Indie Author Hack: Study Your Negative Reviews

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.

The Women with Blue Eyes: Rise of the Fallen

“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.

Even Salt Looks Like Sugar: A Novella

“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.

Authenticity

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.

Renaissance: The Nora White Story Book 1
“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.

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?

Click Here for more Indie Author Basics.

No Whining Wednesday: Force Nothing

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

I am aware there was no NWW episode last week. It is because I did not have a word to give. And I would rather say nothing than to speak just for the sake of speaking. In the words of Obbie West, the poet, “speaking just for the sake of speaking is the same as being silent.”

I almost didn’t post anything today either.

But as I thought about this series, why I created it, and why its existence is necessary, forcing things came to my mind.

IMG-6546(1)We know we cannot force things to happen, but we try to anyway. It is like we are fascinated by the chase. When we cannot get what we want when we want it, we whine and complain because we feel we failed to make it happen.

We stress ourselves out over things we cannot control. We become upset that we cannot force it as much as we try.

It is not until we let go that things happen as they were always intended to. Ever noticed that it starts to move as soon as you forget about something?

Think about misplacing something. It can literally be right in your face as you tear the house apart. Only when you calm down, relax, and focus on something else that you see that thing sitting on the table.

You think, “How in the world did I miss this? I’ve looked at that table four times!”

Or did you?

You looked at the table, but did you see what was on it? 

People are fascinated by my locs. They want to know what products I use, what my routine is, and how in the heck I got my hair to grow down my back.

These conversations are fun, especially for women. We get to giggle and be girly about products and things.

But the only honest answer to this question is nothing. I don’t do anything to my hair.

Of course, I wash it, oil it, and all that good stuff, but for the most part, I leave it alone, and it grows wildly.

Sometimes, you just need to leave that situation alone. Don’t complain about it, don’t stress about it. Don’t even think about it. Stop trying to force the revelations to come. What will be, will be.

So let it be.

No Whining Wednesday: Humility

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

Today’s inspiring word comes from Katerina Stoykova Klemer:

In my opinion, confidence is liking yourself. As simple as that may sound, the act of liking ourselves is not always easy. It means appreciating who we are as a person while being humble enough to know that we have strengths and weaknesses. I think low self-worth, however, is focusing only on our flaws and not liking anything about ourselves.

The tricky part is that arrogance is liking ourselves too, but it’s also thinking everyone else should like us. While humility makes us more empathetic to the struggles of others, arrogance makes us more judgemental.

That’s why this quote is so powerful to me, and honestly, I am still meditating on it. As someone who has struggled with low self-esteem, I am always thinking about ways to keep a good balance of confidence and humility.

It makes me think about this series because, in my experience, not being a complainer requires a level of humility. It takes humility to support other people, admit to our own flaws, and accept correction.

I also think of appreciation. When we appreciate something and allow that to show in our actions, we display a form of humility. I believe this makes us more grateful, secure, and less stressed.

If enduring struggle (in whatever form that may be) does not make us more appreciative, then I would predict we will continue to suffer until we have learned whatever lesson life is trying to teach us. Sometimes, by worrying and being anxious, we make situations worse.

Humility helps us surrender the need to control every outcome and strengthen our faith that things will work out as intended.

No Whining Wednesday: Celebrate Yourself

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

Today’s inspiring word comes from Michell C. Clark:

I needed to see this quote the other day as I found myself complaining more than usual. Wednesdays have gotten a lot more peaceful for me since I started this series, but I still complain on the other days like the rest of us humans.

The source of my complaint was about the struggle that comes with being a Self-Published author in today’s world. Being an independent artist, in general, is always a challenge. While it’s a challenge I chose to pursue, it does make me sad to struggle for exposure when authors published by traditional publishers release books to citywide book tours and New York Times Best Sellers list. Not to confuse my melancholy at these revelations for a desire to be traditionally published, though I see nothing wrong with it. I am just a woman hoping to make a difference with her work in a way that transcends social media.

“A lot of people won’t celebrate you until your wins feel “big” enough for them.”

I pondered the many ways we do this in society–from rushing out to buy a book recommended by Oprah to not supporting our friends’ “little” business until it becomes a “big” business. There are, sadly, tons of ways we ignore people because it doesn’t seem like what they are doing is a big deal.

“But you can celebrate yourself now. You can be proud of every step you take and every sacrifice you make.”

This is why I post about getting into bookstores and such. It is not to be braggadocious or even make it seem like I am “doing it big,” whatever that means. I do it because I learned years ago the importance of celebrating all wins, not just the ones deemed significant in the eyes of the world.

I have a hope that one day I will not have to count the stores housing my books because they will be everywhere. That vision starts with appreciating where it is now. I know Indie Authors want to be a #1 Amazon Best Seller, but I don’t care much about that. All this online stuff is cool, but I am striving to carve a space out in the real world too.

“And you won’t need other people’s applause to be proud of how far you’ve come.”

This part reminds me of the saying, “you have today what you once prayed for,” or something like that. I don’t remember exactly how it is worded, but it always brings me back. Not only is someone praying for the life you have now, but you once prayed for it too! Isn’t that amazing?

The more we learn to celebrate ourselves, the less discouraged we will be when others don’t see our value, and the less dependent we are on the need to have them acknowledge us.

