How Much Attention Should Writers pay to Bad Reviews?

“Do me a favor and don’t waste your time reading this book…the story line is awful.”
 “I wish someone else had written this book because I think it could have been great if written by a better storyteller.”
“The writing and dialogue were VERY bad.”
“The main character completely ruined the book for me. She’s bipolar, jumping from one emotion to the next like its nobody’s business. If I had been the male lead I would have punched her in the face and never talked to her again.”  (A selection of less than stellar reviews for Telesa.)

Book reviews. Bad book reviews. They’re inevitable for an author. Especially in this electronic day and age when anyone can read a book and then tell the world what they think about it. Right away. All over the internet. The first rule of wanting to be an author is – make sure you are tough enough to handle it when people hate your writing. Remember that, If there aren’t any peope that hate your work – then you arent reaching enough people. Embrace the haters. The second rule is – make sure you are strong enough NOT to respond/react publicly to a bad review. Don’t rant, rave, scream or hunt down that reviewer and kill them. (Can you tell these are Lani Young’s rules and very unlikely to be found in any writing manual?) The third rule is – make sure you are objective and discerning and grateful enough to look at each bad review and find the constructive bits in it. Ask, how can that crappy review be helpful?

I am a new author. I have four published books in the universe and lots of short stories in the universe. But I am still very new and have lots to learn. About writing. Publishing. Distributing and promoting my books. I am new enough that every review of my writing – gets read. Every review – either makes me happy. Or sad. (Especially reviews that say I don’t know how to speak or write English properly. Ouch.) I have read a couple of hundred reviews of my books thus far. Every time someone takes the time to write their feedback, I am grateful. EVEN IF THE FEEDBACK SUCKS. Because I am now experienced enough to realize that there can be value even in the haters.  Particularly when you take the time to be constructive / specific in your feedback about WHY you enjoyed the book. Or WHY you hated it.

There are over 100 reviews on Amazon for the first book in the series, Telesa:The Covenant Keeper. 129 of them are 4-5 star. 3 of them are 2-star. I found the reviews to be extremely useful while writing the second book. Many people also write to me with suggestions and helpful hints about typos, characters, plot and more. Your reviews and feedback help me write. Some examples:
* Simone. I never expected there to be so much overwhelming response to this character. A common thread in book feedback was how much you all loved Simone and wanted to see more of him in the next books. Another reviewer contacted me with suggestions about Simone using fa’afafine specific language terms to help make him a more realistic character. You spoke and I listened. The reason why Simone has a bigger part to play in When Water Burns  is because you wanted him to.
*Leila. You found her to be a frustrating character at times as she struggled with issues of identity and trust. Some of you were understanding and said that “she’s a typical teenager and has been through a lot so I could understand why she behaved the way she did” while others just wanted to beat her up, eliminate her from the scene and then step in to “comfort Daniel.” I hope readers will find that in book two, Leila shows more maturity and development as a character. (and no, sorry Daniel doesnt need any comforting from any helpful volunteers…lol)
*Pace of action/plot/storyline. While some luxuriated in the detailed build-up to the Covenant Sisterhood powers and plot, others felt that the book was “slow” Particularly  in the beginning. I did lots of writing research on how to make books flow faster. Make the action more gripping and intense. I wanted book two to be a book that you could NOT put down. Big Daughter warned me somewhat apprehansively, “you better be careful Mum, theres so much explosive stuff happening in every chapter that readers are going to complain the book is too fast…”

I dont know about other authors, but I’m very glad that readers can instantly put up book feedback online. Your reviews, emails, FB and twitter messages help me in this writing journey. I hope you will enjoy the second book (and the third…) And please, keep those reviews coming. Even if they suck.

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13 comments

  1. Malo Lani le onosaiMost critics can be disheartening but good on you for staying positive. Negative or otherwise, these reviews just show how far your work has gone in the literary world. Besides,the best work doesnt always have to be the most loved.Personally loved the first book (Simone was my favourite hehe) and cant wait to get the second book. Keep up the great work and all the best with the third Telesa book =)

  2. Well no sucky reviews coming from me anytime soon. Or ever for that matter. But I guess I do understand some American reviewers when they nitpick. But seriously that is what google is for. Like the first time I read the word "singlet". Never heard that word before, but I just figured it was a "tank top" as we weird Americans call them. lol And apparently Americans and Canadians are the only English speaking countries that spell "spoilt" as "spoiled". Even as I typed it my spell check is highlighting the word as misspelled. But come on now, nothing worth a 2 star review. Get over yourselves 2 star reviewers! I get pissed when I see those reviews but what can you do. "Haters gonna hate!" hahaha!

