Do some readers hate your book? Good! You’re doing something right!

There’s been a big, uh.. kerfuffle… in the reader community recently that has had me cringing, stupefied and scared at turns. As an unpublished writer I have yet to experience first-hand what it’s like to get a negative review, so my post today is partly a way to mark down my thoughts on this so that when that does happen, I can read this post as a reminder.

For those unaware, the flare up happened when some authors ill-advisedly called out some online reviewers for harsh or negative reviews. And it got fugly. Fast. The gist of the complaint seems to be that reviewers should keep the author’s feelings and hard work in mind when writing their review.

Uh, no.

Reviews are for readers. Period.

Thinking about this has reminded me of my uncle’s 30-40-30 rule I posted about in the early fall, and so I thought I’d revisit this rule and put it in the context of the current hubbub. The rule is:

30% of the people are going to like you no matter what, 30% will not like you no matter what, it’s the 40% in the middle you need to worry about.

I think this rule helps put many things in life in perspective. In my post in the fall, I applied it to receiving critiques on our WIPs. It also applies to reader reviews. And this brings us to my blog title: if you’re getting negative reviews, you’re doing something right. Huh? Here’s the way I see it:

  1. It’s a measure of success. You’ve gotten your book out there and it’s getting noticed beyond your 30% circle of love. This is good! You don’t want it to wallow in obscurity do you?
  2. It means you haven’t written something so bland, so careful, that the collective response outside of your 30% love circle is “meh.”

If you write with passion and honesty, I guarantee you there will be people just as passionately opposed to it.

It’s what makes humans so dang interesting. I know I whinged last week in my post “Is my zipper down or do you just not like my pants?” about a critique that had me doubting myself and doubting the positive critiques I’d received, but I’m in the stage of trying to better my WIP and I really wondered if this negative critique might actually have merit. But I think this is a different stage than one where a book has already been vetted and put out as a final product. It’s now passed from the stage of feedback for improvement, to others voicing their opinion on whether they liked it for others who are looking to buy it. It’s no longer feedback for the writer to improve it.

My mom is a professional artist. (No, I’m not digressing!) I remember many a show as a child where I would sit reading behind her display or playing a quiet game (I hope!) with my brother and I would hear all manner of comments on her work. I remember the first time I heard someone walk by and say that one of her paintings was total crap (or something along those lines) and went on about why they didn’t like it. Naturally I was horrified and told my mom. You know what she told me? “Good! That means they felt some kind of emotion!” This lesson stuck with me and is why I was happy my mom hated my ending when she read my third draft.

Anyway, my mom pours her soul into her paintings and the worst thing that could happen for her when someone sees her work is to feel no emotion whatsoever and just walk on by. She is also a subscriber to the bad publicity is good publicity mantra. She also loves competition and encourages artist friends to enter shows she’s also competing for — she’s even picked up their paintings to enter! The way she sees it, is that her getting in a show (or winning Best of Show) means absolutely nothing if quality artists were not part of it. (Okay, I think I’m digressing now… Onward!)

So anywho, (okay, 30% of the readers of this post will HATE that I used that colloquialism!) my uncle’s and mom’s lessons have resurfaced in my mind this week as I read about what’s going on right now in the reader community. Others have posted their voice of reason in the midst of this much more eloquently and passionately than me, so I’ll just share a few more thoughts I have on this.

If you have a solid product, the 30% haters usually hate it because some hot button was pushed for them and the review is to alert the others who share that same hot button, that they probably won’t like it either.

That’s all. They can’t stand HEAs. Or sparkly vampires. Or adjectives. Or characters who smoke. Or characters that say “dang it”. You name something distinctive about your story or character, 30% will hate it. The 40% in the middle will be able to tell from the review that this is the case and would weigh it against reviews of others who seem to have their own likes and dislikes. We will drive ourselves nuts trying to please everyone. We just can’t. Unless we are willing to write something very bland and safe.

I caught myself at one point looking at a group thread on Goodreads about what words romance readers can’t stand to see used for sexy bits. Cuz, you know, I’d hate to turn people off when I want them turned on… And you know what? Some readers would say they didn’t like it when an author used “x” and preferred “y”. And I’m making notes thinking this is all good stuff to know. And then I’d see comments where others would say that actually they hated the “y” word and preferred the “x” word. Argh! Sigh. And then I gave up and reminded myself that I can’t please everyone. I need to stay focused on what seems natural for my story. And that’s it.

In reading other takes on the hullabaloo, it’s been said that many readers are suspicious of overly positive ratings.

There’s a reason for this. They instinctively know it hasn’t gone outside of the 30% love circle or that it’s rigged. It’s also why people who mediate elections in other countries to ensure fair elections know that the system is rigged if the candidate gets way over 70% of the popular vote. There’s just no way the guy is that popular with everyone. Or why a politician is in deep doo-doo if their approval rating drops below 30% (they are losing the confidence of people who normally would like them no matter what).

Anyway, this is all easy for me to say as I’ve only been dealing with critiques, not reader reviews. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to see my baby ripped to shreds by someone who didn’t finish reading it and/or obviously missed some major points, or claimed something was historically inaccurate when it is accurate, or just simply can’t stand dorky heroines. When (and I’m saying ‘when’ not ‘if’ as part of my positive envisioning of my future) I get my first book published I’m going to be scared shitless. Seeing the harsh reviews out there honestly made me wonder if I really wanted to do this writer thing. It’s scary! As epbeaumont commented on the 30-40-30 post recently:

The rule’s useful to bear in mind, because when that 30% who hate it get their buttons pushed, they don’t always play nice.

