This post is part of, and an extension of, one I wrote for the Happy Honkers blog about when kindness looks like unkindness.
When you publish a book, it goes into the public arena for review. That’s part of the deal, and negative reviews are something all authors need to learn how to handle. When you ask someone for a review and they say it will be an honest review, that’s what you’ll get, and you have to be prepared for the results, whatever they are. If you aren’t willing to get negative reviews then don’t ask those whose review policy clearly states that they will publish such reviews – like me.
I’m talking here only about comprehensive reviews written by professional reviewers i.e. those who know about writing. They’ve given you 1 or 2 stars and a review which includes all your writing faults. It’s a painful shock, but don’t assume that that means that the reviewer is heartless, in fact, the opposite may be true.
How can you handle a negative review in a positive way
The answer is easy – consider that the reviewer is being kind, even if it doesn’t appear that way. Whether or not you see it as helpful and utilise that help is up to you.
How is the writer of a negative review being kind?
They are trying to help you write better, to help the reader to know what to expect from your book and to help the indie publishing industry overcome the public perception of indie books as inherently flawed. Only if you know what’s wrong with your book will you know what you have to fix, and only if it is done in the public domain will other authors and readers know what is expected in a published book. Without this kind of education, the standard of published books will go down. Indie books should not be inferior in any way to traditionally published books, and only when that is true across the board will the indie publishing industry take its rightful place beside traditionally published books.
It is easy to mistake something given with the aim of helping you with unkindness. Even constructive criticism may appear unkind because criticism invariably hooks your ego, and ego leaps to its own defence. It will give reasons why the criticism is untrue, will find other opinions that disagree and will likely attack the reviewer’s qualifications, all to prove that you are right, your book is good and the reviewer is wrong. That’s what ego does – defends itself. Unfortunately, this reaction stops you from benefitting from the feedback, and if you communicate that defensiveness to the reviewer, you are showing that you lack a professional attitude to your work.
It’s not easy to tell the truth. It’s much easier to sugar coat things, or say nothing. You only speak up and risk authors turning on you if you really care about them, the readers and the publishing industry as a whole. Speaking up takes courage. As the person receiving the criticism, it’s good to honour that courage, that dedication to the industry and the time it took to read your book and write the review. So even if you hate what they wrote, consider it a kindness and politely thank the reviewer . They will respect you for that.
The alternative to hooking into your ego’s knee jerk defensive reaction and making yourself miserable is to see all feedback, no matter how apparently harsh, as an opportunity to make your work better – and it can always be better. This attitude will save you a lot of pain and allow you to get the most out of the feedback.
As a writer, I am so grateful for the what I saw as harsh feedback that I got when I started out. Those who spoke up did me more of a service than those who said nothing out of misplaced kindness. Without their feedback I would have published substandard books and done myself, my readers and the publishing industry a great disservice. Had I got such feedback after publishing I would have immediately unpublished it before anyone else could read it and get a bad opinion of my writing, then I would have studied until I understood the problems and fixed them before republishing.
As a discerning reader, I am also grateful for the reviewers that let me know that a book is badly written. No matter how many readers love a book, I, and others like me, do not want to pay for books that do not meet the same standards as those found in traditionally published books, nor should we have to. We owe it to readers to tell them the truth.
That’s the reality of this business.
Have you ever had criticism that you thought harsh and unfounded and later realised was actually really helpful?