When Harsh Reviews Attack

10:05 AM

You are standing in front of a crowd, waiting for a reaction of some kind when you here a crack like thunder. You fall back, the ground coming up to meet your back, the wind is knocked out of you and the pain to your chest is so intense you black out. When you come to, you are staring up at the star filled sky, you survived a gun shot to the chest thanks to your bulletproof vest but it still hurts like hell. Your only saving grace is knowing that you are alive.

Now we, the public, are aware of bulletproof vests from movies, books, what may have you, and we know that they are meant to up one's chance of survival when one is shot. Well, shot in the vest which covers your widest area where a would be assailants would shoot at, your torso region. What people don't know is these vest are not bullet proof but bullet resistant and they do not ensure that you would survive a gun shot, but they do up the chances of survival.

So what does this have to do with reviews and the writer's life?

I'm getting there. While writing and publishing ebooks, I've been consuming a lot of content (books, blog posts, podcasts) on being an indie writer and during my education, I picked up a bullet proof vest for reviews. In knowing the following, I felt that I could take on any harsh review on the work I put out there,

  • a review is someone's opinion on your work and is colored by their life experiences;
  • some of the great novels out there have harsh reviews;
  • my books are not for everyone;
  • a review is done by one person and is not a reflection of the feelings of all who have read my book(s);

Because I knew the above, I felt that I could take on any harsh view that came my way then I got harsh reviews on the first book of a romance series I put out earlier this month, More Than Friends. It started with a reader posting on Goodreads and sharing on Twitter that she was pissed with the main characters. Then they gave it a two star review and another person gave it three stars on Goodreads and the same was done on Amazon. The thunderous crack, the immense pain to my chest, I was down on the ground, and all the while I'm chanting to myself, why am I defending my work to myself?

How I deal
I won't say I didn't want to respond and defend my work by agreeing or disagreeing with their reviews, but I've read a lot of books over the years that have changed my ways of thinking. From Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People to Eckhart Tolle's books, I've read my share and from what I've learned from them, I recognize that,

  •  People are entitled to their opinions. And if you argue with them, they will hold onto it with the ferocity of a mother defending her child. People have their thoughts on the matter and it isn't in my place to place a value judgement on their thoughts. Are the reviews really harsh? What can I learn from the reviews to make my upcoming books better?
  • Despite these reviews, people have been buying this book. For the first time since self publishing books, this is the first time I've seen sales almost every day or multiple sales in a day. I've had a month pass and didn't see one sale. This genre of books are wanted and people will buy when they see a book that looks interesting. Plus, people have joined my email list to be notified when the next book in the series comes out, the book couldn't be that bad if this happened.
  • I wrote a book that was messy. Messy in that it portrayed people as they were not as we think they should be. A lot of times we read romance novels when people have their shit together, but really who do you know has their shit together? Who has the perfect set of values, beliefs and by extension, their actions are always right? In my lifetime (short as it is), I've seen people make foolish decisions that make you wonder what the hell were they thinking and still they go about their business because you know what, it's their business.
  • There are worst books out there in comparison to mine. I've read a few and I've felt robbed. From them being half of the stories (heck some of them were quarters of the stories) to me wondering is that it? I won't be reading any more from those authors but others will, and the same it will be when it comes to my books. What would be funny if the people who gave me harsh reviews reviewed the three other books in the series. Time will tell.
  • Even professionals mess up. Not everyone is perfect. I remember one incident ever so clearly that I use as a reminder. It is Beyonce's "Video Phone" music video with Lady GaGa a few years ago. Gosh, I thought that video was awful, but that one video didn't ruin either performers' careers. They didn't pack up their bags and said "I'm done," they moved on to the next thing and that is what I'm doing.
  • The book got a reaction. I'm sure writers know what I mean when they return to their book's page and see no stars and have to take that daunting step of asking for reviews. It's not that people won't review your book but they never get around to it and they need a reminder, but why does it feel so.... demeaning, like you are begging, (fill in what ever you feel is appropriate)? Oh, yeah, if you've read any of my books, please leave me a review. Thank you, much. In a way, it's better to get some reaction rather than no reaction at all.

Now that I've let my feelings have their 15 minutes of fame, I now can look at the reviews with the eyes of a person who sees her writing career as a business. I've shipped a product and now I can learn from my mistakes and make the next series of books better than this series.

I looked at the reviews, and I try to see the positive like,
  • Neither reviewer said the book was poorly written;
  • One said it had potential;
  • One said that they would stop at Book 1, which to me means that it was a complete book and not one that would leave the reader pissed that they have to buy another book to continue the story;
  • One had strong feelings towards a character, that means they got into the story; 

Then I ask myself the hard questions,
  • How can I make the stories better in accordance with these reviews?
  • Do I want to change up my storytelling style to appease these reviewers?
  • Should I consider learning how to write the standard romance novel so that I fall in line with the expectations of romance readers?
  • If I do so, what would differentiate my books from what is already on the market? Then why bother write if it is a mimicry of what is already available?
  • What should be my next move?

Reviews are a part of a writer's life, but one should not let positive or negative reviews impact one's writing career negatively. So far, I've seen positive results from publishing this particular type of book. I approached this series of books with a business mindset, checking the following boxes to the best of my ability,

  • Writing in a niche and marketing in that niche (BWWM romance)
  • Writing a series with the final product being a box set (Friends and Lovers is the series name)
  • Working to have a clean cover
  • Working on the description and title so that it is keyword heavy, making it pop out when particular searches are made in Amazon

In the end I got sales, reviews and people on my email list. Yes, I got harsh reviews, but as the old adage goes,

You can't make omelets without breaking a few eggs.
(yeah, I probably wrote that wrong)

All I can say to you, fellow writer, is the same thing I'm telling myself right now and in the days to come,

Keep writing, keep getting better at your craft, continue to build your catalog or books, your readers will find you, and just focus on the next step, it will get you to where you want to go.

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