Friday, April 10, 2015

Handling Review Angst

by Dina Sleiman

I know we have both readers and writers following this blog, but today’s post is geared more toward writers, and you readers out there can enjoy this twisted peek into our crazy worlds.  As many of you know, I’ve reached a new level with my writing recently. I have three published novels, but I’ve recently had my “big break” with Bethany House Publishing. And along with a major publishing house, comes major reviews. Not the 20 five star in a row reviews I received with my first novel that mostly reached just my friends and relatives. Serious reviews by people whose sole purpose in life, it seems, is to warn the world away from bad books.
And be warned away from the crummiest books on the planet!!!!
Okay, maybe that’s a tad melodramatic. But when your book releases with a major publisher, it seems that people expect more. They don’t just say, “Hey, this was a great story, 5 stars.” They pick it apart and point out every little flaw. And then sometimes they actually say, “Despite the 20 things I just told you were wrong with this book, it was really enjoyable and I look forward to the next book in the series, 2 stars.” What??? Clearly these people are not from the same book reading planet as me, because if a book isn’t at least a 4 star in my opinion, I never even make it past chapter 5. And I don’t review books I don’t finish, which means I almost never give lower than a 4 star review. Plus, being a writer, I don’t want to alienate other writers or hurt their feelings.

And of course, the melodrama continues, because I have an average rating of 4.3 on amazon and 4.2 on goodreads with over a hundred reviews on each. Seriously Dina, get a grip, that’s pretty darn good. Especially when my book is in an unusual sort of cross over genre of YA/Adult/Adventure/Romance set in the odd for CBA medieval period. A lot of people are picking it up not quite knowing what to expect and bringing all different sorts of expectations to the table. Despite some readers wanting more romance, or action, or suspense, or fantasy, or wishing it was for someone younger or older--that means that around half of the people have still given my book five star reviews. Yet it is the handful of one and two and even harsh three star reviews that keep replaying in my mind day and night, especially when I’m trying to write the next book.

Quite appropriately named "Sad-Whiner Emoji"
So people have been giving me lots of advice on how to handle this, some more helpful, some less helpful, which I’m going to sum up here.

1)      Just don’t read them. Yeah, good luck with that. I’m the kind of person that has to pick at my pimples, both physical and metaphorical. I can’t handle something being wrong, and I’m just ignoring it and leaving it to fester under the surface. But maybe this will work for you.

2)      Have someone pre-screen your reviews. I doubt this will work for me either, see #1. I don’t want a skewed view of reality. I want to know the truth. I want to know what people are saying about me and how that might be affecting future readers. Even if it hurts.

3)    Look at reviews in context. Sometimes it helps to look at other reviews by the same reviewer. You might think that a review is harsh, and find out you actually did pretty well compared to how they rated and critiqued other authors. Also keep in mind if they are an inexperienced reviewer, vindictive, or perhaps even still a child. I even went and looked at reviews for some of my favorite author's early books to encourage myself that I wasn't doing so bad.

4)      Put your writing in perspective. The idea here is that if you are taking reviews too harshly, maybe you’ve lost perspective about your writing. Maybe you’ve made publication success too big of a priority. Hmm, I think I might resemble that remark. The remedy is to submit your career, your book, and your success or lack thereof to God. Ok. I’m working on this one.

5)      Pray for and Forgive Your Harsh Reviewers. Wow, this was a light bulb moment. It’s not that I held anything against the reviewers that just didn't connect with my book. I mean, come on, I’m a fair person. But those ones who seemed intentionally mean, or misrepresented my book. Or those who slammed the theology of the book, which is very important to me. Yep, some prayer and forgiveness was in order.

6) Shake It Off--Literally. I'm coming back after the fact to add this one for people who might read this later from the archives. This new method I recently discovered, combined with #4 and #5 seems to be the perfect prescription for overcoming review angst. Every time you read a negative review, force yourself to sing and dance to the entire Taylor Swift "Shake it Off" video. I dare you. Try it and see what happens ;)

The wise Inky ladies are responsible for the more helpful suggestions above. I’m not going to lie and say that my review angst is over. It’s rough. All sorts of artists face this, in fact, just about everyone deals with review on some level, and let’s be honest, it hurts. But I think I’m starting to get a grip and a better perspective. 

*Update: After writing this post, I got a very positive review from the Library Journal, my first official "editorial" review. In fact, Dauntless was their top Christian Fiction pick for the month! Now this is probably cheating, but a good review from a reputable source certainly is helpful to relieve a ton of review angst. LOL.