  3. I am on the second book now but just wanted to answer the question "how much attention should writers pay to bad reviews…" Very little if any. Reason being is many people first off will write out of 2 reasons… Sincere thoughts or jealousy. It goes with the saying, "you can't please everyone all the time." There will always be a person to find the bad or negative in anything they view because they look at it with a negative mind. Sure opinions and constructive criticism is one thing however to review something and dislike it for no paticualr reason other then they weren't maybe their own thoughts or write up makes it so much easier to dismiss the negative reviews as "this is MY book and I can create it however I want." I enjoyed book one so much so I ordered the hard copy and e-version. And because I enjoyed that book so much, I did the same with When Water Burns…. Sometimes when people are unfamiliar with things they get misinterpreted. As the above poster noted, "spoilt" and "spoiled"… At first I thought typo.. Guess it shows there is so much more out in the world that we are unaware of.:o)

  4. I agree Lani. Feedback is great in bettering our writing, when it's constructive. I have too learned and used some of the negative feedback I've gotten from my debut novel. As writers, however, we have to make sure we stay true to ourselves at the same time and know that as there are so many different types of writers out there, so too are there many different types of readers looking for different things. Some may love the fact that a character was strong, some may not like that so much. We have to learn to take it all in and make it work for us and the readers. Great post!

  5. Oh you're awesome Lani, who gives a dam about what a couple of critics say. Constructive criticism is inevitable for an author, especially a new one on the scene. Keep up the good work hun and keep smiling 🙂

  6. I think it's amazing you read them all! I think there's a difference between a proper review (negative or positive) and ridiculous (and I suspect racially motivated) commentary such as questioning your ability to speak English (and making the incorrect assumption it's not your mother tongue). The former is fantastic and can be learnt from (and I love that's how you approach it), the latter is beneath your notice (although that level of ignorance is to be pitied it can also be somewhat amusing and really only reflects on the writer of the comment)

  7. You keep on doing you Lani! Awesome to see how you take the negative with the positive, as that is just how life is. Everyone is different and you can't find a 'one size fits all' with anything that's created. I'm happy to see that the positive outweigh the negative comments. Yes Leila is annoying and frustrating, but it just shows how well of a picture you created to invoke a reaction like that with your readers. I love how I was able to read and familiarize myself with actual locations in Samoa, so it was like I was there watching the story unfold…I couldn't put both books down until they were finished, and I'm sure it will be the same with the final book. Forever a fan. God bless.

  8. Haha!! Did you write this for Lan (The Write Obsession)? She definitely asked for feedback the other day about something like this. Anywho, thanks for the tips. When I (finally) finish my book, I'll have to come back to this and remember what you said. You have nothing to worry about though, the fact that you only have 3 reviews that are 2 star shows that more people love it than hate it.

  9. I lived in this fantasy land where I thought being a writer meant writing whatever you like and the rest of the world and suck it. But finding out the criticism and editing played such a huge role was a major eye-opener.Anywho, back to you (lol) I like part two's pacing better. The fill-in plots were much more exciting and I liked how your characters were less black and white. I can't wait to read more about Daniel's "mum's" mum. ❤

  10. I absolutely loved the pace of book 2. It was such an effortless read which also made it appeal to me so much more. The first book was detailed enough for me to get a sense of the characters, the place, the plot etc but what the second book does so well is put all into fast forward and for readers like me who want to know what happens next etc it's perfectly paced 🙂 I loved it. I will have to put my review up soon 🙂

  11. Lani I loved your book. The only thing my sister and I commented on was the Leila's internal dialogue. We just thought it spoke in a sophisticated manner that did not reflect the age of her character whereas Simone I felt was so very authentic. I believed Daniel's character and how he developed. I basically liked every character and knew that whatever Leila lacked would eventually develop in the other books.For me I am proud to read a book that Polynesians (and a wider audience) can pick up, read and relate to. You are telling stories that need to be shared and I am so very keen to read the second book. Please please please keep writing. You are inspiring people as we speak. Much love Mele.

  12. Great blog post Lani, and informative too for me as an avid reviewer over on Goodreads. In fact it even influenced the last review I wrote in which I docked a couple of stars – I made sure to point out my reasons in what I hope would come across as a constructive tone! Whether you bolster yourself up for the negative feedback or not, it still must hurt sometimes. Not sure I'd be thick-skinned enough myself. I don't understand why some people get aggressive with their reviews, what's the point? In truth I think it's easier to write critical reviews than positive ones (how unfair is that!). Personally I really love interacting with the authors I read, on the odd occasion that they take the time to "like" your review or thank you for it, as you do. It's great to feel part of the process.

  13. Books are fantastic Lani….keep up the great work. Im so looking forward to reading part 3 and can not wait. If I was Simone, I would say to whoever wrote that "BIPOLAR DEZZEE BUDDY! DO YOU HEAR ME" lmao….faamalosi ma tumau pea le Faatuatua Lani, God Bless & ONE LUV.

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