So I need to be resolved to the fact that it’s all part of the business. And hopefully I’ll remember this post and come back and read it.

Future self? You got some nasty reviews? Good for you! Pull up your big girl panties and deal! You dared to write something that wasn’t bland. You bravely risked that 30% will not like your character and/or story. Here’s hoping the majority of the 40% in the middle do.

Because all this is so damn easy for me to say, I’d love to hear from authors who’ve actually experienced this. How do you handle it? Does this advice make sense? Readers, what do you think of the recent scandal?

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18 Comments

  1. Great post, Angela. As my debut novel is about to be released, I too experiencing some jitters. Of course I don’t expect absolutelly everyone to LOVE my story, characters and so on. But it’s the majority that counts. I was a member of online writing communities but I’m no longer as active there. Simply no time to read and comment on everyone’s writing and get nothing or barely anything in return. Besides, I have fitured that the members who make it to editor’s desk are those who use “sock puppet accounts” and have their friends and family do the same and only support themselves. If they do review the work of others then they tend to rale it low and give bad reviews in order to keep your work from advancing and push theirs. Another thing is there are those who don’t read romance, but they crit it anyways. I don’t read horror or science fiction and would not review it, neither I consider myself qualified to review such works.
    I think the best way to survive a bad review is to ignore it. Just like tabloids bash the celebrities. You dont’ see them jumping at the headlines in trashy newsprint.

    Reply
    • So true about the celebrities! Sounds like you haven’t been a part of some good online groups– I love where I post, critiquecircle.com — members can’t post their own without critting others, and you generally get very helpful feedback… Good luck with your book! Be brave!

      Reply
  2. Awesome post & great things to keep in mind. I know the first negative review I get will be difficult to swallow but remembering these things will help in taking that review in stride & learning from it.

    Reply
  3. I guess we’re all sort of thinking alike these days. I posted something similar. Your post is excellent. It happens every so often. I remember exactly the same dust up a year or so ago.
    All I can say is that a bad review often gets you more readers than a good review. Besides, as a reader I don’t want reviewers afraid to write honest reviews. This past year it feels to me as if books rarely receive less than a B or 3.5 stars. C’mon, we can’t be that good!

    Reply
  4. karinshah

     /  January 11, 2012

    This is a great post. Very insightful!! I love the 30-40-30 rule!

    Reply
  5. After forty years of showing dogs, I learned this big time. I have to like the dog because not everyone else will, whatever they say to my face. Those books with the bad reviews are the books people outside of the “circle of love” are reading. Sigh. Might be nice to have.
    Thanks for the great blog. Where can we see your mother’s work?

    Reply
    • Hi Mona, that’s why I love this rule, because it applies to so many things! I’ll email you a link to my mom’s site. Don’t want to post it here, as I write under a pen name…

      Reply
  6. I blogged about reacting to bad reviews the other day. Yes, I got one. No, I will not call the reviewer out on it. Because it doesn’t matter. The world didn’t end. I didn’t contract a fatal disease from the review, and congress didn’t tell me I couldn’t write another book. Life goes on. And yes, I think apathy is far more disconcerting than someone screaming, “I hate this piece of garbage!”

    To be honest, right now I’m more concerned w/the opening of my WIP than a bad review. :-)

    Reply
  7. This is a brilliant post. Especially the part about your mother. :)

    I’ve seen writers in my local writer’s group ask for positive ratings or reviews of their book even if the individuals haven’t read it. This is mostly commonly seen with the self published authors. This is why I’m leery about 5 star ratings when I know the reviewer is friends with the author.

    In one review I checked out this weekend, the reviewer was attacked by the author’s friend. That’s too bad, especially since the reviewer had given a balanced review. The attack made me NOT want to read the book. Okay, I wasn’t going to anyway, but if I had been sitting on the fence, the attack would have pushed me off it . . . and not in the favor of the author.

    Reply
  8. Jillian

     /  January 11, 2012

    Lots of great info here. I agree about taking risks. Most people who read my writing either love it or hate it. Not much middle ground. That being said, I’ve never been subjected to a really bad review but I like to think I’d ignore it and not go off like this person did. Rick Nelson’s Garden Party song said it best. “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”. I try to live by that.

    Reply
  9. Karen Duvall

     /  January 12, 2012

    Really great points, Angela! I remember when my book first came out last August, the first thing I did was search for reviews. Bad mistake. Yes, there were some lovely ones, but there were also some that stung enough to ruin my day. Now I make it a point to NEVER read reviews unless someone makes it a point to direct me to a good one. Reviews can be soul sucking monsters. What’s tough is when someone in the media or your publisher ask you to gather up the good reviews and send them to them so they can use excerpts. Uhm… Well, how do you that when you haven’t read ANY? :)

    Reply
  10. You made some great points, especially in relation to hot buttons. Every writer attempts to evoke some emotion – humor, horror, intrigue, whatever. But unknowingly hitting a hot button can trigger an entirely different and unintended emotion from a reader. As writers, we need to be LESS sensitive to unfavorable critique so we can review each one thoughtfully to accept feedback, while discarding any emotionally charged personal opinion the reader may express.

    Not everyone will like your style or your topic. I don’t think Stephen King loses any sleep over the people who never buy his books because they don’t enjoy horror!

    Reply
  11. Linda Wells

     /  January 17, 2012

    There is nothing you can do to prepare for negative reviews; it’s still going to feel like a kick in the gut. And when you publish your first book it is like a compulsion, you HAVE to look. I’ve learned that you have to be confident in the book that you have produced and allow everyone to have their own opinions, even if you do shake your head over the subject that raises their ire. And I only look if someone tells me to!

    Reply

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