What are your suggestions from a reader or a writer point of view for getting over review angst? Do you write reviews? Why or why not?


And if after all of that, if you want to form your own opinion of Dauntless...



  1. hi Dina
    congrats on the great review from a reputable source.

    as for the snarky, harsh low stars... I've noticed a lot of them and they always seem to be there to hurt a person. I usually check their other reviews and they're usually a LOT of the same venom. Yikes! and I haven't published yet, so there's a peek at my future. well, as my husband says... "consider the source and forget it"

    unfortunately, a lot harder to put into practice. why is it that one negative can so thoroughly squash 100 positives? one of life's mysteries...

    *off to check out your links*

    1. So true that the one negative tends to squash 100 positives. There is a certain naivete and wonder to not being published that authors fail to cherish. Enjoy it while it lasts :)

  2. One thing to remember is that many reviewers don't even consider the author when they write a review. They are simply judging a book in their mind. They didn't see it as a part of you. The second thing, those harsh reviews sell books. I have bought more books because of harsh reviews. I figure if it touched a nerve that deeply to write that detailed of a review, there must be good writing in there. It got to a core issue. Try not to be discouraged! It is hard writing reviews too and many reviewers do have anxiety over it! I know I do! I just read your "Dance from Deep within" book last night and loved it, by the way!

    1. What, they don't realize that they're slicing apart my precious child that I worked a year to birth ;) I know that's true about harsh reviews selling books actually. Cool that you read Dance from Deep Within. I think that might be my favorite baby. It's really 100% Dina.

    2. I totally know! One of the reasons I am afraid to let others read my work is the reviews and critiques. It is like asking them to pick apart your kids. =)

  3. Dina!!! Super-duper congratulations on the Library Journal review and pick of the month! I never buy a book based on reviews. I rarely even read them. That said, I think it's really hard to *not* read what someone has said about your book, and no matter how many good reviews there are, there aren't enough to keep that negative one from hurting to some degree. Sigh....

    1. Thanks for the congrats, Suzie. I think the thing I notice most about a books is how many reviews they have. So really, every review does help.

  4. Early on, I told my dh that if I didn't get any 1-star reviews, he'd have to write one for me. Too many good reviews makes it look like only friends and relatives read the book. Books with a wide distribution are going to garner some bad reviews (some deserved, perhaps, and some not). Mostly, I try to remember that that person is not my core audience. With enough time and distance, that even works :)

    My 2nd book was on Net Gallery -- which is one of those "honors" you aren't always sure you want. Lots more reviews, but some of the reviewers saw the picture, read the back blurb, and decided it was a secular romance -- somehow totally missing the "Love Inspired Historical" banner stretched across the front cover. Then they panned the book because it turned out to be a "religious" book with no explicit sex. What ya gonna do? (I like to think of it as God's little plot to get them to read an inspirational novel. Ha!)

    1. That's so true about not being your core audience. I noticed that early books in series tend to have more negative reviews, but later books have mostly positive. I think because the author has found the right audience that wants to stick with them at that point.

      Yes, Dauntless was on netgalley too. That's a tough crowd. And those tend to come in first!

  5. Congratulations on the Library Journal review and being their pick of the month! That's fabulous! I am so happy for you.

    Options 4 & 5 above are so key...keep things in perspective. We aren't doing this for 5 star reviews and fame. We're doing it because God gave us a gift and wants us to share it, and leave the rest up to Him. Far easier said than done (my novella collection is open to reviews now on Amazon...I felt a little nervous when I heard that!).

    One thing about getting harsh reviews: you know you've arrived. Sending hugs and celebrating those good reviews with you!

    1. I just got a funny review on goodreads. It's a three star, but it has a funny animated picture with it. Something about that makes me feel like I've arrived, even though it's Adele saying, "Meh." LOL.

  6. So cool on the Library Journal review! Congratulations!

    Nowadays everyone can be a critic, and I think that makes it more important than ever for us to take reviews with a grain of salt. For your book to get published, it has to be vetted to some degree (unless you self-pub all on your own with no outside input whatsoever), but anyone can pop up a review, they don't even have to prove they read the book!

    1. The weird thing is, there are a lot of sketchy self-published books out there with all fabulous reviews. Maybe they're just extra good at finding the right audience. Or maybe...

    2. That's true, and I think that's suspicious.

  7. I just had a new idea to add to the list. Force myself to watch the entire Taylor Swift "Shake it Off" video every time I check my reviews ;)


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