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?

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New Author Tip: Don’t Just Write More, Improve as You Write

Indie Author Basics

I’ve heard it over and over again: “The more you write, the better you become at it.” I get it. It’s practice. The more you do something, the better you become at it. When it comes to writing though, I think there is more to it than that. You can write and write and write but if you’re not correcting your mistakes as you write, you are not necessarily going to become a better writer.

My new author tip for you today is this:

Learning and applying what you learn as you write makes you a better writer not just writing for the sake of writing. You don’t have to write every day to become better. Understanding what needs to be improved on and correcting it as you write, makes you better. Otherwise, you’ll keep making the same mistakes and thus, produce the same kind of work. This means that if you’ve been producing mediocrity unless you correct yourself, you’ll just continue to write and produce mediocrity. It’s that aged old saying, “insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results.”

I have been writing and publishing books for over ten years. In this time, I have remained true to my authenticity, my morals and values. I have sat down to write what I wanted when I wanted. However, my years in publishing doesn’t mean that I am a better writer. What makes me a better writer today compared to ten years ago is if I have been applying what I’ve learned to the skill. I measure my progress not by how many books I’ve published or how many years I’ve been publishing or how many reviews I have. I measure my progress based on how well I’ve been able to correct the mistakes pointed out to me.

With the help of my beta readers and the WordPress blogging community, in general, I’ve been capable of recognizing and understanding so much more about writing than I ever have in the years prior. While I have a long way to go, the books I published in the years I’ve been blogging are noticeably better, in my opinion than the ones I published before starting this blog. I credit this to nothing except for applying many of the things I’ve learned from others who are more knowledgeable and skilled than I am, to my work. I believe that as authors we have to be very intentional about this and very aware of what works for us and what does not work for us. Don’t just assume that people are always hating on you or don’t understand you or don’t like you. Consider all feedback as constructive to the process.

In these past few months (where I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people face to face, consultants, bookstore owners, and their reviewers,) I’ve come to understand that the more aware I am of my strengths and weaknesses, the better I can build on those strengths and improve on those weaknesses. The more aware I am of what needs to be corrected and the more intentional I am to actually correct it, the better I become as a writer. Not just writing alone, but learning and applying that knowledge to my writing and to the publishing process as a whole as I learn and as I grow.


Be sure to check out more Indie Author Basics by visiting the Writer / Tips and resources page!

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Good Writers

Maybe the book didn’t come out the way you envisioned it would or maybe you’ve got a one-star review. Maybe your editor marked all up and down your manuscript or someone critiqued the confidence right out of you. Maybe you failed, miserably. And maybe you want to crawl underneath the covers and will yourself away. If only you could shrink so that even your body disappears. Maybe, just maybe you are becoming a good writer.

Good writers get negative feedback at some point, period. Good writers get it wrong A LOT. Good writers fail, miserably. Good writers have confidence that appears low because good writers are humble. Good writers are scared to death of publishing the next book because good writers are real. They mess up. They get mixed reviews and feedback.

The difference between their failures and those who quit is that good writers have failed so many times that they are equipped to handle disappointment. And therefore, have the resilience and maturity to get back up and try again.

Screenshot_2017-04-21-11-12-04-1

The next time you receive feedback that makes you want to cringe you gotta remember that you are in good company. Every good writer was a failure first and every master was first a student.

Don’t misunderstand me, everyday ain’t beautiful. I don’t want my optimism on this blog to be too sweet for you. Cheerfulness ain’t a pill you can take that will make it all go away. I don’t want you to think that the struggle isn’t real, but if you never mess up, if you have never doubted, if you have never failed, never been knocked down, and if you give up too easily then maybe you can never really become a good writer.

Renaissance: The Nora White Story by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I am off today as usual and I’m actually not at home but I wanted to share the first official review for Nora. A special thank you to Rachel for taking the time to read and review my book. Her honest feedback is just what I need to make improvements before the big day.

Rachel Poli

Book Review | Renaissance: The Nora White Story by Yecheilyah YsraylTitle: Renaissance: The Nora White Story
Author: Yecheilyah Ysrayl
Published: 
July 15, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
How I got the book: I received a free eARC from the author in exchange for an honest review

Summary:

When seventeen-year-old NoraWhite successfully graduates High School in 1922 Mississippi and is College bound, everyone is overjoyed and excited. Everyone except Nora. She dreams of Harlem, Cotton Clubs, Fancy Dresses, and Langston Hughes. For years, she’s sat under Mr. Oak, the big oak tree on the plush green grass of her families five acres, and daydreamed of The Black Mecca.

