A few days ago, “Amidst Traffic” received its first negative, one-star review on Amazon.com The review pretty much went like this…
The review didn’t actually hurt nearly as much as I thought it would (I’ll discuss the reasons why below).
But my initial reaction was that I wanted to respond to the reviewer. (I wanted to say things like “Did you even read the whole book?” or “You must not be very smart…”)
Instead, I decided not to say a peep.
Never respond to a negative review. Ever. (Not directly at least. Afterall, this blog post IS a response to the review, in a sense.)
Responding to the review directly can make you, the author, appear insecure and very sensitive about your work. Even if all you’re trying to do is get a bit more from the reviewer and better understand his comments… even this attempt might appear passive aggressive or defensive.
Only then will the negative review REALLY hurt because of all of the backlash you’ll receive.
Why the review didn’t hurt:
The review didn’t hurt (emotionally) for two reasons:
1) It was very general in tone
If the reviewer had said that my prose is too melodramatic or my characters are completely unlikable, then the review might have hurt more. But basically the reviewer said the stories in the collection held no substance and they were too open ended. That’s all. With such general statements, it’s hard to take the criticsm too seriously.
2) There was a lack of expectations being met
If you read the review, you will see that it wasn’t so much an attack on the work itself, but a commentary on missed expectations. The reviewer anticipated a specific type of book, but the stories didn’t meet his expectations. His critique was more a comment on what he WANTED out of the book rather than the quality of the book itself. The reader likely expected a book that would entertain, but instead got himself into reading a book of literary fiction. Does that fact deserve the book a one-star review? Probably not. But the review is there, and I’m okay with it.
My personal theory (though I have no evidence to prove this) is that the reviewer read only 3 or 4 stories int he collection, saw that the book wasn’t what he expected, got mad that he paid 99 cents for it on Kindle, and decided to backlash with a one-star review. Oh well.
Of course, this is only the first negative review, and there will probably be others. People are cynics, after all. Most likely, the next negative review will be more specific and actually valid. If that’s the case, I’ll have to repsect the reader’s opinion and find a way to learn from the comments.
You can’t please everyone!
The truth of the matter is that some people will absolutely love what you do, and others not so much. We’re all wired differently and we all have different tastes. One negative review (even a hundred negative reviews) does not automatically mean that your writing sucks.
Likewise, a million positive reviews don’t mean that your writing is any good. I mean, come on, look at the Twilight series for example!
Okay, okay, that was a low blow.
The best thing to do is move forward. Keep confident and keep believing. People who love your work will come to your rescue eventually.
So how to respond?
Again, as the author, never respond directly. Instead, take in the criticism and see what you can learn from it. What I learned from this one personally is that I have to be much more focused and specific in how I market the book and WHO I market it to. Amidst Traffic is not a book of “commercial” fiction. It’s literary fiction. It’s an intellectual book that provokes the reader to think. If a reader doesn’t like thinking, he probably won’t like the book. I don’t intend to sound snarky here, but it’s true.
It’s important that you market your book to the RIGHT reader. After all, a 27-year-old guy is NOT the right audience for a teenage love story between vampires and warewolves (I still shiver at the thought that this book/movie is so popular).
It’s unfortunate that this specific review brought down the overal score of my book’s rating on Amazon. But that’s alright. If other people enjoy the book, they will come to its defense, and the same holds true for your work.
That’s the key. Don’t defend yourself to an Amazon reviewer (or any other critic for that matter). Allow your readers to do that for you!
In fact, already FIVE people have rated that review as “Not Helpful.” Not because I asked anyone to do so, but because the tone and content of the review truly held no substance.
If you believe in your work, others will too!
What about you?
When was the last time you left a one-star review for a book or product you purchased? Thinking back to it, did it actually deserve just one star?