Negative reviews are part of life, and brushing off criticism is something all creators must know how to do — because most negative reviews don’t matter.
Reviews are important to authors — and everyone else outside of the publishing industry. Not long ago, the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of regular review readers believe reviews are “generally accurate” and a full 82 percent of American adults said they “sometimes or always” read online reviews before making new purchases. And it’s worth noting that negative reviews, in particular, appear to dramatically influence buying behaviors.
So that means authors should pay close attention to reviews and use them as metrics for the quality of our art. Right?
No, not exactly.
Consider the online reviews available for the Great Wall of China, perhaps the most recognizable symbol of China’s vast and storied history. Construction of the Great Wall began in 7th Century B.C. as a military defensive line to defend against invasions from northern nomadic nations and took 2,500 years to complete. It is ancient and was effective. The online reviews would likely reflect that, right?
Consider this one-star review: “The wall is broken in lots of places, and it costed me all of my money to get there and i did not know what the natives were speaking.”
Or this: “I don’t see the hype in this place it’s really run down and old… why wouldn’t you update something like this? No usb plug ins or outlets anywhere.”
Negative reviews are a part of life and, now that everyone can share online, they are often grounded in dubious logic and should not be taken too seriously.
But, even before the Internet, reviews and opinions were pervasive — and not always reliable. Long ago, I was a sportswriter for a small-town daily newspaper in Roseburg, Oregon. When I’d report — accurately, mind you — that little Jimmy fumbled twice in the big game, I’d get angry letters criticizing me. This was decades before email. These readers wrote in glaring red ink on paper and mailed these reviews in. Since the letters mentioned me, I had the duty of typing each complaint into the newspaper myself.
This was my first job out of college and it was my first experience with this kind of critique. It was devastating, at first. How could so many people seem to not like my work — or me for reporting the facts?
It didn’t take long for me to develop a thicker skin, mainly because I had to. There wasn’t a mechanism to respond to critics back in the day. I had no choice but to brush them off, put on a smile, and keep reporting the facts.
Brushing off criticism is something all creators must know how to do — because most negative reviews don’t matter.
Some, however, matter a lot. In these cases, you won’t be able to just shrug off a negative review. Sometimes, especially if the review pertains to your company or a process you’re otherwise in charge of, it’s crucial that you respond and take the review seriously. In these scenarios, a response is sometimes necessary.
When responding to a negative review:
1. Do not let your emotions do the talking. It’s hard not to take negative reviews personally. But responding to a negative review — via email, your website, on social media — with an angry or defensive outburst is guaranteed to make things worse. Others will see your angry response and interpret it as proof that the negative review was, in fact, warranted.
Instead, take a deep breath (and maybe a few hours or a day) and respond when you are calm and removed from the intensity of the moment. If you’re unable to reach a tranquil perspective, consider passing off the task of responding to someone on your staff (or in your circle) who is perhaps less connected to the issue in question.
2. Learn what you can from the review and use it to make things better. In business, this is particularly important if the review in question focuses on things like:
- The experience of a reader/customer trying to navigate an overly complex (or insufficient) website.
- The treatment of a customer by your staff.
- Claims of unprofessionalism.
In fact, if you identify evidence of wrongdoing on your part or by people you’re responsible for, it behooves you to get to the bottom of it. It’s a matter of being responsible and proactive.
Often, whatever your line of business, negative reviews can teach you a lot about your product or service or can shed light on areas where you can improve. Smart executives use such reviews as an opportunity to make their business better.
3. If you’ve done something wrong, respond quickly, and seek to make things right. At BookBaby, when we receive a negative review or message that we think necessitates a response, here’s what we do:
- We respond quickly — within 24 hours, and ideally less. By responding quickly, you show that you’re in tune with customer feedback and that you’re an active participant.
- Try and fix the problem. I’ve found that much of the time, customer issues can be resolved by simply listening and communicating.
- Strive to be authentic. Customers want to know it’s an actual human being responding to them — not a bot. Keep your conversation genuine and also polite — it’s important to take the high road.
At the end of the day, negative reviews are a part of life and, often, they’re not worth listening to. Sometimes, they are. And when they are, it’s critical you handle it with professionalism and grace.
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