The ambitious, young Nora is fascinated by the prospect of being a famous writer in The Harlem Renaissance and decides she doesn’t want to go to College. Despite her parent’s staunch protest, Nora finds herself in Jacobsville, New York, a small town forty-five minutes outside of Harlem.

Shocked by their daughter’s…

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Why Reviewing Books is an Act of Love

Whenever I finish a book and prepare a review, I ask myself why I am doing this. Why I dedicate time reading books and time writing reviews and even more time structuring the blog post. Do you know how many times I revise a post before it goes public? Too many times. Some of the posts you love the most have been revised upwards to twenty times because I want it to be done to the best of my ability. It may not even be done right but at least I know I’ve done what I can. If I think before I speak then it means that I must also think before I write. Of course, typos fall through but the point is that to prepare and schedule a post takes time. So, after days (sometimes weeks and months) reading the book, hours writing the review and a few hours scheduling the post I ask myself, why am I doing this? This question led to this post.

Book Bloggers are individuals who offer their service as nothing more than an act of love. It is a selfless act in which the person or persons expect nothing in return. Reviewers are not paid, have no agendas and to be real, we really don’t even have the time which is why our to-be-read piles are always sky high. Book Reviewers read books and write reviews even under pressure and harsh criticism because love endures. And the real ones, those opting to give much more than glowing five stars, these reviewers give even more. Not only do they give their time and attention but they are also genuine. They open up about how they truly felt about the work and add even more value to the service by giving authors the opportunity to grow.

As I finish a book and prepare the review, I find myself feeling really good. I am not burdened or worried or obligated. I am doing what I enjoy doing and am always excited for the authors I get to promote! It humbles me to be a part of their journey. Sometimes I scroll Amazon just to see how my authors are doing.  I remember reviewing books that had just a few reviews when I reviewed them. Then I see they have ten, twenty and thirty. I smile inwardly. In some way, I helped someone to grow.

You see, Book Reviewers do this, largely, with nothing coming back to them except the valuable qualities that no one can take away because it is something that people cannot touch and that money cannot buy: Love, Respect, Dignity, and Courage.

Indie Author Support: Are You Harmful or Helpful?

This post came, literally, out of nowhere. In no way did I intend on taking an hour out of my schedule to write this post, but I wanted to share this article that was delivered to my email and get some feedback on it. It’s a great conversation starter.

http://www.creativindie.com/the-cardinal-sin-of-self-publishing/

According to Derek, the cardinal sin of self-publishing is hubris: foolish pride or dangerous over-confidence.

In brief, Derek explains how many Self-Published authors destroy their own success by getting too excited about their book and being rigid and inflexible.

I also took the time to read through the comments, which were just as interesting as the article. One comment in particular caught my attention:

“But, another factor, aside from the lack of ability of some to admit that they don’t know what they’re doing, is influence. The wrong kind. Authors are usually around other authors online, and the fact is, very few will tell their fellow authors that their covers suck, that their manuscript is not polished, that their blurbs are confusing, that the book needs major editing – an author cannot get honest feedback from their peers. Feedback which could help them improve. Maybe this happens because most authors don’t welcome negative feedback themselves – so they don’t give it. The result is, a mediocrity virus goes around, contaminating those around it.” – Eeva Lancaster

Whew! That’s a mouthful, but is she wrong? I’d love your feedback on this.

I get a small taste of this reviewing books. Though people are always respectful to me personally, it doesn’t take much to see when someone didn’t like how you felt about the book. You can sense it in the watered down thank you they give you or smell it in the silent treatment (where you never hear from that author again, nor are you on the receiving end of their support).

I’ve also seen poor work highly promoted, especially book covers that are not very pleasing to the eye (to the point where I am not interested in reading the book). We promote these books like they are NYT Bestsellers because these are our friends and we may not want to crush them by admitting “the person who did that book cover messed you up”. I mean, you wouldn’t say it like that but you get my point. Friends don’t hurt friends but such a thing feeds into Eeva’s point.

