol.

“Could you start with other Chinese language learners? Or are there Chinese clubs you could connect with? If they’re just readers, they wouldn’t expect you to do a reading for them in return. ”

These are good suggestions, though. I should really look around for Chinese writing/ reading clubs. Maybe there are second-language Chinese novelist beta-reader matching services somewhere out there in the world? *Fingers crossed* LOL! But hey, at least I’m not trying to write in French–in which case the situation would be even more difficult. XDD

There are always my family members and a few friends who are both good enough in Chinese to be able to read Chinese novels AND are interested in reading my novel. But you know, it’s tough to find an interested reader who actually finishes reading our books, lol. Especially as I’m predicting that my novel will unfortunately last at least 1000 pages…But this is not unusual, because the Romance/ Action martial arts genre OFTEN has novels (i.e. series) of at least 1000 pages.

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! Sounds like a plan. Good luck! 🙂

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Bella ardila March 2, 2015 at 7:59 am

I am the second languange writer too. I write stories in Indonesian and english. Writing in those 2 languange are kinda hard but I will keep writitng. Are you from Singapore?

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Jami Gold March 2, 2015 at 11:58 am

Hi Bella,

I can’t imagine trying to write in a second language. I have a lot of respect for those able to do so! My friend Serena Yung often comments here on my blog, and she’s attempting to write in English and Chinese. 🙂

Nope, I’m U.S. born and bred, but I have friends from all over thanks to social media and this blog. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Sharon Hughson July 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm

You’re absolutely correct. Like most other things in life (almost said everything but I’m trying to avoid blanket generalizations because they drive me insane when others make them) it’s all about perspective.
I hadn’t considered the perspective you present here. Mostly because I’m searching for an agent right now and that’s the type of rejection I’m bracing myself to encounter. And lots of it before I find the right fit for my novel.
I love your positive outlook on such a negative topic. This is the sort of worldview I wish more people adopted. Accentuate the positive, I say. Thank you for doing that today. (Looks like I need to share this post to up the comment amount so I have more chances to win my Jami prize).

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Hi Sharon,

If we go back to the idea that “happiness is a choice,” we see how our perspective plays a HUGE role in us being able to find the positive for that happiness. It’s good to have a reminder sometimes. 🙂 Thanks for the comment! (And P.S., only comments on my Blogiversary post count for the contest. 😉 )

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Anne R. Allen July 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Honest negative reviews can be incredibly helpful–to the reader and the author. If you write hot romance and somebody says “this book has too much sex” that’s great for sales. Sometimes I get a one-star that sparks a big sales spike. Usually the ones that say “It’s almost as if the author was trying to be funny”. A lot of people seem to have trouble reading the word “comedy” on the cover blurb, so reviews like that help spur comedy lovers to buy the book.

And it’s so true that the more people who read you, the more people you’ll reach who just don’t like your genre. So it’s a symptom of success.

And then there are trolls. Lots of them lurking at Amazon. Some people spend their whole days leaving nasty reviews on Amazon under hundreds of “sock puppet” names. Their reviews usually say nothing specific–because of course they haven’t actually read the book. (Often they buy the book and immediately return it so they can get an “Amazon verified purchase” on their review.)

These are really annoying, but the truth is having a lot of reviews, even bad ones, can help sales, so we live with them.

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Hi Anne,

Very true! And LOL! at your examples. 😀

Good point too about trolls, as they’re a separate issue. Again though, I think trolls are more likely to hit those who are starting to make a name for themselves. So the idea that the bigger we get, the more negative reviews we’ll see still holds, I think.

But as you said, even bad reviews can help us as authors, so we shouldn’t get too hung up on their negative affects. Thanks for the comment and for sharing your insights! 🙂

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Julie July 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I got a ‘meh’ review for a short story I published as an e-book. After the initial gnashing of teeth, when I actually READ the reader’s comments I realized they were really helpful: my marketing copy set up an expectation that the story didn’t meet (It wasn’t steamy, but the summary made it sound like it might be).

I dusted myself off and realized the reader had done me an immense favor by posting her comment. And then I rewrote the marketing copy!

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Hi Julie,

Excellent example! And as someone who struggles with queries and blurbs, I can very much see that happening to me. :O

I’m glad you were able to address the issue. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Autumn Macarthur July 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Such good points, both from you Jami and all the commenters!

I do agree with Anne’s comment about negative reviews. I find they often tell readers more of what the story is about than the actual blurb does!

Usually this is when authors, as you said, try to keep their blurb as vague and open ended as possible wanting to appeal to a wide range of readers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that 🙂

And it’s exacerbated when the author does a big promo push and offers the book for free. So many readers will download outside their usual preferred story type when it’s free. Which is great, it’s opening us to new readers, and it’s risky, because some of them won’t like what we offer one bit!

In my genre (inspirational Christian romance), I so often see 1 and 2* reviews complaining there was no sex in the story, and too much religion. Look at the blurb and yep, there’s nothing at all to tell readers it’s a sweet Christian romance.

