Countdown to Publication: Negative Press

Hi SheWriters,

I just received a Google alert mentioning my last book, Kinky Gazpacho:Life, Love & Spain. I clicked on the link and found an absolutely glowing review of my memoir by a random blogger. She loved my story, loved my writing and even mentioned that she couldn’t wait to read my next book. It was the kind of unexpected review that makes us writers feel like we must be doing something right. But before I could even take the time to bask in the warm, fuzzy feelings, I realized there was a comment on the review. So of course, I read it. Big mistake.

The comment was longer than the review and for every positive point made, this angry reader had three or four in rebuttal. This person absolutely hated my book and took the time to carefully detail exactly why it is was the worst thing in the world she’d ever taken the time to read. She was quite thorough.

So, as we creep closer to the pub date for my first novel, I am wavering between excitement and dread. I can’t wait for people to read Substitute Me, because I think it’s a really good story and I love my characters (And the New York TImes just ran an article yesterday that claimed nanny novels are still hot! Sadly my book wasn't mentioned in the article, but we can talk about that later.). But on the other hand, I know the book isn’t perfect. I know there are flaws. I’m sure some people will find the storyline distasteful. They may ban the book in certain libraries in the South (I’m exaggerating … sort of.).

I did receive my first media mention in the just-out August issue of Essence magazine. It was a very positive review. I was thrilled. But just as quickly, I realized, this is just the beginning of ‘review season’ and I must prepare myself for the worst. I know if I’m not prepared, those negative comments can really wound my sensitive writer’s soul. What’s more, bad press has the power to curb my enthusiasm for my publicity efforts.

Since this is my third book, I know the drill. I know everybody has the right to his or her own opinion and just because one person hates my book, doesn’t mean another person won’t fall in love with it. I have to remind myself of all of the books that I have hated, tossed aside in disgust or fallen asleep while trying to read. Some of those were the very same tomes that others gushed over and consider to be masterpieces.

I know I can’t let one or two bad reviews derail my master plan for getting Substitute Me into the hands of every woman in America. I just have to be ready. I’ve actually been following another author, who like me, has only written non-fiction but has just published her first novel. She’s a social media fool and takes any and every opportunity to get the word out about her book. Just for fun I checked the reviews on her book and they weren’t so good. Clearly this hasn’t stopped her and it hasn’t stopped the robust sales of her book. Lesson learned. Deep breath. Bring it on.

How do you all handle negative reviews of your work?

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Comment by Farah Damji on August 3, 2010 at 3:23am
There are ways to have negative and defamatory or untrue comments removed from Amazon, contact , there must be a similar resource for Amazon in the US. And remember in the brilliant words of Maya Angelou, about the haters, they know your glory but not your story. Most of the really negative comments I had on my book, which has been brilliantly reviewed in all the international media outlets that matter to me, were actually from a deluded first time author who thinks that if she puts negative comments up about my book, then it somehow enables her to bask in reflected glory. DO something about it so you don't feel persecuted or powerless and all the best blessings with your book!
Comment by Zetta Brown on August 3, 2010 at 3:16am
Hi Lori,

Let me tell you a funny story. My book, MESSALINA - DEVOURER OF MEN has received decent reviews on Amazon, but there was one reviewer who blasted it. I read their (original) review and soon realized that she is not the type of reader I aim for. It happens. What was funny is that someone responded to her review and challenged her reading comprehension skills. It was a disturbingly funny thing to see unfold. The original reviewer even went back and rewrote her review to try and bolster her case for not liking it during the sparring match! I knew better than to try to offer my $.02 because that, unfortunately, is the worst thing an author can do. But I didn't have to. Someone else had read and enjoyed my book was doing just fine LOL.

But sometimes you have to consider the source. You may not be aware, but there was a news story about an academic author who slammed the works of his colleagues' books "anonymously" on Amazon while plugging his own work. One of the authors he slammed did some detective work and traced it back to this author. This man behaved totally unethically and unprofessionally. He embarrassed himself, his wife, his lawyers. Very ugly. You can read about it here:

Tis the beast that is the Amazon review.

