TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW? A Guest Post by Author Shelly Bell

Shelly Bell's debut novel

With my debut book, A YEAR TO REMEMBER, on the metaphorical “shelves,” I need to prepare for the inevitable reviews. These days, reviews are imperative to selling books. I don’t know about you, but the idea of it terrifies me. So terrified, I considered not sending out copies to reviewers.

Then I learned it’s not the professional reviewers I should worry about, but the private reviewers.

Reviews are subjective. I know not everyone will like my book. I just read a review of a book I loved that received a D rating from an online review site. It’s only one person’s opinion.

Authors need to accept bad reviews with dignity and grace. Unfortunately, not all of them do. Time and time again, I’ve read about authors responding to a bad review by leaving a comment on the website. It’s highly unprofessional and can result in a barrage of negative publicity.  Even if it helps increase book sales, it will be more difficult for the publishing industry to take you seriously. Any hope of a sale to a publisher or gaining the attention of a reputable agent could be lost within minutes, simply because you didn’t act professionally.

In 2004, Anne Rice responded to negative online Amazon reviews stating they were “interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.” Additionally, she stated, “Your stupid, arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander.”

Personally, I would not respond at all. But if after time and careful consideration you feel it imperative to respond to the review, I would do it in a private e-mail to the reviewer. Then let it go!

Did it negatively impact Anne Rice’s sales? Probably not. I agree with author Shiloh Walker, who stated in her blog that if someone is interested in reading your book, negative reviews won’t matter. She believes that the “negative review may be the very thing that entices another reader to buy your book.”

I wasn’t the only one to agree with Shiloh. Inspired by her blog, GalleyCat posted a list of bestselling books with one-star reviews (See ).

One-Star Reviews for Bestselling Books

1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (669 one-star reviews)

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (396 one-star reviews)

3. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (344 one-star reviews)

4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (169 one-star reviews)

5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (157 one-star reviews)

6. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (119 one-star reviews)

7. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (118 one-star reviews)

8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (191 one-star reviews)

9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (96 one-star reviews)

10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (81 one-star reviews)

Feel better now? If you have negative reviews, you’re in good company.

There’s another issue involving reviews by private citizens- manipulation of book ratings. Last month, Publishers Weekly wrote an article about reviews by agents and authors commenting on citizen reviews.

Apparently, an agent worked with an author to boost the book ratings on Goodreads.  The worst part? They got caught because they messaged about it on Twitter. It’s one thing to have your friends write reviews. It’s another to control your book’s ratings.

When you receive a negative review, shake it off. Use it as a learning experience. Writers are artists with sensitive souls who bare their souls on the page. But when that writer publishes her book, she’s entered an industry. The book changes from art to business.  In every business, there are rules. If you want to succeed, you need to play by those rules.

In the meantime, use the hurt and anger you feel from the negative review and write it in your next book. Success is the best revenge!

Author Shelly Bell

17 thoughts on “TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW? A Guest Post by Author Shelly Bell”

  1. Very well said Shelley! I love seeing the list of top ten books also got negative reviews. That puts it all into perspective 🙂 the sad part is people who don’t even read the books go onto these reviews sites and put 1 star reviews on books just because.

  2. I love this post! It makes you realize that the world won’t end if someone doesn’t like your book. And I do have friends who will read a book because someone gave it a bad review.

  3. I love, Love, LOVE this post, Shelly! It is so scary as a writer to release your treasured work to the masses. It really is like being a parent and asking your child to stand in the middle of a huge circle of people to be judged. Will they embrace him? Or will they stone him?

    Your advice here is thoughtful and encouraging. As a published author, I have had a few negative reviews already, and from years in the theatre, I have grown a pretty thick skin. Still, those thoughts sometimes haunt you in the dead of night: “You have no talent…” UGH!

    Thank you, Shelly, for reminding us that we can’t satisfy everyone. But if we can touch the heart and mind of one reader, we have succeeded! 🙂

  4. I had two books released back to back. I was so terrified of bad reviews/reception of the book (as one of my CPs can tell you), that I planned to spend the day the first one released hiding in my closet. LOL

    They got good reviews, but I know the bad ones will come. As far as Janet Evonovich goes with her latest Stephanie Plum–which by the way I didn’t buy–too expensive for e-book, IMO, I’m sure she cried all the way to the bank.

  5. Thank you, Shelly, for this post. I was amazed that any of those books had so many one-star ratings! But, as you said, this is a subjective business, but it IS a business. We must not “bare our souls” when it comes to answering any review. It will eventually come back to haunt us.

  6. Thanks for the post!! I was also terrified by reviews, but the first ones I got from professional review sites were fabulous!! Then I got a hmmm…uh, ok one from a reader on Goodreads. I was devastated. My book is the first in a series, and she didn’t know if she would read any more.

    I am amazed at the list you posted. After a few days, I realized that it wasn’t the end of the world, people will still read my book, and not picket me out of house and home. 🙂

  7. Great post. I know just how you’re feeling. My first novel will be coming out in the near future and the thought of it being massacred in a review is daunting. But if you want to play with the big boys (or big girls as the case may be) then it is an inevitable part of the business.

    And yes, the key word to remember is SUBJECTIVE. It’s only one person’s opinion. I remember an actor once saying he didn’t read any reviews at all. “If I believe the good ones, then I have to believe the bad ones, too.” Something like that, but you get the point.

  8. I agree, very well stated. I recall an author in the UK not that long ago participated in an online argument about her novel, it got such attention Im not sure if she’ll ever get published via traditional publishing again..

  9. Wonderfully said! I’ve had to bite my tongue more times than I can count and it’s perhaps the hardest part of this business for me. It’s easier to just not read any reviews at all. As they say:ignorance is bliss 🙂

  10. It took everything I had to send my novel off for a professional review. What if they didn’t ike it? I decided if I got less than three stars I just wouldn’t tell anyone. I got 4.25. I danced around the house.

  11. Great timing with this wonderful article: I’m scheduling my first book’s blog tour which means *gulp* reviews. I’ve put the book through a ton of contests so I’m okay with subjective opinions–but I don’t know how ready I am to see those subjective opinions on the Internet where EVERYONE can see them.

    That list of one-star reviewed books made me feel soooo much better.

    Great advice. Thank you.


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