Bad publicity, usually in the form of a one-star review, is most authors’ worst nightmare. I have good news. Repeat after me: ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity.’
Public relations professionals know this, but it’s hard to persuade others to believe us. In defence of my statement, I have two words for you: Donald Trump.
The man gets more bad publicity than anyone I know. Yet… is he still president of the United States? Yes. Has he been impeached? No. Does he get his full salary and all his perks every month? Yes. Is he one of the most powerful individuals in the world? Yes. Do the media and foreign governments everywhere still want to know what he is thinking? Yes
The issue with bad publicity is not that it’s career-ending, but that it hurts. Even President Trump hurts. (You can tell by the way he lashes out like a two-year-old on occasion.) When someone slaps a one-star review on a book you’ve put your heart and soul into, you feel as if you are being lashed with a cat-o-nine-tails.
Good reasons not to be phased by bad publicity:
- You can’t please all the people all of the time. This is a lesson we learnt at school and need to remember.
- Trolls don’t bother to give bad reviews to unknown authors. A one or two-star review is a sign your career is on an upward trajectory.
- A bad review is often a sign of incompatibility rather than of quality. If a literary reader gets her hands on your romance, chances are that she is not going to enjoy it. ‘Not my tribe’ and a shrug of your shoulders is the appropriate response.
- A bad review is often indicative of a reader’s personal preferences. Refer point 1.
- A reader may be triggered by a scene in your book which causes them emotional pain. Understand that they haven’t been able to resolve the problem in their real life. Empathy is called for.
- If the reviewer says something like ‘I didn’t read this book’ or ‘I couldn’t read this book’ – seriously, you will see both on Good Reads by people will still think they are entitled to leave a review – know that you are dealing with an unintelligent and emotionally stunted individual who doesn’t have the nous to understand that you can’t
write a review if you didn’t read the book. Such people are not to be taken seriously.
- A three-star review on a five-star rating scale is not a bad review. Some people naturally score lower than other readers (it is that darn human individuality thing rearing its head again).
- A thoughtful, critical review is something you can learn from. Swallow your pride and appreciate the fact that the reviewer took the time to put it down on paper.
- If the negative publicity relates to factual inaccuracies, you have the opportunity to turn it around – and in the process give more air time to your book. It’s best to use a general forum to discuss the matter or to reply offline.
- If the bad review of your book gets a lot of attention, that person has done you the favour of putting you on the map and introducing you to a new audience. Trust your readers. They can differentiate between a diatribe and a thoughtful review. Think about it: how often have you read a negative review of a movie and decided to watch it anyway?
Tips for dealing with bad publicity
- First, discount the trolls. If you just can’t let go of their comments, take action. Wear your tiara as a reminder that trolls only attack the successful. Or buy yourself a voodoo doll and stick a pin in it for every troll.
- Maintain your sense of perspective. As a society, we’re vulnerable to all or nothing thinking – if we don’t get 100% or a five-star review, we think we’ve failed. Not true.
- Remember it is your book that is being criticised, not you. This is particularly pertinent when the reader and your genre are incompatible.
- Know that you are not alone. Sooner or later, everyone gets a bad review. Talk to your writer friends and believe their reassurances.
- Take time-out before replying, if at all, and strive to be graceful under pressure. I recommend against responding directly to ‘bad’ reviews. It only results in a lot of he said/she said back and forth that won’t make you feel any better.
- Use a different forum or an offline conversation to deal with factual inaccuracies. For example, if someone accuses you of historical inaccuracy, you can write a blog post that starts something like: A reader queried whether XXX really happened. The answer is yes. In my research, etc, etc.
- Re-read a good review – and post it online where people can see it. It counts more than a bad review because you can replicate it on many different platforms.
- Treat bad reviews as learning experiences. What can you learn – about the book, yourself or the reviewer? Often, it is all about them.
- If you made a mistake, acknowledge it and thank the person for taking the time to let you know. No one is perfect. My experience is that readers appreciate an author who can acknowledge mistakes, correct them and move on. If you take this approach, they are more likely to stay with you on your journey than if you get defensive. She could
be your perfect beta reader.
- Grow a thick skin. If that doesn’t work, don’t read the reviews. You are under no obligation to do so.
Does anybody have an experience they’d like to share? I’m happy to analyse it as a case study.
Coming up in forthcoming posts: learning from rejections; identifying your sub-genre; publishing trends; defining success, and more.
Laura Boon Russell
Laura is a bookaholic and tennis tragic. She became entangled in publishing after reading Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades and ‘stealing’ The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss from her father’s bookshelves as a teenager. She has worked as a bookseller, sales rep, publicist and freelance editor. She is forever indebted to the RWA for giving her the courage and the tools to write the stories she wants to tell. She has three books out in the wild: The Millionaire Mountain Climber (Wild Rose Press), Lion Dancing for Love (Wild Rose Press) and The Ten-Step Publicity Plan for Authors (indie).
You can find Laura online at: