This month’s Hints & Tips is about the scariest of all scary subjects for an author – reviews! As a new writer these are particularly stressful, whether it’s a critique by a writing partner, comments from your agent/editor, or most terrifying of all, a bona fide reader review. With your first book you don’t have a marker to judge by so you genuinely don’t know what to expect. I was a nervous wreck, and it’s no use telling yourself that reviews are only words because as writers we all know how important those are. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can be really, REALLY painful!

So first of all, reviewers and bloggers do a really important job. They’re quality controllers, providing recommendations to readers and helping writers to find an audience. Since they read a lot their opinions are worth listening to and the good news is that the huge majority of them are genuinely nice, supportive and respectful of feelings.

Unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Some reviews are so mean-spirited that you wonder if the person who wrote them realises we’re actual human beings with emotions. So naturally bad reviews are also the most memorable. They’re humiliating and depressing and can make you want to go and hide under your duvet with a tub of ice-cream, but they’re also an integral part of the job – pretty much inevitable at some point – so how do you cope with them?

  • Remember that one person’s negative opinion doesn’t define you or your writing. Maybe it wasn’t their genre or maybe they just didn’t like your style. Or maybe they were having a bad day and took it out on you (unfortunate, but it happens). Not everyone’s going to like your writing, but some people will and those people are your target audience. Listen to their opinion because it matters 100x more!
  • Don’t just dismiss negative reviewers as mean or jealous. Even if the comments are expressed meanly, stop and ask yourself if they’re fair. I’ve learnt a lot about my writing from bad reviews. They’re not easy to read, but if I’m doing something wrong then I’d rather know about it than not. Constructive criticism makes you a better writer. If nothing else, you can use the emotions they evoke in your writing. And then maybe name a villain after the reviewer and push said fictional villain off a cliff. Maybe.
  • Bear in mind that all publicity is good publicity. It may not feel like it, but having a mixture of reviews shows that they’re real. Readers are smart enough to know that 5* reviews are often been given by family and friends so having a range shows that you’re genuine. Even when that 1* is a comment on the postal service.
  • Be in a positive frame of mind when you read reviews. Take a deep breath, maybe pour some wine, but never look when you’re already feeling down or tired. You might get a lovely surprise, but why risk it? Alternatively, don’t read them at all. If you’re not sure if you can handle it then it’s not obligatory. Or ask someone you trust to do it for you and then give you an overview.
  • Never, EVER, and I’m-really-serious-about-this, respond or argue! We’ve all seen examples of writers arguing with bad reviews, often at length, and the longer it gets, the more excruciating and embarrassing it becomes. Don’t be this person. It makes you look immature. So rant in private, not public.
  • If all else fails, have a pity-party with your writer friends. Compete to see who’s had the worst review. Laugh/shrug/drink it off and get some perspective. It might feel like a big deal at the time, but in the big scheme of things, it’s really not. So crack on with your next book and set out to prove the haters wrong!

In the meantime, have a wonderful June xxx

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Jenni Fletcher is the author of six historical romance novels for Mills & Boon and a visiting tutor at Bishop Grosseteste University. Her seventh book, Reclaimed by her Rebel Knight, is out in July.

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