My take away is to make sure I put my books in the right categories, and make the blurb as specific as it needs to be. And read what the bad reviews actually say. Is there something there I need to listen to and can learn from? Or is it simply a reader who’s not in my target readership?

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Hi Autumn,

Yes, I often read the negative reviews to see what the story doesn’t do, and at least 50% of the time, I buy the book anyway. 🙂 It’s true that we are are looking for something different in the books we read.

Good point too about how free stories can exacerbate the problem. People might not come to our buy pages through the categories (like if they click on a direct link), so the blurb should include that genre information as well. Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂

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Lucy Lit July 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I appreciate your comments regarding businesses not appealing to all customers. So true! Of course rejection hurts me. Most of it is out of proportion due to my own insecurities. I have limited experience from others as it pertains to my writing since I only have one published book (so far). I embrace my single 3 star review as providing perspective. After all, I don’t like every book I read either. LOL When making buying decisions, I look at all reviews and put them into some type of context. Thanks for this reminder!

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Hi Lucy,

Yes, it’s hard to keep perspective and not let negative reviews tear into us, so hopefully this reminder will help. 🙂 As you said, we need to keep reviews in context. Thanks for the comment!

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Emerald O'Brien July 3, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I love this fresh perspective on negative reviews. I’m a new author (debut released in May), and I’ve been lucky to have been given a lot of advice on self-publishing in general, and specifically about reviews. I’ve never heard it put this way though, and it is indeed a silver lining. I am open to learning from the critiques, but I’m glad that from now on, I can also think of things this way as well. I write mysteries, however, I also categorize them as New Adult. It’s something relatively new (to have the protags and antags in their 20’s), and I’m still trying to narrow down my reading audience. Now I think the negative reviews will actually help me do that. Great points!

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Jami Gold July 3, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Hi Emerald,

Ooo, great point about how watching bad reviews specifically for genre expectations can help us define our reading audience. 🙂

I hope you’re able to make a go of adding mysteries to New Adult. Too many seem to think of New Adult only as older, more sexual, angsty YA romances. It would be a shame if such a narrow definition sticks. Good luck with your debut and thanks for the comment!

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Emerald O'Brien July 4, 2014 at 6:53 am

Thank you Jami! It does seem as though readers expectations of the NA genre are becoming more defined, so I hope I can add a welcome twist to it. I love mysteries, but I rarely saw main characters around my age. I’ve seen a few books like it now, and I’m excited about the idea of adding something new to both the NA and mystery genres.

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Jami Gold July 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

Hi Emerald,

Yes, the original promise of NA seemed to be more like a full category, covering all genres for a certain age group/life circumstances. I’d love to see that promise fulfilled and not have it be limited by narrow genre-type expectations. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you! 🙂

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Julie Musil July 4, 2014 at 9:36 am

Jami, this is such an excellent point. I consider all the early rejections from agents and publishers sort of a “training ground” for reader reviews. We can use the reviews to help us grow and improve (if the review is helpful in that way), and we can use negative reviews to help thicken our skin.

It IS a part of the gig.

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Jami Gold July 4, 2014 at 10:50 am

Hi Julie,

Good point! I agree with you about how agent/editor rejections can be a good training ground for reader reviews. Whenever I hear someone say they want to self-publish so they don’t have to deal with rejection, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. That’s a dangerously unhealthy reason for self-publishing because they’re setting themselves up for mental trauma. Thanks for sharing your insight! 🙂

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Kitt Crescendo July 5, 2014 at 9:48 pm

In my “other” life, I’ve been in retail management. 9 years with a leading wireless electronic technology company. In that given field you learn to “shoot for neutral.” I was told early in my management career to expect criticism, not to count on praise, and that if senior executives visited one of my locations to take no comments at all as a win.

When I decided to start pursuing my writing more seriously, I realized that there would be critics. If I hadn’t had that kind of experience, my first talk with my editor might have caused me to crawl into my shell and give up. Fortunately, I’d learned to recognize the difference between constructive negative feedback intended for growth and improvement and negative feedback based on either dislike or being an improper fit for someone’s tastes. The former is used to improve upon myself. The latter? I take it with a grain of salt or just throw it out with the bath water. 😉

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Jami Gold July 5, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Hi Kitt,

Wow, that’s a great example of how we face rejection in any walk of life. I’m glad you’ve been able to apply what you’ve learned, and it sounds like you have a fantastic attitude for dealing with criticism. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insights!

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Jordan McCollum July 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I was reading an old K-Boards thread today where Courtney Milan was arguing the same thing!

“Every time I get a 1 star review, I nod approvingly because it means I’m expanding my reach and more people are taking a chance on me as an author.”

http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,176368.msg2487798.html?PHPSESSID=7v-xj33krH6nHyG6u91X53#msg2487798

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Jami Gold July 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Hi Jordan,

Yep, Courtney’s quote is a great way to put it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment (and the link)!

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