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Bad Book Review? Here's Some Advice on How to Handle It


It happens to the best of us. You've toiled for weeks, months, even years, and poured your blood, sweat, and tears into the effort to create a literary masterpiece. You've gotten it edited and revised it to perfection. Then – hooray! – it was published and shared with the world! But then the reviews start coming in, and not everyone is in love with your work. During your literary career, you're bound to get one or two (or ten) bad reviews. Yes, it stings, and it can feel like a punch in the gut. Here are some suggestions to help you deal with a bad book review and even use it to your advantage.

Wallow (briefly!)

No one likes to be told their hard work isn't great. It's perfectly natural to feel discouraged, angry, and defensive. While you don't want to dwell on your rage and spiral into the depths of despair, it's cathartic to give yourself some time and space to feel what you're feeling. Scream into a pillow. Punch the air (you can even picture the face of your nemesis while you jab. I won't judge). Vent to a friend. Meditate. Sit with your feelings for a minute, but then move on.

Resist the urge to respond to the reviewer

As tempting as it is to send a scathing (or even polite) reply to the offending reviewer, don't do it. In the digital world, anything tweeted, posted, or commented is out there forever, and you can't take it back. You will likely regret whatever you might say to him or her, and most people who read your response will see you as petty and small. Even an email is a bad idea. Approach the experience with grace and professionalism, and remember that maintaining a positive professional relationship with the reviewer will only help you in the long run.

Express your side of the story privately

The advice "Just get over it" is way easier said than done. If you're feeling too enraged to see straight, it could help to write a letter to the reviewer on your private computer (not online) or on paper with the intent to work through your feelings. Remember that you'll do this with the ultimate goal of deleting it, not sending it, ever! Start by expressing the emotions you're feeling the most intensely (like anger and frustration) and let it all out. You're the only one who will see this letter, so don't hold back. There's no need to sensor your feelings (or language) here. After you've expressed your strongest emotion, move on to another feeling you might be having, like sadness. Write out every depressing or fearful quip that has crossed your mind. When you've exhausted that corner of your brain, move on to regret. Explore anything you wish you had done differently. You can't change the past, but you can outline what anything you're regretting to help you leave it behind. Finally, come up with something you can respect or appreciate about the reviewer or the situation you're in. You don't have to be dishonest, but finding sincere gratitude during a difficult situation can help you change your perspective.

The purpose of this letter is to explore and process your emotions with the goal of giving them a voice without consequence. Hopefully you'll feel better upon completing it. Don't forget: when you're all done writing this letter, destroy it. (Pro tip: this letter exercise can help you work through all kinds of relationships, not just literary ones!)

Congratulate yourself on arriving as a writer

Bad reviews are all part of the experience of being a good writer. A bad review communicates that your book is deserving of buzz. Consider every stellar literary hit, and amid the mega-fandom, you'll find people who hated the book. Keep in mind that you created a work of art, and art is subjective. Not everyone is going to appreciate your book, and remember that it's impossible to please everyone when you're creating a book with any worth. The fact that someone is unhappy with your book indicates that you've created something of real value and substance. In this way, a bad review is like a compliment in disguise.

Consider that bad reviews provide legitimacy to your good reviews

Have you ever seen a work of literature that had only raving reviews? It can start to feel a little unbelievable that everyone, everywhere, absolutely loved a piece of writing. Having a bad review among a sea of otherwise happy readers can give validity to the work, and your potential readers will see the polarity of opinion as a challenge to explore it for themselves. Also, don't forget that there is opposition in all things. Just as your tough days make your good days that much sweeter, your bad review will give added validity and impact to the glowing appraisals that will inevitably come pouring in.

Re-read your good reviews

Negative feedback can give the best of authors a case of tunnel vision. From personal experience, I can tell you that, amid hundreds of positive, glowing reviews, the negative ones stick in my brain the most. Do yourself a favor and remind yourself just how much positive feedback you have generated with your brilliant work. You are talented and hardworking. You are creative. You have brought joy and entertainment to countless people, and one sneer isn't going to change that. Save a copy of your most positive reviews as a resource to look over whenever you forget how gifted and dazzling you are.

Search for constructive feedback within the review

The review of your book likely had comments you didn't agree with or that were even inaccurate. It can be easy to dismiss criticism, especially when it hurts so much to open yourself up to the idea that your work isn't actually perfect. But give it a try. You might find some snippets of valuable feedback that can inspire you to look at your approach a little differently. You might find confirmation of your own sneaking suspicion that your character development is flawed or that you tend to drone on with descriptions. Furthermore, a person who didn't like your work can give alert you about who belongs in your target audience and who isn't a good fit for your topic.

Even if it stinks to get negative feedback, correcting course is how we grow and develop as artists (and as humans). However, during this process, try not to get hung up on the negative aspects of your review. Farming the criticism for constructive words is a delicate process, so make sure you're in a secure headspace, and maybe even enlist a friend to help you stay objective.

Grab the useful bits and walk away

Remind yourself that this is just one person's opinion. Furthermore, some people are just trolls; those people have their own problems to work through and aren't worth your time. And if they aren't trolls, you can be sure that even well-respected book reviewers can get nasty once in a while. While there can be some valid points in a negative post, some reviewers can get on a high horse and criticize others' work solely to earn a paycheck or just to feel superior. Look at the reviewer's usual work; does he or she publish negative reviews regularly? You might just be the latest victim in this person's usual job of spewing negativity all over the literary world. You will fare best if you just take whatever good points you can find in your reviews to fuel your growth, and then leave the bad review in the past.

Keep writing

Criticism of your life's work can trigger a spiral of depression in which a lot of people feel unworthy to keep trying. You might be tempted to let the sting of a bad review make you feel like an imposter in the writing world, but whatever you do, don't stop writing. It can be scary to put yourself out there again, but this is the best way to move past a bad experience. Channel your pain and anger into your next work. If you're still feeling the need for revenge, you can even base your villain character on your reviewer and make him or her the subject of great loathing and spite among everyone in your new story!

As a writer, you pretty much have to count on getting reviews of all flavors and levels of approval, so try to take each one with a grain of salt. Although bad reviews can hurt a LOT, some good can still come of them. Embrace the ups and downs of the writing process, and someday, while basking in your literary glory, you'll likely think back on your opposers with fondness and gratitude (or gloating. Again, I won't judge!).

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