In talking with a client the other day, she brought up how low rated reviews still affect her, even now, a few years since the book release (via a small publisher). This isn't uncommon -- we feel bad when someone doesn't like our work. Many times, low rated reviews are written by readers, as opposed to book bloggers or book reviewers -- which doesn't lessen the value of a review, but can change the way a reader writes a review.
Professional reviewers usually (but not always) follow review guidelines, whereas most readers (including myself -- not putting readers down at all) write more about what we liked, didn't like, how we felt about the book. I would even venture to say that most reader reviews follow subjective guidelines, whereas professional reviewers are more objective in their assessment of the book.
For the purposes of this discussion, I'll differentiate between readers and reviewers/book bloggers, though obviously we're all readers so breathe.
Authors write books, people read and review them. There is no 'fill in the blank' format. Readers can and often do write whatever they want in a review. Some people are only reading to trash books -- I don't know why, but we know it's happening (read more here about a new change.org anti-bullying petition). Some people simply love to read and give every book a five-star. That's our right as readers because that's how the system is set up. There is no Review Police. Outside of a few basic guidelines, there is nobody giving tickets for poorly written reviews (which is ironic, but there it is).
I recently read a one-star review for a colleague's book, which was libelous in tone and accusation. He reported it; Amazon did not remove it. It is there for all to read. Does that mean that future readers will avoid his generally well-reviewed book because this one person hated it and slammed him? Probably not. Should he be upset that this person wrote a mean-spirited, horribly inaccurate review? Sure, but I've always maintained that readers are smart. We know how to read overall review scores, dismiss the silliness, and read the free sample to decide for ourselves.
How did he handle it? That is the question any author needs to answer. Did he get into it, trying to prove that the reader was wrong in his assertions? No, though he certainly wanted to! We don't want anyone to call our baby ugly, right? After much discussion amongst his fellow writer colleagues, he simply thanked the reader for the review, and vented and fumed in private.
The onus isn't on the reader to love our work. It's on us, the authors, to create a great work, and to know and accept that even then people will hate it. Many will love it. If your book isn't ready, wait. Make it better. Hire a professional editor, formatter, proofreader, graphic artist (something any author needs to do, no exceptions, ever). And for the love of whatever god you do or don't believe in, be sure to focus on getting reviews from reviewers, not some random person you hit up on Twitter who likely isn't your demographic anyway.
Reviewer/Book Blogger Review
How do we know who our demographic is? My soul-sucking Big Pharma marketing years gave me some insight (gender, age, interests), but still, how do we know that a truck driver will like our book any more or less than a literary critic? We don't. However, we do know that if we politely contact a book blogger or book reviewer who focuses on specifically reading our genre, we have a better chance of connecting with a reviewer who is, or who represents, our demographic.
(Here's a TERRIFIC resource: The Book Blogger List to find book bloggers that review your genre. Go. Well, after you're done reading this.)
Too many authors publish and then sit and wait for the glowing reviews to come in, something that doesn't automatically happen to any writer, ever. I don't care if you're the fabulous Anne Rice or Stephen King, they still have to get reviews and connect with influencers to create that all important word of mouth we need to help readers and reviewers find us.
Additionally, blogger and reviewers generally (not always) follow review guidelines that most readers are blissfully unaware of. We aren't professionals who do this for a living. We write whatever we want in a review, and that's fine because we have every right to do so (though I personally will not review a book that's below a rating of three). What's difficult is when a reviewer or book blogger doesn't like our work. Most authors crumble into a ball and start mumbling about socks in the corner, and that's okay. It hurts. However, this is a blessing.
Sounds crazy, I know, but if a reviewer (as opposed to a reader) hates our work, most likely it's because they objectively see faults that can be fixed, and that can only help us improve our writing. As an author and avid reader, I personally don't feel I'm a 'reviewer,' in that people shouldn't seek me out as someone whose opinion or influence matters. I'm not, because reviewing is not what I do, it's not in my sphere of influence.
It takes some nerve (combined with armor) to put our work out there, and to connect with reviewers who can, in some cases, be incredibly influential to the success (or lack thereof) of our book. Criticism doesn't have to make us drink three martinis -- but it can make our writing better. Readers count too, of course. If every happy reader tells ten other readers, your reach grows exponentially, increasing the opportunity to sell more books!
Finally, if you are randomly hitting up people you have never, ever spoken with to review your book on social media ('here's the link to my book! please review!' You know who you are.), you deserve whatever it is that comes in. If it sucks, you asked for it. Take responsibility for what you CAN control: connecting with people who do review, who enjoy your genre, who are involved and perhaps somewhat invested as you as a writer (i.e., someone who reviewed your previous work, or maybe a beta reader). Be focused and control what you can.
The lesson for me, as I write my fourth and fifth books, is this: focus on bloggers and reviewers -- people of influence -- in addition to connecting with readers. Welcome any feedback, positive or negative. Be polite to whomever reviews your work -- be thankful they took the time to read it and write a review, even if they trash you.
I know that sounds crazy, but every review adds to your total number of reviews, and that's all many people look at before making a buy decision. Sure, it brings down the overall average, but oh well. You cannot control that. I'm not really a woo-woo, new-agey kinda girl, but I do recommend that all authors read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Short book, helpful concepts, in particular: Don't take anything personally.
You are not perfect, I am not perfect, readers and reviewers are not perfect. Perfection is a matter of subjectivity, anyway. Take all that effort and time you took to attempt to refute someone who hates your work and move on -- do your best at writing your next work for them to hate.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences!