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How to deal with negative reviews, by author Jenny Ladner Brenner

Shortly after I self-published my debut novel, The Dinner Party, I began to revel in the good reviews. Hilarious! Witty!  Fabulous!  See, you short-sighted agents? I was right about myself and my oeuvre all along! And just as I started to experience the buoyancy of a sugar-addict presented with a fresh box of French macarons, the wicked worldwide web reduced my book to one-star ratings, ranting and raving. Boring? No one had ever slapped me with that adjective before, at least not so publicly. A waste of time? Gosh, I guess we can’t all be Honey Boo Boo.

 

A few weeks ago, I engaged in fifty shades of masochism and decided to Google myself ad nauseum. Not only did I feel like a narcissist, but it was an exercise in reminding myself just how far I’d gone to expose and embarrass my ego. Self-publish for all the world to see and judge? What was I thinking?  I closed my laptop, trying to control flashbacks of being stuck on a ski-lift, suspended mid-mountain, unsure if one mighty gust would render me unhinged. Then, while self-soothing with some banana frozen yogurt (I didn’t have any European delicacies on hand), and cursing the aftertaste of Aspartame lingering on my tongue, I had an epiphany: everyone’s a critic. About everything. Perhaps The Dinner Party is just one more thing for people to “yelp” about.

 

Online reviewers can be vicious about stuff you’d least expect: “worst manicure ever,”  “you call this osso buco?” “this bedbug-sniffing-dog doesn’t know his ass from his left paw!” It makes sense that a book would be fair game. And, it’s not like I haven’t griped loudly about the ending of Gone Girl, or the ironically slow express line at Whole Foods. So am I a hypocrite? A walking cliché? Are the stones finally pelting away at what I thought was my shatter-proof glass house? The bottom line: I’ve learned to duck pretty quickly.

 

Putting yourself out there aint easy, whether you are penning a book or opening a bar. Usually, the process involves tears, hair yanking, doubt, and regret. After all the effort (and existential agonizing), how do we cope with the bashing of our figurative babies? Take a look at the tips below for taking it all in stride:

 

  1. Most online reviewers are NOT literary critics, nor are they authorities on anything. Don’t take what they say too personally, especially if they don’t even bother to spell check.
     
  2. When a bad review is particularly nasty, try to keep in mind that your book induced a strong reaction in that reader—it’s better than being forgettable.
     
  3. For every bad review, a good one seems to pop up in its place. It’s kind of like the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. If you want to do some damage control, try featuring your book on a blog that caters to your target audience.
     
  4. Afraid one bad review will impact sales? It’s definitely possible, but in the long run, unlikely. Do travelers stop staying at The Four Seasons because of one tripadvisor horror story?
     
  5. Channel your hurt, resentment, and disbelief into your next book—sounds like the making of a complex and painfully human protagonist.
     
  6. Finally, keep in mind that all you need is one person to love your book and spread the word. Whether that’s your mom or your mailman, don’t forget the power of the fans you already have.
     

Jennifer Ladner Brenner is the author of The Dinner Party. Check it out here!

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