Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Handle Negative Press

If you watch politics, you know there is an art to spin. Good spin MUST have truth to it, it doesn't have to be the whole truth, but a good chunk must be true for it to resonate with the audience. The goal with EVERY piece of bad press (and to some extent, a bad review) it to highlight the positive of the review.

Let's start with my story, and some of you already heard about this when it happened last month through Facebook. I STILL find it funny, and instructive, so I'm sharing it. Ready?

I am an Alice. Anytime I see a clever link, blog post title, or share, I click. I run Linux, so I have very little fear of a virus or malicious spyware installing on my computer (nothing installs on my computer without my express say-so and password). It doesn't take me too long to have seven or eight tabs open in my browser. I know. It's a problem.

So one night on Facebook in February, I'm looking at the stream, and "Why I Stopped Reading..." popped up. Ooooh, I thought. This might be good information from a reader's perspective, or maybe it's a scathing review of a book.... I freely admit that I enjoy reading negative reviews to gawk at the train wreck, but I don't take every word to be the gospel truth about a book. Especially one-star reviews from reviewers with NO OTHER reviews. That to me makes me suspect it's another author's jealous sock puppet. But I digress.... back to "Why I Stopped Reading..."

So I clicked and was taken here.

It is a post about why a reader couldn't finish a book. I was excited! I always wanted to hear this kind of analysis. After all, it's vital to know what makes a reader put a book down.

I'm reading the beginning:
It was a free download, so I didn’t feel as obligated to finish as I might have if I’d paid for it. It wasn’t by someone I know, or anyone I network with, so that also cut down on the potential guilt factor. And I gave it a chance: it was approximately 75,000 words, and I read over 25% before I gave up on it, deleted it from my smartphone, and moved on.
And this small voice in the back of my head says "We just went free.......we specifically state our book is 75,000 words IN the description....this might be our book"

Then came a few more details....
...straight contemporary romance...It did have a consummated love scene... it was glossed over pretty friends to lovers romance
Now that voice is screaming.."THAT'S OUR BOOK SHE'S TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!" Alarm bells are going off, and my stomach drops. Ugh. But then I get to this point.
In the book’s defense, it was well-written from a technical standpoint, it had an interesting premise, and characters that could have been people I’d have enjoyed spending a few hours with, had their emotions been better drawn. The book wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t have kept reading   
Okay. My book interested a reader who usually likes paranormal romance, and she didn't care for my book. But she didn't say I suck. She didn't say the book was unreadable. She had a personal response to the characters that wasn't positive.

And she wrote about it. Yeah!!!! She wrote about it!!!!! I'm going to be egotistical here and say a book has to be pretty good, but not interesting to a reader, for them to write such an analysis. Think about it. WE only do that when there's a product out there that we really wanted to like, either because of what it is or what everyone is saying about it, and it didn't meet our expectations. Then we share that, because we feel something about the product. And that happened to me! :)

So I knew it was my book. And I also weighed her criticism about the lack of emotional connection. It made me smile. First, I know that in the rough draft, there was TONS of introspection, and they fell victim to the red pen. Why? Because of my husband. If I ever ask him what's he's thinking about, the answer is "Nothing." I chose to model Johnathan off of him and the type of male gender role I identify in my husband. He's an alpha male, with a softer side, one who deals strictly with facts and emotions are secondary in his decision making process. My book was never a statement about all men, far from it, just a particular type of man I'm intimately familiar with.

I contacted the blog owner. I know. DANGEROUS. But the more I'm in this industry to more I'm realizing that by just being my normal self, things usually go okay. I let her know I recognized my book,and I took responsibility for her not finishing the book.... here was my initial contact:

 Pretty sure that's my book. If it is, it won't hurt my feelings in the least for you to indentify the book. In fact, you aren't the first reader to point out they wished there was more emotion behind my characters. We only grow as we get feedback, and while 5-stars are great, ALL feedback is valuable. 

Not to defend the work as some of the lack of emotion was a conscience decision, obviously I failed to communicate aspects of my story world to keep you drawn in. I take full responsibility that you couldn't finish, that's on me. But I thank you for giving the novel a chance.
Our exchange continued very pleasantly, and ultimately, I wrote a comment on the blog post AFTER discussing it with her first. Remember, that's her website space, and it would very presumptuous for me to just barge in and start taking over. It could be awkward, I don't want to make people afraid to talk about my book in a constructive way.

Why Did I Identify My Book?

Why didn't I just keep my mouth shut? Because the PROS outweighed the CONS. What do I really lose by being completely classy and owning up to my weaknesses as an author? Nothing, really. I do not want readers to pay money for my book expecting it to be something it is not. It hurts their pocketbook, gives them hard feelings towards me as the author who hoodwinked them, and probably brings more negative reviews to the book. I want every reader who is expecting a typical romance story line to know CANCELLED does not fit the formula.

I didn't want other authors to wonder if it was their book. I doubt that many would, but still, sometimes not knowing is worse than just knowing. And finally, in accepting that my book is not going to satisfy every reader's tastes, I'm getting an opportunity to further talk about the reader I had in mind when I wrote the book. By simply defining that I intentionally took out emotional introspection, I'm defining my book for a reader that is sick of books with an overabundance. There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Our job is to make happy the readers we can. :)

So if you find yourself staring at a 1-star review, or find yourself coincidentally reading  a blog that is reviewing your book in a less that gushing manner, don't panic. Accept that the person writing the review has a 100% entitlement to his or her opinion, and is probably right in the conclusions met based on the individual's previous reading history, tastes, and personal experiences. Accept the feedback as valuable.

