Getting negative reviews on your book is a real heart-breaker. How dare they talk about your baby like that? I mean, you are obviously the best writer ever. Getting negative feedback on your book feels like a personal attack.
And not just for Indie Authors, but for all authors.
Sister Souljah got so many negative reviews for her latest release, Life After Death, that she was compelled to address it on Instagram, saying, “Stop crying about the death experience of WINTER SANTIAGA, AND START THINKING. STOP DEBATING and start reading.”
Please refer to this post for a full breakdown of my thoughts on this book.
A Review is Someone’s Opinion
The first part of studying a review is remembering that it is someone’s opinion based on their experience. Even professional reviews are expert opinions. We are not changing our voice or altering our style based on the views of fifty people.
We are only looking to see if this person’s opinion has any value we can learn from.
“It was a little difficult discerning who exactly was talking or even who was who at the beginning. The scenes seem to always end at a cliffhanger. The premise is interesting, bit the follow through needs work.”
This is a two-star review of my latest novel, The Women with Blue Eyes: Rise of the Fallen. The dialogue in my stories is strong, but my tense usage and POV need work. Because I know these are my weaknesses, this review has merit.
Do I think it is so bad it deserved two stars? Of course not, but that doesn’t make the point invalid.
Use Your Discernment
Once the shock of the negative reviews has worn off, we can use the power of our discernment to see that not all critical feedback is hostile. Our wisdom will show us what part of the review is worth looking into and what part to let be.
While I will work on the point of view, I am not worried about ending scenes with a cliffhanger. I like it because it’s a good way to keep people reading.
In the words of bestselling author James Patterson, “At the end, something has to propel you into the next chapter.” This is the reason we are addicted to that TV show. We come back week after week because we are held in suspense. Cliffhanger endings are the hallmark of page-turner fiction or, in this case, binge-worthy shows.
“I enjoyed the premise of the story, but sometimes was a little thrown with whose point of view I was reading.”
See that? I cannot ignore this. It comes up repeatedly, which means it is a legitimate issue I need to fix. Now I know what to work on for my next book. I hope to hear fewer complaints about this in the future.
If we change the way we look at it, critical reviews are cause for celebration.
In this fake everything era, where people buy followers, engagement, and body parts, what we might consider a negative review is a good thing. Unless the negative reviews come from a hater who is trolling you, having a good mixture of good and “bad” reviews gives the book authenticity.’
This is so important to understand in the Indie Author community. There are some poorly written and produced books with nothing but five-star reviews.
How Detailed is the Review?
I have learned the more detailed the review is, the more likely there is something there. While “Excellent book” makes us feel good, explaining what made it an excellent book is more helpful.
In the same vein, commenting that a book was “terrible” does nothing for the author. What made it terrible? What are the ways the author can improve? What did not work for you?
“I wish I could get a refund. This will not get read this is a terrible book and she could have kept this.”
– Amazon Customer Review of Life After Death by Sister Souljah
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is not a helpful review and the “she could have kept this” is unnecessary. This is the kind of review you do not have to spend your time trying to dissect. It offers no insight. I am sure Sister Souljah laughed it off.
“I think this author has much more to give. I felt as though she was dancing on the outskirts of the story, just giving the reader a little tease. With the author’s style of writing, I really think this book could be a nice, long novel, really delving into Nora’s life and her families past, followed with nice, long novels in the series.”
This reviewer has a good point worth considering. I definitely need to continue Nora’s story. I accept the reader’s thoughts here because they make sense.
“Ms. Ysrayl shares about her challenges and how she has overcome some and others are a continuous life-long journey. The elimination of repetition of paragraphs and sentences, would earn the book 5 stars.”
Repetition in my writing is something I need to work on, so this reader’s thoughts have merit. Sure, it stings, but it is also true.
“Many of the poems have a good message. Liked the ones with imagination like Sabbath. But to really touch a heart, the thinking and framing should be less self-centered, in my humble opinion.”
My Brain: What?
This is an example of a review I didn’t bother to give much thought.
First, the self-centered part is confusing. Next, the reviewer is a white man who probably couldn’t discern the book is mainly about the collective Black experience more than anything. (He only gave it 3 stars) This one is another example of how you don’t have to worry about the negative reviews that don’t make sense.
But it also brings to my attention something I almost forgot to mention:
A book marketed to the wrong audience increases the likelihood of bad reviews.
If I buy a Historical Fiction novel that turns out to be a Romance, I will more than likely rate it low.
Going back to Life After Death, the book is marketed as urban fiction, but it would be more appropriate for the Paranormal / Sci-Fi or even religious fiction genre.
Unfortunately, the audience that loved The Coldest Winter Ever is not the same audience for Life After Death.
This means as a Self-Publisher, identifying your target audience and marketing your books to that audience is critical. I am Soul will rate higher with Black women and Black people than anyone else because I wrote it for them. It doesn’t mean other people can’t read it or won’t read it. It means I increase the likelihood of positive reviews if the people I wrote the book for are reading it.
All Reviews Matter
You do the author a great disservice when you decide not to review a book because you didn’t like it. You not only rob them of the chance to increase their reviews, but you also rob them of the chance to improve on their writing. And if you are an author and only want positive reviews, you are robbing yourself.
The purpose of reviews for any product or service is not to only talk about how good it is. Positive and negative reviews are helpful, though I use negative loosely here. The reviews that are off the wall and utterly ridiculous are reviews I consider negative. But, the critical thoughts that offer insight on how the author can do better are necessary for growth.
So, what to do the next time someone rates your book low?
First, be grateful. Many great writers have received negative feedback on their books. You are in good company.
Next, study the review itself. Is there something you need to work on? Or is the review not worth stressing over?
5 thoughts on “Indie Author Hack: Study Your Negative Reviews”
Great article, EC!!! Thank you for the perspective!
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A very sensible approach to negative reviews. I am lucky enough not to have many, although perhaps that’s because I don’t have many reviews, period.
I have had one unhelpful negative review. though. It simply said ‘Good idea Poor execution.’ I would love to know what that reviewer thought was poor in the execution of the story, but I never will.
Another reviewer gave it a good writeup as far as everything else was concerned, but took a couple of stars off because it ended with a suicide, which , sadly, she had personal experience of, and it brought it all back, she said.
I was sorry my story had upset her, but I was also sorry that, because of her personal experience, she removed a couple of stars because of her own experiences, not because of how the book was written.
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Wow. That’s sad. Seems like she took it very personal.
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It did upset me that she was upset by the ending, but it had be for the next book.
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