Today, celebrate yourself. You deserve it even if no one else knows it but you.

PS. I celebrated myself by ordering an expensive Veggie Delight Burger I wouldn’t usually buy but that I had been lusting after for a while. Today, I decided I deserved it. The world will not end if I pay a few extra dollars to eat what I want.

No Whining Wednesday: Be Consistent with Your Boundaries

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

If you have not noticed, I come up with these NWW’s based on something that struck me earlier in the week. This week I was struck by the following quote by a poet I follow on Instagram:

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This made me stop and think because it is me or has been me before.

Everyday I am learning to be okay with telling people no.

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This series is called No Whining Wednesday, where we try not to whine, criticize, or complain, but we cannot always control what happens around us. Setting solid boundaries and being consistent with those limits is a great way to protect our peace.

“A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not.”

-Henry Cloud

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By now, everyone who has known me for a significant amount of time knows I don’t celebrate holidays. People are not allowed to wish me a Merry Christmas or Happy Thanksgiving. Telling people, “Oh, no. I don’t celebrate,” when they wish me a happy holiday may seem to be mean at first, but this is how I teach people who I am and how I expect to be treated. It all starts with me. If I waver on what I say I believe or let things slide I once set limits to, it confuses people and opens the door for them to disrespect me in the same way I have disrespected myself.

There are some things I am not highly iffy about. My name is Yecheilyah, but I am not upset with family members who still call me by my birth name. I also have no problem with people wishing me a happy birthday.* But then there are things I am particular about. More importantly, I need to follow my own rules before expecting other people to follow them.

*Many people who believe as I do, don’t celebrate birthdays. I am not one of those people. I acknowledge birthdays, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

It helps us not to complain if we are firm and consistent with our intentions. No matter what happens around me, I will not be negative today, and I won’t allow other people to change my mind. I won’t get upset with the traffic, I won’t curse the Starbucks lady for getting my order wrong, and I won’t huff and puff when the line at the grocery store is too long.

Remember, the challenge is not figuring which boundaries are appropriate to set. The challenge is setting those boundaries consistently. When you set inconsistent boundaries, you make things complicated, and it confuses people.

To be consistent, you have to first be firm. What you have decided not to allow in your space is not a suggestion. It is not an option. For the sake of this conversation, it is law.

What I am not saying:

I am not saying that you are responsible for other people’s reactions or perceptions about your boundaries. Your boundaries can also change as you live and grow. What you believed before might not be the same as what you believe today. People are allowed to change. We are allowed to grow.

I am saying that people will walk all over you if you set boundaries you are too afraid to enforce.

No Whining Wednesday: Gratitude and Faith

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

I don’t have much to write to you today, but I want to share this quote with you. I hope it will inspire you as it did me.

Gratitude and faith are such a great balance to me. One requires that we appreciate all we have, and the other challenges us to believe that what we do not yet have is on the way. We can be both content and consistently striving for better at the same time. This contentment does not become complacency, and this striving does not diminish our humility and appreciation for what is.

When waking up with gratitude and laying down with faith, what is there to complain about?

No Whining Wednesday – You Are Inherently Worthy

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

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How other people view you is not a measurement of your worthiness. Both online and off, good decision or bad decision, right or wrong, your value does not change.

A Quick Story.

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When I first moved to Georgia in 2017, I enrolled in Argosy University, Atlanta. This was before Covid, so I had on and offline classes. In one of my campus classes, we always did these exercises. In one activity, we were talking about hot personality, cold personality, and warm. We had to say which one we thought we were and why. A few of my classmates mentioned I was cold. This perplexed me because we had not known each other that long. When they said it, most of the class agreed.

I went home feeling down. Their words had seeped into my soul, and I questioned what made them think I was a cold-hearted person. Had I done something to them? Did I offend anyone? Had they heard something about me?

Then, I thought back to my childhood and realized this wasn’t anything new. I remember being told my twin would be a bride for Halloween and that I would be the devil. As a kid, I remembered thinking, “the devil?”

I laugh at it now, but it affected my self-esteem and how I thought of myself back then. This was not the only time, someone had also decided I would be a witch years prior. “A witch?” I remembered thinking. It was weird to me because my sister was some kind of animal. If we are twins, why am I a witch and she’s a cute kitten?

I was always referred to as “the mean twin,” and it affected how I felt about myself.

Going home after that class made me think of all these things, and I questioned if I was a good person.

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What I’ve realized since then is how we tend to tie our self-worth to other people. We look at the way others perceive us, and we measure ourselves up to that image. That person doesn’t like me, so I am not a good person, or that person admires me, so I am a good person. This is especially true in the age of social media. This person I admire didn’t like my post, so I guess it wasn’t a good post, or this person did like it, so I guess it was good.

All of this is a lie.

The same worthiness you have when people think highly of you, or when you are winning and making the right choices, and being the best version of yourself is the same worthiness you still have when people think of you in a negative light, when you make mistakes, or when you are not your best self.

There is one truth, and it is the only truth that matters:

You are inherently worthy.

This worth does not need to be earned or won or acknowledged to exist. You have value and purpose the moment you enter this world. As the scripture says, “before I formed you in your mother’s belly I knew you, and I did set you apart.” (Jer. 1:5)

How other people perceive this set-apartness does not determine if it exists. It is there and was there from the very beginning.