Tips For Writers By Barry Carter “Just ignore the haters.” That’s what you’re told when your book gets a negative review. You know it’s wise advice, but following it is another matter. It’s a bit like being told “don’t think of an elephant.” All you can think of thereafter is Dumbo. The more you try to ignore bad reviews, the more they eat away at you. My first book got a wave of positive reviews, but when the first bad review came in, it kept me up at night. Most of us have a strong negativity bias–we let one bad thing ruin a multitude of positives. Everyone can access the Internet, so we suffer under the illusion that everyone can and will see that negative review. The reality is that anyone considering your book will expect to see negative reviews. In fact, they’ll be suspicious of books that have nothing but glowing endorsements. If you’re anything like me, the first poor review you received hurt like hell. This is exacerbated by the fact that online reviews are much nastier than those on any other medium. They can become personal, crude, rude and offensive. This is due to the online disinhibition effect, which suggests that all of us treat online communication differently. Because it is anonymous, because we are invisible, and because we view it like a game, we act in ways we normally would not. When to respond to negative book reviews You are never really going to change a reader’s mind about your book. The most persuasive person in the world cannot make me like the Twilight books; it would be a waste of effort for them to even try. There are only three instances in which you should respond to a one-star review: #1. If you made an error If you misquoted somebody, or made a factual error, or the book was formatted badly, simply admit your mistake. #2. If the review is factually incorrect If there is a fact in the negative review that can be corrected with a swift reply, do it. If, for example, the reviewer wrongly says you didn’t use the correct citation, be sure to point out their error. #3. If the review is unrelated to your book’s content I’ve had bad reviews that were actually about the book being shipped late, rather than the book itself. I’ve also had reviews where the reviewer admitted they had not actually read the book, but were basing the negative review on something else. In these instances, respond not to the reviewer, but to the website hosting the review. Most sites will take down a comment if it is clearly unjustified. Beyond this, the only fruitful course of action is to take no action at all. It’s hard to ignore negative book reviews, but there are some mindset shifts you can develop to make the process easier. But first… Negative reviews tell us about the reviewer, not the book Ultimately a negative review is not about you or your book. It is about the person reviewing it. Recent research on online reviews by Dr Camilla Vásquez from the University of Florida showed that negative reviews tend to include more personal pronouns, more personal stories, are written more creatively, and tend to reference the reviewer’s level of expertise (“I’m a chef”). This suggests that people often use negative reviews as an outlet to express themselves (almost like on a blog), rather than to give other consumers advice. Another type of poor review is when the reviewer seems to have missed the point of the book entirely. The most frustrating review I ever received was about the number of pages in my book, compared to those in the one the reviewer had read before it. The well-known management concept Parkinson’s Law of Triviality states that in debates, a disproportionate amount of time is spent arguing over trivial details. In my example above, the reader clearly did not ‘get’ my book, so he chose instead to review it based on something he did understand–how long it took to read; another review that tells us more about the reviewer, than about what’s being reviewed. Mindset shifts that help you soar above negative book reviews Here are 3 mental shifts that will help you put negative reviews behind you and get on with the good work. #1. It’s good to have people hate your work. You can’t please everyone, nor should you try to. It may not feel like it, but if somebody hates what you’ve written, that’s actually a sign that someone else might love it. It’s the books that don’t evoke strong emotions either way that fizzle out. Having ‘haters’ can strengthen your brand image. Instead of fixating on the bad reviews, focus on the people who enjoy your work, and what you can do to turn them into customers for life. #2. If you’re doing something brave, you will get haters. The Tall Poppy Syndrome is an incredibly toxic human condition where people feel the need to cut successful people down to size–those that stand out like a tall poppy. Often when the anger toward your book seems personal, it goes way beyond simply not liking what you wrote. Sometimes, people who leave nasty reviews are in fact jealous. Such negative reviews might be a sign that you’ve done something brave and different–something they haven’t been able to do. The top performers in any field invariably get hate mail. “Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.” ~ Bertrand Russell #3. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire The final mindset adjustment is also the most practical. It’s hard to ignore negative reviews, but much as you may want to respond to them, know that every response gives that review more momentum. If you reply directly online to a negative review, you will actually improve the search engine ranking for that webpage. Your reply will likely get thumbs-up votes from readers, which will feature the poor review more prominently on your books page. Even worse would be to respond on social media or online forums. Almost all these media have a timeline format, where every response pushes the conversation to the top of the timeline. Each time you reply to a bad review, more people will see it. When you ignore the comment, it gets forgotten quickly. Starve the comment of oxygen instead of pouring fuel on the fire. If you’re doing things right, you will get haters. Ignoring negative reviews gets easier with time, because you see how little impact this vocal minority has on your life, and on book sales. Each time you start getting worked up over a bad review, choose instead to think about how to wow your existing fan base. Focusing on the people who love what you do will keep you on the right track–increasing the number of rave reviews you get. How do you deal with negative reviews? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments, please!