It finally happened.
My debut, my baby, Agents of Change got its first negative review. It took four months and nineteen days since the book’s release to receive its first, definitive blow. Sure, up to this point, if you look on Goodreads, you can see that there have been a one or two so-so reviews. But none possessed the same sting as this one, written by AB Riddle of Underground Book Reviews.
Click Here to Read the Full Review (while the writer doesn’t place a “star” value on the book, she gave me a heads up that it will be given two stars on both Amazon and Goodreads).
As a new indie writer, your reaction to your first negative review can help or break your career (note that I didn’t say “make or break” your career…your career may not necessarily take off if you gracefully take a negative review but it most definitely will be derailed if you don’t). Given this, I thought I would share my reaction to my first negative review.
When AB emailed me that she had completed the review, she told me that it would not be positive and even gave me the option of declining to have the review posted (many small review blogs do this). After that preface, I proceeded to read the entire review. As I started seeing negative references to certain storylines being “disconnected from the plot,” or the book’s themes being a “thinly-veiled attempt to address these topics,” and even a “he published this novel too soon,” my face grew hot, not out of anger but out of disappointment, I think.
It’s normal to feel this way. It’s okay to feel deflated (for at least a few hours, anyway) after a negative review.
It’s also normal for you as the writer to think of counterarguments against everything the reviewer said. In my mind, some of the things (but not all of the things) AB said felt unfair, but as a writer, it’s not my place to verbalize those things, even though it is human nature to want to do so. My counterarguments could even be right, but it doesn’t matter. Here’s why…
What I Could Have Done
What I could have done in response to this review is execute my option of not having the review published and proceed to then bombard AB with all of my counterarguments.
Obviously, that is not the way to go about responding to a negative review.
Other than making me look like a ginormous ass, the biggest reason it would have been wrong for me to argue AB’s review, either in my reply email or here on my blog, is that AB’s review is strictly her opinion. You can’t argue someone’s opinion, unless it’s tinged with personal attacks, which her review was not. The fact is, that’s how she felt about the book. It may not necessarily mean that you as the writer did anything wrong (although it usually means that you did), it just means that that was her impression upon reading it. When you think of it that way–that it’s just one person’s opinion–it’s not that bad.
Looking at the Positive
Now, if you are lucky enough to work with a great reviewer like AB, they will be fair. AB’s fairness enabled her (subconsciously, I think, based on the wording of her preface) to point out the positives of the book. In fact, there are a few gems I plan to pull from her review as I attempt to further market the book. These include:
“Guy Harrison’s writing was non-stop action and kept me turning pages from beginning to end.”
“The themes throughout the book were fantastic.”
“…I had hoped the love story would keep me entertained. In that regard, Agents of Change did redeem itself. The love triangle that the main character finds himself in was far from hot and steamy, but it progressed in a surprising direction.” (As an aside, I’d have a hard time marketing that bit of the review but at least it will be there on Amazon and Goodreads.”
“Guy Harrison is a good writer…I have no doubt that Guy has enough imagination and talent to carry him further. I am excited to see how his career progresses…”
When I read all of these things, I nearly hit my head on the ceiling as I jumped for joy (okay, slight exaggeration). Seriously, though, with the exception of the first quote I pulled, none of the other positive reviews for the book have made mention of the love story or themes. Although negative, her review filled a few voids that I think will help potential buyers make more informed decisions.
And (I may be biased in saying this but), given those quotes, if I was strongly considering purchasing this book, AB’s review wouldn’t necessarily scare me away. If I was looking for a book that delivered action with a touch of romance, I might still buy Agents.
What I Did Do
After reading the review, reflecting on the negatives, and celebrating the positives, I thanked AB for her time and review and expressed that while the review did sting, I’d waive my option to not have it posted. I explained that there really are no such things as bad reviews (unless things get personal) and that her review will actually help.
Given my response, AB followed up by praising my graceful response to the review and asked me for an interview (which will appear on Underground tomorrow). This may seem unorthodox given the negative tone of her review, but considering the last quote I pulled from her review, I could see why she might want to pick my brain.
So, yes, Agents of Change’s Amazon and Goodreads ratings may take a hit, but, my response to AB’s email actually helped forge a mutual admiration which will help me get my name and my book out there for more people to see.
The lesson, simply stated like one of those new DirecTV commercials: don’t act like an ass.
If you get a negative review, don’t be argumentative, don’t lash out, and most importantly, don’t take it (too) personally. Remember, it is just one person’s opinion. Some readers are pickier than others (AB did express to me that she was a very picky reviewer). Others just don’t find your book to be one that they typically enjoy.
Case in point…I had another reviewer a few weeks ago say that Agents wasn’t “fiction enough” for her, which essentially means that she was anticipating harder sci-fi or fantasy. What can I really do or say about that?
Bottom line: It is what it is.