I’m not one to judge. I know that book cover design is expensive and I’ve had my own experience with mediocre looking covers. In addition, I’m a big advocate of treating others the way that I myself would want to be treated. Would I want you to publish your one and two-star reviews of my book and bring my rating down? Of course not so I don’t do the same to the books I read. I do, however, provide honest feedback (as promised) privately through email.

Still, for the everyday readers who purchase books and leave reviews, there is something genuine about those reviews when you read them that let’s you know the reader is being real. Readers don’t feel obligated to say something nice about a book because they know the author. They just keep it all the way real. Is this how it should be?

I think so but to an extent. I’m also a huge advocate for professionalism. Everything should be done with as much excellence as our time can afford. People are just not respectful. Period. While reviewers should be honest, I also think tact goes a long way. Criticism sandwiched between two soft pieces of bread goes a long way.

A lot of people also don’t understand the books they read. The first time I read Beowulf it was boring. I was also just in High School and had no clue as to what I was reading. I was just reading to get a grade pretty much. Meanwhile, boredom oozed from every page I turned. It was painful. Today however, because I understand the book, I find it intriguing and deep. Tell you another quick story.

In 2006, I went to the movies to watch Dreamgirls when it released. I was eighteen or nineteen years old. Anyway, I complained about the music. “It’s too much music in this movie”, I said. The lady behind me promptly put me in check, “It is a musical.” It sounded harsh to my young ears but she was right. Dreamgirls is a musical so there will be lots of music. The point? A lot of people don’t understand the books they read. If you’re reading erotica don’t complain there’s too much sex. That’s kind of the point.

And so, the question remains, in our quest to support each other, are we helping or hindering? Here’s Derek’s reply to the comment:

“There’s a common problem in self-publishing, that authors help each other and support each other (great) but also reaffirm misleading beliefs or ideologies that can be harmful (bad).” – Derek Murphy

That’s deep and I myself cannot honestly say that Derek does not have a point.

One of the disclaimers we reviewers use for book reviews is: “…in exchange for an honest review…”

(My disclaimer message will change. I will now be using the following disclaimer: ‘I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author’ will be the message that accompany each review instead of ‘I received this book free in exchange for an honest review’. To learn more about why I am making this change, read Debby’s most excellent article about cleaning up your Amazon links HERE.)

But, back to the point. We, reviewers, say, “…in exchange for an honest review..” but, are we being honest? Furthermore, how does one display honesty respectfully? Surely there’s no way to not hurt someone’s feelings. It’s inevitable and since people have so many different ways of thought, who knows what they may consider disrespectful. My thoughts is that everyone should just be as respectful but as honest as possible but I want to hear from you.

In our efforts to be supportive, are we helping each other by providing valuable feedback or hindering each other by sugarcoating the truth?

What are your thoughts?

Bad Reviews

Linda G. Hill over at Life In Progress opened an important discussion on Bad Book Reviews and since I happen to be patiently waiting for feedback myself, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

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First, let me just say that Linda’s dilemma is a very difficult position to be in and as such I think she handled it well. I’m going to try and respond from both perspectives since I too review books and I am also an Indie Author.

The Author

As an author, though there are tons of authors asking for reviews, this is a decision I take very seriously and I think others should too. When I ask people to “read my book free in exchange for an honest review” to me this means I am asking for their honest opinion. An opinion I think is much more valuable than the money they would otherwise pay to just read the book on their own time. When I ask for an “honest review” it means I want them to be respectful about it, but I also want them to be real. That said, I include in my correspondence emails that if the review is negative, for the reviewer to email me their criticisms personally. This is so I have the opportunity to see where I falter before the world does. If my book is that horrible, I want the chance to correct myself. This, I feel, is only natural. Even when you have an issue with someone in everyday life, you have a responsibility to alert that person first before anyone else. You don’t tell Sally, Laura, and John and you do not inadvertently third person Facebook, Twitter, or blog post them. No, you tell them. People aren’t stupid. They will know if your post is about them. So that is why I’d want the opportunity to know where I falter before being put on front street. Now, let’s flip the script.

The Reviewer

From a personal perspective, I do not care to write reviews on books I would rate at below a 3 (for Indie Authors) because I know how important of a consideration people take Book Reviews when deciding to purchase the book. I also know how damaging low ratings can be specifically for Indie Authors.  I prefer instead to message the author privately.

