By the time you’ve published a book, the process was so exhausting, thrilling, and exciting, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting one thing that happens when you put your work out into the world; you get book reviews!
Now, if you promised yourself you’d read any review with an open mind, ready to take on constructive criticism with grace and humility, and have committed to humbly bask in the glow of any praise, you might be in for a shock.
As much as you’ve prepared yourself for getting reviews, it does not compare to what happens when you do actually get a review.
Even if it’s good, even if it’s bad, the reality that you can’t control what other people will say/get/understand/love/hate about your book really hits you. For when that happens, use these dos and don’ts.
The Do’s And Don’ts Of Handling Book Reviews
If you can’t handle it, have someone you trust check, but you should at least look at some reviews. Anything good will encourage you to keep writing—which we all need, no matter what point we’re at in our writing journey. Anything constructive can be helpful, for example, a review mentioning an error or a typo can make you aware of something that needs fixing. And anything critical can cut straight through to your soul, but still teach you things, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
Don’t Dwell On The Negativity
Not everyone will love your work, and there are people who absolutely love to let you know they thought your book sucked. Trouble is, most of the time, those are the things that stick with you. Ten people might have told you they loved your book, but it’s the eleventh that didn’t whose words will echo in your head every time you sit down to write.
If you think you mentally can’t handle it—which is a normal, human reaction—get someone to check reviews for you and only let you know about the feedback that will help. This is not about only hearing good things and never anything bad. It’s about protecting your mental health and keeping you writing.
Do Treat It Like Beta Feedback
Just like when you sorted through your beta feedback and made adjustments, use your review comments to make improvements. If more than two reviews highlight a pacing problem, or you notice you’re getting praise for the way you’ve world built, but a few different people seem to not like a specific character, keep it in mind when writing your next book.
As tempting as it is to respond to a review, especially one you feel is overly critical or wrong, don’t do it. You may have heard the motto that “Reviews are for readers”, and it’s true. As much as you can learn from reading your reviews, the real purpose of a review is to let other readers know if they should pick up your book. Do not engage with the reviewers.
If you feel as if you have to write something, write it to yourself. Pour everything you’re feeling about the review onto some paper and then rip it up. It will get it out of your system, privately. Writing about it publicly makes it something you’ll eventually regret.
Do Remember It’s About Credibility
While the first few reviews you get might be 4 and 5 stars, eventually you will get 3 stars, 2, and even 1. Some writers take this on as a badge of honor and celebrate the fact they’ve gotten their first 1-star review. It’s okay to do that, it’s even okay to feel bad you’ve gotten low ratings. What you need to know/remember is that a mix of ratings gives you credibility.
When my first book, Blackbirch: The Beginning, was published, a friend mentioned it to a work colleague who decided to check out the ebook. One of the first things he did was look at the ratings on Goodreads and he then told my friend it was (at that time) only 4 and 5 stars and that made him question if it was only friends or family members that had left reviews. There was no credibility.
My friend did tell him she didn’t know any of the people who’d left reviews, and unless he saw her name there, it was definitely not just friends or family members. He bought the ebook after that, but when I was told the story, it was an interesting learning moment. I didn’t know that’s what some people thought when they saw only positive reviews.
For the record—and so this isn’t seen as a humblebrag—I have since racked up a 2 and 3-star review, and I am glad they’re there because I now know they give my book ratings the credibility that some readers need to see before buying.
Don’t Get Caught Up Constantly Checking
If the first thing you do every day is check to see if you’ve gotten a review, stop right now. While I’m not saying don’t ever check on your reviews, you don’t need to be checking on them daily, especially if you’re doing that instead of writing.
Do Accept That Not Everyone Will Leave A Review
Reviews help, and you’ll learn that quickly when you’re part of the writing community. Everyone loves to encourage reviews as they help with rankings, credibility, and getting your book seen by potential readers who may buy it. You can ask people to review your book, in a note at the end of your novel, or via regular social media posts, but what you can’t do it make someone leave a review.
Some people don’t, whether it’s because they don’t know how, don’t have the accounts (they aren’t a member of Goodreads), haven’t bought enough from Amazon (sadly, it’s true that even if they’ve purchased your book and it’s a verified sale, if they haven’t spent $50 in the last year, Amazon will not allow them to leave a review), or they just don’t know what to write (for the record, you don’t need to write anything more than “I liked it” or leave anything more than a star rating).
Even if someone tells you to your face they read your book and absolutely loved it, they still might not leave a review anywhere that lets the rest of the world know. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t get upset if you sold 100 copies and only got 5 reviews from it. It is frustrating, but you can’t control this aspect of the writing life, and the quicker you come to terms with that, the better.
Any review is a reason to be thankful because whether it’s good, great, or horribly heartbreaking, your work inspired someone else to take time out of their day to write about something you created—and that’s a good thing.
How about you? What’s your best do or don’t tip for book reviews? Let me know in the comments! And thank you to everyone who has or will leave a review for my book. It’s very much appreciated.
— K.M. Allan