I’ve written before about the kindness of critical book reviews, discussing how both positive and negative reviews are necessary in arts and entertainment and how more than just positive reviews benefit authors. Still, negative reviews can sting, and not all authors—especially newer ones—know exactly how to deal with them.
I’ll not be going into all the different ways of handling discouraging, frustrating, or baffling reviews. Rather, I’m getting to one tip for authors that I don’t hear as often as other tips.
See, many times when authors mention a negative review a reader posted about one of their books, the authors say something like, “I just got a terrible review,” or “A reader gave me one star because of such-and-such they didn’t like.”
The thing is, Author Joe, no—YOU didn’t just get a terrible review, and Author Sue, that reader didn’t give YOU one star. You the person are not what’s up for review, here. Readers are expressing their opinions about something they read, and we know how opinions vary depending on the individual.
One star from a reader doesn’t necessarily mean or prove that your book is horrible, and five stars from a reader doesn’t necessarily mean or prove that your book is excellent. Readers tend to review books based on their individual standards, thoughts, and feelings, and how a person experiences a book ultimately comes down to the person doing the experiencing. How people feel is up to them, whether the products they review are subjectively good or bad.
I know it can be difficult for authors not to take criticism of their works too hard or personally, especially considering that writing is such soul-deep work for many authors. But no matter how soul-deep the work of book writing is, book reviewing is still a subjective activity, and what someone thinks about a book they read doesn’t necessarily determine or prove anything about the person who wrote it.
So my little piece of advice to authors who want to handle book reviews better? Don’t say a reader “gave YOU” a rating or a review. Don’t word it so personally that you condition yourself to feel as though you are under assessment, as if whether or not someone likes your product affects your value. Instead, say something like, “A reader picked a two-star rating for my book because of such-and such,” or “One reviewer didn’t care for my book because of x-y-z.”
While you, figuratively speaking, may put a lot of yourself into your writing, you are not the books you sell. So don’t speak in a way that indicates you’re the product.
Hey. Some folks may think the issue of one’s language about reviews is an insignificant matter of semantics. But don’t writers know about the remarkable power of language? Being selective in your language about reviews of your books can help you to develop a thicker skin, to consider criticism from a professional perspective, and to maintain the right motivation as an author.