As a reviewer, I email my below 3 thoughts to the author personally (just as I’d want done to me) and I give them the opportunity to decide if they want me to continue on with the review and to publish it. Since I am providing an honest review, I refuse to rate and or post a good review for a not so good book. For this reason, I think personal outreach is the best option. Not only is it professional and respectful, but it is also what I would want someone to do for me.

How Bad is a Bad Review?

It really depends on how bad the review is and the buying habits of the reader. Not everyone will buy a book based on its reviews. I am a prime example of this. I paid no attention to reviews before I became an author. Prior to this, I read the descriptions of books and decided for myself if it was for me. You can say that I’m old school. If the book was bad it was just money burned but it wasn’t a grand deal. I suppose back then every book was a gamble: win some, lose some.

Today, I pay more attention to reviews (obviously) but I still do not always buy books this way. Meaning I am more likely to purchase a book from Amazon based on its description and preview (first few chapters) more so than the reviews. Why? Because in the end they are still others opinions and while everyone is entitled to their opinions my thought process may not be the same. Just because you disliked a book does not mean that I won’t love it. On the other hand, there’s Amazon.

Every good writer will get a low rating at some point, but too many low ratings and reviews can damage an Authors overall Amazon rating. While I do think Indie Authors need thick skin in this industry, as a reviewer I would consider the stigmas already imposed on Self-Publishing, my own thoughts as an Indie, and how ratings influence an authors account. As a result, I publish nothing lower than what I see as average, like a C which is a 3. Before, I wouldn’t even publish three’s but have recently decided to do so.

So How Important is a Book Review?

Book reviews are essential to Self-Publishing, specifically, because its the conversation about the book and the discussion it fosters that makes the review of such value. Traditional Publishing already has a head start. It is backed by big publishing houses with large teams. Indie Authors on the other hand have to garner attention and discussion about the book on his or her own–which can be done in many ways– but is largely done by way of the book review. Good or Bad. For me personally, there is a greater purpose the book review serves. While book reviews can increase sales, they can also be used in other ways.

Good book reviews for instance can be printed on promotional items or used to spark important conversations. Bad reviews on the other hand can help the author to grow in the areas where his  writing is weak. Who else is going to inform a Self-Published author (who has no large team of professionals) that they should tighten up than the compassionate book reviewer?

Final Thought

Bad reviews suck but as an Indie Author  I prepare myself for them because I am, after all, asking people for their honest opinion. While I am not so naive to think all negative feedback is warranted (some people are just not going to be interested in the story), criticism is part of growth and even best selling Traditional Authors whose work we know is top quality, even they receive negative feedback sometimes.

If you’re really serious about your writing, you will expect the good and the bad. Think of it this way: For most successful Traditionally Published authors, there is not the privilege of someone successfully reaching out to them personally and getting anything but their agent or whoever else checks their emails. For this reason, these authors get bad review publicity all the time. Sistah Souljah’s “A Deeper Love Inside” (sequel to “The Coldest Winter Ever”) has so many bad reviews I would just cry. The moral of the story is: don’t expect everyone to love you. No author has this privilege. Understand also that while valuable, book reviews is just one way people decide to buy books so one bad review doesn’t necessarily mean your career is over.

As reviewers, I think its important to highlight where we think the author has done well and then give constructive feedback to the author on that personal level and let them decide if they want it made public (just in case they want to take your advice and change something). Speaking of advice, I also think its important for reviewers to give feedback that will benefit the author. Don’t just say the book is bad (different ways to say this) but be sure to tell the author why. Be thorough in your analysis of someone’s work so that they can follow through and improve.

“The thing about a book (even yours) is that not everyone will love it. If you don’t believe me, look up your all-time favorite book on Goodreads or Amazon and check out the 1-star reviews. Those people hated the book you love.

When you get your first bad review, you will want to defend yourself and your work. Don’t. And don’t let Aunt Freda defend you, either. This will be hard, because it will seem like some of the reviewers either didn’t read—or skimmed—your book.

Remember why you write. Is it for praise? No, it’s because you love telling stories. So, tell them. If praise comes as a result, smile and strut around for a while. If not, consider whether there’s anything valuable in the critical reviews and then get back to your work-in-progress.”

– Julie Doherty