Personally, I've learned to deal with negative reviews like every other author by developing a thicker skin. That and the fact that the positive reviews posted for all to see or the kind emails sent to me privately are worth more than any "bad" review. I save these comments and reviews and will read them when I need someone to come to my pity party. It helps perk me up LOL

Also, the support of family and friends and other authors who know what you're going through are a BIG help. So write on, Lori!
Comment by Persia Walker on July 31, 2010 at 6:00pm
Coming late to this discussion, but I have to add this: Try, try hard, to think of this negative review in a positive light. The worst reaction a reader can have is not dislike, but indifference. You obviously struck this reader in some deep way and that's a positive, right? (I also agree with Julie in that this reviewer must've had problems.) Having said that, I wish I could add that I don't let myself feel hurt by negative reviews. I do. But I don't feel bad about it being vulnerable. I once heard a bestselling author, someone who has literally sold millions of books, tell a room how hurt he was at the negative reader reaction he got to one of his books -- a book that also sold in the millions! Moral of the story: You can't please everyone. There is ALWAYS going to be someone who finds fault with what we do and no matter how successful we are, we might find ourselves vulnerable. My best advice for handling: Move one. Immerse yourself in your next book. By the time the reviews come out about book #1, you're already on to #2, and by the time the reviews come out about #2, you're already on to #3. Keep rolling and you'll be fine.
Comment by Deborah Siegel on July 20, 2010 at 8:32am
I remember reading once that Virginia Woolf didn't even read the negative reviews...Carleen: I think letting the bad ones go says a LOT about your mental stability!
Comment by Carleen on July 18, 2010 at 11:09am
It might not say much about my mental stability, but I do try to remember the good reviews and let the bad ones go.
Comment by Tayari Jones on July 17, 2010 at 7:36am
I'm trying not to worry so much about reviews- negative OR positive. There is nothing you can really do about them. And even if the criticism is constructive, there is nothing you can do to change the book.

How do you let a positive review make your day, but not let a negative review depress the hell out of you? It seems that if you establish a connection between your reviews and your emotions, you are vulnerable. I don't know if you can say that you only take reviews to heart if you like them. Does that make sense?
Comment by Julie Jeffs on July 15, 2010 at 7:58pm
Lori, I can't speak from experience as my memoir is still in first draft stage but I think you have to really look at the negative reviewer. That she/he spent so much time and effort to trash your work says more about them than you, you obviously hit a very raw nerve. I mean you say yourself you have read books that you hated but really, have you ever thought to put that much effort into writing a negative review of it? I would think not. Chin up, the glowing review is worth so much more. Looking forward to the release of Substitute Me. She Writes will be here for you, to celebrate and be the support you need.
Comment by Maddie Dawson on July 15, 2010 at 5:52pm
Yikes, Lori! I know just how you feel. My novel, The Stuff That Never Happened, is coming out on Aug. 3rd and already I am doing a bunch of deeeeeep breathing exercises just to prepare myself for what comes next. I have writer friends who swear they don't read reviews, and writer friends who hang on every word of them, and I don't know which kind I'm going to be just yet. One thing I do know: you're right to point out that bad reviews don't sink a book's chances, as in your example of the social media person who has a bunch of bad reviews and is still selling books. But the bad reviews do hurt. I had a "mixed" Publishers Weekly review, and friends have rushed to assure me that people will only see the good things they said. Why is it that I only see the couple of bad things they said? Luckily we have our She Writes community to comfort us and make us know we're not alone. And I'm going to go right now and order your book! I wish you the very best!!
Comment by Lori L. Tharps on July 15, 2010 at 8:53am
Wow! Thanks everybody. This was just the shot of confidence and good advice I needed (perhaps we all needed) to hear. It is really helpful to hear how others deal with negative reviews. And in the world of book bloggers now, it's true that there are going to be far more "reviews" out there. That being said, a random blogger who doesn't like your book certainly doesn't have as much impact as say a Booklist or PW. But even those don't usually make or break a book. I will keep my chin up...and if I do waver, I'll come right back here and cry at SheWrites. Thanks, Ladies.
Comment by Eunice Lipton on July 15, 2010 at 7:34am
If it's "bigtime" and BAD, i get mad, crushed, then very unhappy.i cry, i fume, i cry. i put it behind me, sort of. but it hangs around particularly if you feel it has a major effect on what happens to the book. if the negative review happens in a "minor" place, i don't think about it much. People are entitled to their opinions, after all. it's just when the book needs a chance to have a life and doesn't get it, THAT kills me. and that's what happened to my last book, french seduction. anyway, i really appreciate your frankness about all this and i wish you so much luck on your next book. EL


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