Please welcome Laura Heffernan to Writer Unboxed today!
Laura is the author of America’s Next Reality Star, which she claims as proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.
Negative Reviews (and Why I don’t Read Them)
The other day, I was out with a writer friend and mentioned that I don’t read negative reviews. She said, “That’s impressive. You have amazing willpower.”
While I appreciate the sentiment, anyone who has read one of my couple thousand tweets about cookie dough or Cadbury mini-eggs knows: I don’t have the best willpower. When I really want something, I’m not awesome at denying myself. But here’s the thing: I have zero interest in reading negative reviews. None. I want to do it less than I want to stand outside naked in January.
Conventional wisdom says not to read negative reviews, but I ignore all kinds of conventional wisdom about things like not eating raw. It’s not that. And I’m not ignoring negative reviews because they’re unpleasant and I don’t like unpleasant things (although that’s also true). It’s that I fail to see any way that reading negative reviews can benefit me.
- The “I Hate This Type of Book” Review
So, you picked up the book, and you read it without looking to see what it’s about? You’re living on the edge, my friend. Or you picked up the book, read the back cover copy, thought, “I’m going to hate this”, and read it anyway? And you did this knowing that you’re the type of person who posts negative reviews about books they don’t like?
…. I can’t help you. Hearing why you hate this type of book will not improve my life, because I’m still going to write them.
- The “This Book Has Mistakes” Review
Congratulations, reviewer! You’re the first perfect person since Jesus Christ himself!
In all seriousness, if there’s a single typo in your review where you slam my book for grammatical errors, I won’t take you seriously. But beyond that – typos happen. They creep in everywhere. They creep in during editing. I’ve accepted Tracked Changes requests and seen typos appear. Technology isn’t perfect. People aren’t perfect, and mistakes happen. I had to learn to accept months ago that my published book might have typos in it. Still, seeing that you found a typo is just going to make me sad, because I swear I read that thing at least two dozen times. And so did many other people.
- The “How This Book Could Be Better” Review
I’m not Proctor and Gamble. I can’t use your feedback to improve the product and send out better versions. The book is done. The publisher isn’t going to change it because you didn’t like the plot twist on page 74. Knowing what people didn’t like about the book isn’t information I can use to improve this book.
Now, if someone wrote a positive/neutral review and included a few suggestions for improvement, that’s different. I might see that, and I will consider the feedback. But there’s a difference between providing constructive feedback and trashing a book because you can. I’ll stick with reading the former.
Sure, there are plenty of types of reviews that don’t fit into these categories. But if someone doesn’t like my writing or was mislead by the blurb or the cover into thinking they were reading something else, I’m also not going to feel better about myself reading that. I need to protect my writing space, and obsessing about negative reviews when I should be writing is only going to send negative energy into my work-in-progress to be edited out later.
I’ve heard a couple of other arguments for reading negative reviews.
I don’t have any statistics on this, but I’m going to assume the probability of someone reviewing my book when they meant to review a different book called AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR is pretty much zero. And I don’t believe people are so careless they would accidentally post their scathing review of Ethan Frome on my book by mistake.
If someone actually does review the wrong book, well sooner or later, it’ll be reported to someone who can take action. Maybe someone will notify me. But I’m not going to subject myself to a bunch of vitriol about my book, just in case.
What if the Reviewer is Wrong?
No author has ever responded to a negative review on Amazon or Goodreads and come out looking good. I can’t respond to negative reviews, and as I mentioned above, I don’t have the most amazing willpower.
One of the first reviews I received was overall positive, but they criticized part of the reality show mechanism as unrealistic. The show in the book is inspired by an actual reality show that used the same mechanism. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t correct that reviewer (despite wishing I could), and I’m not going to correct anyone else who makes mistakes in their reviews. Because doing that never, ever, ever, ever, ever goes well for the author. I don’t want to become a What Not To Do article.
If I unintentionally posted something harmful in one of my books, I like to think someone would reach out personally and tell me (preferably via a private message or the email form on my website). That’s the one time negative feedback could be very useful to me, and I would absolutely appreciate hearing about it. However, I do my best to ensure that there’s no harmful content, so reading negative reviews just in case isn’t likely to be a productive use of my time.
There are so many things I’d rather be doing.
What about you? Fellow authors, do you read your negative reviews? Why or why not? What do you get out of them?