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The Power of a Bad Review

As writers, I think most of us have a natural fear of bad reviews. They feel like a criticism of our hard work and labor of love. But that's not always the case! In fact, I'm firmly of the opinion that a bad review is actually a good thing. Let me explain… On Saturday, I gave a book a 2-star review, and posted that review to my blog--as well as Amazon and Goodreads. The author, of course, did NOT like that. This was the email I received:

I have just seen your review on Amazon. You know, I respect your honest opinion…

However, I came to you personally to ask you to review my book. You didn't just pick it up. Basically, I expected some kind of courtesy, and if your opinion of it was so negative, to be supportive, especially as you are a fellow author, I would have expected you to not publish a review at all.

I have never published a review that's less than 3 stars for a fellow indie author. If I feel strongly that it's bad writing or whatever, then I'll tell them privately. I won't hurt their reputation and their sales. That is common practice, seeing that when an author asks for a review, they expect some kind of support. With your 2-star review all you did is sabotage me. How do you help a fellow author by publicizing a 2-star review?

I think the most preposterous thing about you, however, is that you had the gall to write to me and ask me to SHARE a 2-star review of my own book on your site!

Again, I have no problem with your honest opinion and if you were just a reader I wouldn't give you a second thought. But because you're a reviewer I contacted personally, and a fellow author at that, I am amazed by the way you treated my request.

Hopefully, one day, a careless reviewer just like you will help you realize how appalling and destructive your attitude is. Good luck reaping what you sow.

Clearly not a happy camper! Here was what I wrote back:

If you read the review, you'll notice that it's not careless. In fact, I put a lot of thought into that review before I posted it. I didn't want to smear you or your book, but I wanted two things:

1) Readers to know what to expect. That's what the review is all about. I understand that a bad review may not seem like a good thing, but when readers see all 4 and 5-star reviews, it looks a bit fishy. The occasional bad review is actually EXCELLENT, as it shows that you're not just getting family or friends to review the book.

2) For you to know what needs work. As a fellow professional writer, it's often painful to see the quality of things that get posted on Amazon and sold as "books". Self-published works have gotten a bad reputation because of low-quality writing. In the interest of improving things, I pointed out areas that needed work. Someone did give me a bad review on my previous book, and because of that, my current books have GREATLY improved. You'll notice that I never attacked you personally, I just stated facts that stood out to me. If you can take this critique (which is what it is, and not a criticism) and use it to make your next book better, you'll be a far better writer. And isn't that what we all strive for?

In answer to your question, I'm helping you by forcing you to examine your writing skills and habits and see if they need work or improvement. I've been called out on my s**t way too many times to count, and I feel like it has made me a better writer.

I'm sorry if you don't like my review, but if you read the text on my website's review page, it says that I will always be honest. I gave it serious thought before posting it, and I felt it needed to be done. It was not a careless act meant to sabotage, but it was meant to help. Perhaps in the future, you will consider posting a similar review for someone else, and they'll eventually realize that you were trying to make them better at what they did.

Let's examine the two points I made: 1. Readers NEED to know what to expect. If you were asked to review a blender and that blender exploded in your hand, would you keep that to yourself? Or, like a normal human being, would you post that information online? Now, read over that review, and I didn't bad-mouth or slam the author. I pointed out weaknesses in what (I think) was a pretty objective way, even giving the author the benefit of the doubt in some cases. It wasn't a smear job--it was a thought-out, careful review of a product. If I was a reader looking into a book, THAT would be the review I'd look for. Not the 5-star "This is AMAZING!" reviews, but the one that says, "These are the weak spots/flaws in this product". That honest review is what makes readers decide whether or not your product is worth purchasing, and it's an important part of the free market. Without negative reviews, your book--or product--is way too suspicious. You can simply "buy" reviews, or ask people to only post good reviews. That's "gaming" the system, and I don't think that's right. I'm not saying it's cool to troll Amazon with negative reviews. But if you have put thought and consideration into writing a comprehensive, clear review after testing a product (reading a book, in this case), it's almost your obligation to post it and warn other people of what to expect. I wouldn't want to drop $5 to $20 on a book that I'll hate, all because someone was too afraid of offending others to tell me what was wrong with it. Would you? 2. You NEED to know what to work on. My first 3-star review was a heart-wrenching thing! Someone didn't like the words I had spent months writing, re-writing, editing, and publishing. Woe is me! And then I stopped to think about what that person said. I examined their review (a very well-written, concise, and clear one) to find the truth in what they said. I took the good with the bad, and used that to improve my writing. As a result, I KNOW my second book (Blade of the Destroyer) is far better than my first (In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent). Now, every time I get a bad review, I look at it and mull over the reviewers' words. There is always truth in what is said, and I use that to improve my writing. Thanks to a bad review, my writing is way better! Let this be a lesson, folks! Bad reviews can be the kick in the ass you need to write better, but it can also help to improve your sales. After all, balanced reviews (with both the good and the bad) can be a far greater selling point than all the 5-star reviews in the world. I can't think of a SINGLE novel--no matter how awesome--that has nothing wrong with it. To all the people who will read my books now and in the future, if you have a genuine reason for disliking or not enjoying my books, I want you to tell me! Give me a 1-star or 2-star review if that's what you think it deserves, but explain why. That way, I can look over your opinion and give it due consideration. Your blasting of my work may be the key to my becoming a better writer!