Try to find a redeeming aspect to keep yourself from stewing on the negative. Sometimes it's just that at least you got a response out of the reader. For me, this blog was the first time I had found someone writing about my book and it wasn't a scheduled or requested review! WHOA! :) Other times, the reviewer or blogger is classy too, like Jennette Marie Powell, who after explaining why she couldn't finish my book, added positive qualities about the book that she did like. You don't always get a balanced review. In fact, most I've read are either over-the-top gushing, or completely negative. Balanced reviews from strangers are priceless.

Finally, always respect another writer's, reader's, blogger's, or reviewer's web space. Ask for any clarification or deal with any concerns in back door communication (private messaging, email) not in the comments section. If your emotional response is retaliatory, you need cooling off time. You'll know it's retaliatory, not professional, when you want to write in the comments so that the world can see your righteousness or injustice. This isn't the way to handle negative press or reviews. And even if you are technically right, you're wrong because it's not your site and you're not going to turn the website's audience against the owner. They will rise en masse and clobber you. You are the guest, don't be an unwelcome one.

Good luck to all, we soldier on in the good times and the bad. Remember, there's no such thing as bad press!

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in? 


  1. I had a 1-star review for The Chosen and the person basically said that the book just wasn't their thing. But never said it had errors, plot holes, that the writing itself sucked, etc. So I tried to read into it and find the positive things, much like you did :)

    1. Yay for you, Shay! As a reader, I troll the 1 and 2 star reviews, looking for legitimate gripes about a book. A review like that wouldn't put me off a book, even if it was one-star.

  2. Balanced reviews are hard to write, which is probably why there aren't many out there. I think we all want our worlds to be balck and white, good or bad. Unfortunately that's rarely the case and we have to deal with all the bits of grey. (Which reminds me I have a review to complete.)

    It's always nice to see a negative turned positive.

    :} Cathryn

    1. I'm a professional dealer with drama. :O) At one point, my mother in law wanted to FIGHT me on the front lawn. Now the woman and I enjoy weekly conversations that last hours.

      Now, I don't know 100% I'd still be Suzy Sunshine if my 5 star reviews didn't outweigh my negative reviews so thoroughly... but I'd probably stew a bit then take the book down and fix whatever was pissing off the majority of readers...

      And yes, as someone who wrote reviews, writing balanced reviews are VERY tough to do. I wrote reviews for fan fiction, and I had a sheet I used that I wrote What I Liked, What I LOVED, What I didn't care for. That way there was always a 2-1 ratio of good to bad.

  3. When I saw your blog post title, I wondered if this was what it was about. :) And I was glad to see it was, because you perfectly demonstrated just that, on my blog that day. I'm sure the only reason I haven't had any negative press on my book is because I haven't really promoted it yet and haven't tried free - and when that day comes, I hope I'm as gracious and professional as you are!

    1. I let it rest a bit for a few reasons. First, waiting to write about it brings new traffic to your blog :) (Sorry, my background is SEO) and second, I wanted to be very careful about explaining what happened because it could easily be a touchy subject for other writers.

      I think the entire situation is absolutely hilarious... one of those stories I will tell when I've got 15 books published under my belt and it's 2018 and I'm guest speaking at a writer's conference about the "early days" of DIY-publishing.... it's right up there with my anecdote about being rejected 3 times not from an agent, but from a FAN FICTION site when I first tried to write fiction. :) Without our hard-knocks, we don't get stronger.

  4. I've had everything from 1 star to 5 star reviews on my books. I've learned not to worry too much about 1 stars because some of them have been sort of suspicious to me because of the wording.

    I made the mistake of responding to a bad review on Amazon once, and I really regret it. But the way you responded to the blog post obviously worked out well for you and you were apparently very classy about it. We all have to decide how we're going to handle reviews. The best advice I can give any author is NEVER respond while you're hurt or angry. That never turns out well. LOL

  5. I do try to do this, but I have to say that the spiteful reviews are the hardest. My fourth book features a homosexual MC and, after it came out, I had people going back to the first book and leaving one star reviews warning people away from my series. I even had one lady compare it to porn! I write YA and all of my characters stay fully dressed. I have nothing more than kissing in my books and even that isn't detailed. So, I was completely offended by this, but of course there was nothing I could do. It's frustrating.

    My other pet peeve is when people leave a review without reading the book. I have a few that say they read a few pages of the sample and could tell they didn't like it. to me that's just malicious.

  6. Loved your clever spin on things. Sometimes we do get reviews that seem unfair, but I decided early on that commenting on a review, good or bad, for me was not a good idea. For one thing, I'm a tad too sarcastic and it doesn't always translate well on the internet:)

  7. I received a one star review for a title of mine that had enjoyed good reviews. There was something about the review that didn't click, as though it had been written by someone who had little or no experience of writing or reviewing. I clicked on the link. 'see all my reviews'. This reviewer had four reviews to his credit. Two books, (one star each), one lawnmower and one kitchen gadget. Sometimes the review says more about the reviewer than the book.