How To Emotionally Process Negative Reviews

As an indie/self-published author, reviews are our literal lifeblood. They make and break you. Sometimes, a low rating or a “crap” review can feel akin to taking a bullet. 

When I first started publishing, I made peace with the fact that my work wasn’t going to be for everyone. There were going to be people who loved it, and there was likely going to be an equal amount of people who hated it. I accepted that there was going to be a whole smattering of ratings — ideally, I would love to see more five or four stars than three, two, (or the dreaded) one. I had even anticipated people reviewing the book without actually reading it (Goodreads can be a wild place, y’all). 

But, despite months, and months (maybe even years) of emotionally preparing myself, the first negative review gutted me. 

To be fair, the review read a little something like: “I loved everything about it, but I hate the genre.” I still feel justified in my abject horror over that one.

Anyway, there were a few that were completely justified, however. So, that brings us to the nitty-gritty. The purpose of this blog.

How Do I Emotionally Process Reviews

Everyone is different. What works for me, might not work for you. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

But! I’ve tried a fair amount of everything! So, maybe some of these tips will work for you.

Don’t Take It Personally

I know, I know. Easier said than done. But first, we have to realize that reviews do not equal personal worth. Let’s say someone doesn’t like your outfit. Is that an attack on you as a person? Or is that just a matter of personal preference? Does your outfit define you? No. And neither do your book reviews. 

I know, apples to oranges — an outfit is likely something you picked out in five minutes, whereas a book is something you worked on for years. I get it. But the point still stands. People have preferences, and we’re not always going to cater to all of them. That’s not your fault. That’s not even the consumer’s fault. It’s just human nature.

Never mind the fact that there are a whole host of things that can affect someone’s opinion. Maybe they dislike a personal cliché that you use. Or, maybe, they secretly wish they wrote it themselves, and they didn’t like the direction you took the story. Or it could just be that they weren’t in a great place while they were reading. I’ve had plenty of friends say, “I don’t know if I was in the right headspace to pick up this book. I’m going to take a break on it and see if my feelings change.” And you know? Oftentimes, they do! 

Opinions are opinions are opinions. What matters is whether or not you’re proud of what you put out into the world.

Acknowledge That You Can, Will, And Are Growing

You wrote the book. Past tense. Writing your book, and everything that goes along with it is a learning curve. You acquire so many skills just by going through the process. Which means, by the time your book is published, you’ve already become a better writer. A better storyteller. If someone doesn’t like this book? That’s okay. You’re already past where you were when you first put pen to paper.

Try To See Them As Lessons 

Don’t get me wrong. You’re going to see some turds of opinions. There are going to be some completely backward critiques that make you roll your eyes to the point they fall down your throat. It happens. Not all criticisms are good criticisms (and guess what, you get to choose what you listen to!). But there is some incredibly valuable insights to be had in your reader’s critiques. 

If they care enough to point out what they felt was lacking, it’s worth noting. They clearly engaged with the story and invested their time and emotional energy (especially if they felt strongly enough to write a review — we all know getting them is like pulling teeth). Did they think the pacing was off? Did they feel the dialogue was stilted, or juvenile? Did they want more descriptions? You can learn from these things. And when you sit down to write again, you can keep these in mind and make stronger stories in the long run. 

Ask A Friend

This, honestly, hands down, has been a lifesaver for me. I have a mini-anxiety attack every time I have to read reviews. I’ve been very fortunate that many of them have been very kind, even when the reader hasn’t enjoyed the story. It, honestly, is just because I’m an anxious mungbean. Some days are better than others, but… those off days. Yeesh.

Anyway, I have a friend who will comb through the reviews for me. They’ll send me the positive ones, and vet the negative ones to see if someone is being… well, abusive. There have been some where they’ve highlighted their criticisms but left out the generally hostile language. This way, I can learn a thing without devolving into a blubbering mess.

But Most Importantly

Remember that you did something most people spend their lives dreaming about. You wrote a book. That’s a huge accomplishment and you deserve to be proud of what you did. There is an audience out there for you. It might take time to find them, but, you will. Just keep your head up, and know you are valued and you have added something to the world by following your passion and creating art. 

Oh, but one last pro-tip. If it helps, you can imagine mailing the particularly mean reviewers poop. I repeat, imagine. Don’t do it. Just think really hard about it.

To my writer friends: How do you cope with unflattering reviews? And to my reviewer/reader friends — have you ever stumbled upon a review that was unnecessarily mean? What were your thoughts when you saw it?


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One thought on “How To Emotionally Process Negative Reviews

  1. Great blog post, Ivy! I so relate! I thought I’d prepared myself for all kinds of reviews, but I received one that felt unnecessarily harsh and critical days before my first novel went public that literally brought me to my knees. I’d like to hope I could let a review like that slide off me more easily now after receiving so many complimentary ones, but we just don’t know until we’re in the moment. And there is truly something to be learned from each review. Plus a wonderful reminder that reviews do not define our books’ worth – let alone our worth as a human being!

    Like

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