Dealing with negative book reviews

So, this topic has been on my mind lately, as I check in with Amazon and Goodreads to see what new reviews might have appeared for Winter of Ice and Iron. Not very many up on Amazon, I notice. Hopefully more will appear in the nearish future.

Anyway, I thought of this article, which I saw last year and found again this morning:

Real Writers Get Bad Book Reviews. Here’s Why That’s OK.

Here’s how this article starts off:

Why do so many writers go ballistic when they get a bad review?

Why do we RAGE at the single one-star review on Amazon and ignore the fifty good ones? Why do best sellers perceive a good, but unstarred review on Publishers Weekly as a wrenching rejection?

Are we all weak-willed namby-pambies in need of a spine transplant, or is there something else going on?

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson thinks it’s because our brains are wired to have a disproportionate reaction to bad news. In his book Hardwiring Happiness, he explains it this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

We simply pay more attention to and react more emotionally to negative outcomes.

I think this is interesting because my instant response to it is: “Who’s this “we,” buddy? Maybe you better speak for yourself and leave me out of it.”

The above description is so totally not true of my personal experience — neither part of it. I definitely do not RAGE at the single one-star review because (a) I don’t read one-star reviews, and (b) I’m pretty pleased if there’s only a single one-star review, and (c) I honestly don’t expect a book to work for every single reader and I don’t get writers who do expect that. I mean “expect” in the sense of “feel in the back of your mind that really everyone should love your book,” because I REALLY can’t imagine anyone rationally expecting only glowing reviews. I can’t imagine, in either sense, expecting only glowing reviews.

Also, I don’t ignore the fifty good reviews. They delight me. I linger over the longer, more thoughtful ones, but I also enjoy the short, pithy ones. There’s a short review for WINTER at Goodreads that simply says: Dark, complex, engrossing. I like that one quite a bit.

Now, I know that everyone deals with reviews a little bit differently. I know that because it’s obvious and also because of articles like this one, where we see that Jacqueline Carey says: “I’m sure [a negative review of a book] piqued the curiosity of a number of readers who might not have picked up the book otherwise.”

And evidently CJ Cherryh doesn’t read reviews at all. I kind of understand her position here, but I’m not a bit concerned about trying to slant my writing to please reviewers — I don’t think that’s actually possible anyway. For me, at least. Maybe CJC could write different stuff to please reviewers, but I constantly see positive reviews that say, “Neumeier’s work is so traditional,” yet since that’s what I like, I expect I will continue to write traditional fantasy. At least those reviews also often add, “But they’re really good traditional fantasy.”

Anyway, for me good reviews are inspiring and build my enthusiasm for whatever I’m working on, so refusing to read them would be a terrible idea.

Greg Bear adds, “I don’t think reviewers have that much power these days…. In my experience, single reviews seldom make much difference in sales. Cumulative reviews from many sources make more of an impact.”

I think this is true as well, especially since quite a lot of the time, phrases that the reviewer sees as negative (so traditional, way too slow-paced, etc) are going to be read as positives by some readers. Even a complete hatchet job of a review that strikes the author as wildly off-base is probably not going to deter readers who feel generally drawn to the book, as long as there is not a constant drumbeat of negativity all through the reviews. So getting fussed about one negative review out of fifty would be pretty useless.

So, anyway. How writers respond to reviews is of course going to be very individual, but I do suspect dwelling on the negative ones is probably a pretty good way to paralyze yourself until you can’t work on your current project, so offhand I can’t see much upside to letting yourself do that.

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