Last time I blogged I think I maybe came across a bit of an asshole. But, as I’ve written before, I don’t think it’s the first time. My intention every time I write a blog post is to discover a comedy mother lode, from which I can mine joke after joke, until I ask you to like my Facebook page or check out my books. But sometimes I fail in finding the comedy. The result can sometimes get messy. So what blog post idea have I come up with this week to make sure I stay well clear of coming off as bitter or hateful? As an indie author, what benign subject shall I blog about that has no potential for turning into a whiny, rhetoric-filled rant? Why, bad reviews, of course.
If there’s one piece of advice indie authors agree on, it’s that you should never, ever reply to or comment on a bad review you’ve received. Ever. It’s sound advice, and I’ve managed to heed it so far in my short non-career as a writer. The last couple weeks I received my first really bad reviews, but I took them well, like a divorcee who had no intention of gaining sole custody of his children. I won’t be addressing the failings of the reviewers who posted bad reviews for my books directly. But it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t use my reflections on these reviews to calm indie authors who might be worrying about their first really bad reviews. That’s my thinly-veiled excuse for writing the following advice, and I’m sticking to it.
While reading my bad reviews, I identified three distinct types. Two of them you can forget about. Hell, you can even make a night of it and read them with your spouse with a bowl of popcorn, reading bad reviews the same way Woody Allen thinks about going to the movies. The final one could result in you spending an evening with a bottle of whisky and a loaded gun. In order to put your mind at rest, if you’re an indie author awaiting his first reviews from non-Twitter followers and family members, I’m going to dispel the myth that all bad reviews are damaging for your potential writing career.
Three types of bad reviews. Two you should be indifferent about. One that should make you go back to the drawing board. Got it? Good.
Let’s jump right in.
- The Review Written by Someone Who Got Offended by Your Book
John Locke wrote that if you don’t offend anyone with your writing, then you’re not doing it properly. I agree, especially if you’re writing comedy or humorous fiction. The book business is highly competitive, and in order to gain fans, your aim should be to tailor your writing style to appeal to a slim demographic of readers, which inevitably alienates or offends the rest. As long as you tailor your book descriptions to keep that demographic of reader who will hate your books from reading them—like I thought I had, and still do—then have at it with a writing style that isn’t cozy or appropriate for all the family. When I tell a joke, I want to surprise you. And sometimes that means shocking you. Just because one reader thought I was being sexist when I wrote a shit-ton of ex-wife jokes in my first novel, does it mean they shouldn’t be in there? Absolutely not. I bet some of those jokes are the reason for at least a few of my five-star reviews. And who knows, you could even end up with a reviewer going hyperbolic on your ass, spewing hate-filled observations that might intrigue potential readers browsing your book. Like I did.
I bet at least a few potential readers who read the above review thought, If this crazy person hated it, then I bet I’d love it! Or it could be: Jesus, what in the world has this author written to upset this person so badly? I want to find out. I know I’ve thought both of those things when reading reviews for other authors’ books. Hell, one of my colleagues muttered the latter when I showed her the above review. If you get a review of this kind, relax. You just offended someone. I do that practically every time I write a simile. And who knows, by writing that edgy joke that made some readers want to throw their Kindle in the trash from disgust, you might just gain yourself a fan who’ll write a five-star review for your book and buy everything you write.
2. The Review Written by Someone Reviewing the Wrong Type of Book
On a number of occasions I’ve received reviews that made me think, Did this person read my book? And one occasion, I was convinced of it—and it turned out she had. But that’s not the type of review I’m thinking about. A couple days ago, someone reviewed my book thinking it’s something it’s not. Here it is:
This person seems to be convinced that I attempted to write “noir detective fiction.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. So I googled it and found this definition:
Sure, my books feature a private investigator as the protagonist, but I wasn’t attempting to write “noir detective fiction.” The Jake Hancock Mystery Thrillers are throwaway three-hour reads with outrageous plot lines, silly characters, and a shit-ton of borderline-misogynistic jokes—if you ignore that women in the books run rings around the men. I could say they’re parodies of detective fiction, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. As I mentioned above, I wrote a book description for the first book that communicates that it isn’t a serious mystery thriller. There are clues left throughout the description, but the key is in the following paragraph:
“Despite having not worked undercover for a while, Hancock poses as Megan’s much-older boyfriend for a family weekend at her childhood home in Rodeo, Texas. From within their home, he will learn their secrets…and hopefully get laid in the process.”
This part of the description alone should’ve informed this reader he or she wasn’t getting Raymond Chandler. Am I worried about this review? Hell no. I did my job in writing an appropriate book description. If they couldn’t see that they were buying oranges instead of apples, then they need a new glasses prescription. And if you write appropriate descriptions, this type of review will be kept to a minimum. Will this review hurt my sales? There’ll probably be some potential readers who are put off buying, but for every browser put off by this review, I bet there are two who think, What did you expect? And ignore it.
If I wanted to be a pedantic dick, I’d point out that “noir fiction” features someone other than a detective as the protagonist. But I made a promise to myself at the start of this blog, and I didn’t have a clue either.
And if I wanted to be an even bigger dick, I’d point out that this reader is a fan of a series called Taco Bob and the Witch Sisters. I’m not dicking on that series, as I haven’t read it, but the reviewer seems to have reviewed that series based on its merits, but held my series to a literary standard I didn’t try to attain in the first place. She’s right: It is a poor attempt at “noir detective fiction.”
3. The Review Written by Someone Who Thinks Your Book is Objectively Bad or Mundane
Ready with the whisky bottle and loaded gun? Getting the above types of bad reviews is all well and good, but what you don’t want are reviews that say your book objectively sucks. That it’s riddled with errors, punctuation or otherwise. Or that it’s mundane. And the reviewer is oh so eloquent in explaining why. These reviews are book-sales cancer, especially if they make up the majority. To fix the former, you need beta readers or an editor. I use a number of beta readers to spot mistakes in my books, after I’ve done a shit-load of editing myself. But as with all books, even ones published by big publishing houses, there are probably a few errors in each of my books. But I figure the readers who love my books will forgive me for it. In fact, one reviewer wrote as much:
The next reviewer, not so much:
Four-star reviews, if they become a trend, can be equally destructive to sales. I mentioned above that you should write to entertain a very specific target demographic, and for good reason. If you try to please everyone, you could end up wowing no one. Try to please everyone, and you’re serving everyone a bland meal. Remember to open the spice drawer, even if chili powder doesn’t agree with Aunt Barbara’s irritable bowel syndrome. The only solution to avoiding mundanity is to be brave. Write books that offend the shit out of some people, but which makes fans of others.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are many other types of bad reviews. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing the next Hancock book. It’s going to offend the shit out of some people. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading, and please share if I made you laugh at least four times…maybe that’s ambitious. Three? Deal. The share buttons are below.
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