Lemur epitomizes how I feel today– ready to curl up and nap.
Y’all. I’m going to be honest. I know how important this is. I really do. But reviews are the thing I neglect the most, and I just can’t follow up on them. I’m the worst about giving them, and I’m the worst about asking for them, and I know I could just pay for them, but I keep hearing more and more horror stories about paid review sites. And let’s be honest– it’s a lot of money when you’re just starting out and already footing the bill for everything that goes into making your book.
So why are they important?
Well, reviews are considered to be a real representation of the public’s opinion of your product. Most of us use them as the hallmark for whether or not something might be up our alley, which is why it’s so important to have honest reviews. And it’s okay if you have negative reviews! Just because your book didn’t appeal to someone doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or you’re a bad writer, I say, even though my negative reviews trigger horrible imposter syndrome attacks and make me want to give up and never write again.
Handling negative reviews and what not to do
One of the hardest parts is reading the negative reviews and learning from them. Is this negative because it wasn’t to the reader’s taste? Or is it negative because the reader had a hard time getting through the book due to structural issues? How many other readers felt the same way? If you consistently get the same feedback, then those issues might be something you want to adjust. In my case, the most consistent verbal and written feedback I got was that I had too much world-building, too many characters, and rushed some of the key action sequences. It sucked reading and hearing that, and I didn’t want to even open my laptop for a week after the harshest review came in. But I made myself do it, and I incorporated what I learned from my readers into the next book. You’re going to do that too because even though studies all over the place confirm that we are more likely to have a negative reaction to negative feedback than a positive reaction to positive feedback, you are still a good author, and I believe in you!
But you know what you are not going to do? You are not going to attack anyone who leaves a negative review, and you are not going to complain about them online or ask your fans to go after them. If someone does not like your book, then that’s their opinion. They are entitled to that opinion. Cyberbullying someone because they dared to say something about your precious work is one of the worst things you can do. It calls your maturity and professionalism into question, and the one thing you, an artist who puts their work into the public eye, cannot be is thin-skinned. Cry, rant, scream, curse the reviewer’s name to the gods in the privacy of your own home. Do not take it online. I see a disturbing number of one star reviews that simply state that the reason for the review is because of the author’s reaction to other negative reviews. If you legitimately believe that you can address something about the review and get more insight, do so in a calm, professional, and thoughtful manner.
Why honest reviews are so important.
Of course, your friends and family want to leave glowing, five-star reviews. But imagine if you look up a book, see all of these rave comments, and when you start to read it, the plot’s all over the place, the writing is hard to get through, or any of a million things that you did not expect. People look to reviews as a way to set expectations, and most are actually not turned off by negative reviews unless they’re consistent. And let’s be honest– most authors, including me, didn’t write a five-star piece on their first try.
Reviews can be bought or cajoled, so when an unknown author has nothing but five-star reviews on their first work, it raises red flags. You run the risk of being overlooked by readers who distrust your work, and Amazon and Google have steps in place to try to curtail false reviews. In fact, Amazon filed a lawsuit against four and five-star review sellers. The last thing you want is for Amazon to bury your book because it thinks you’re gaming the system.
So what is the magic number?
According to a study by Northwestern University, 4.2-4.5 is the sweet spot. Like I said, a negative review is not a bad thing. It reinforces the authenticity of your readers and work, and if someone believes that real people read your book, then you have a better chance of gaining a new reader. When you ask your friends, family, and readers to leave reviews, stress to them that they don’t have to make it five stars just because it’s your book. They’ll help you more by leaving an honest review instead.