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May 24, 2021

So, you’ve pressed publish, and you’ve just checked Amazon or Goodreads, and your first review or rating is sitting there staring you in the face plain as day. Your ego is shattered. You spiral into a depression because your book sucks, and by default, you believe you’re a bad writer. Next, you go over to the book of another author-friend or acquaintance and look at the reviews for their book. Naturally, they have a few four and five-star reviews, no one or two-stars. And you wonder, what are you doing wrong?

If this is something you can relate to, this episode of the Five-Minute Writing Coach is for you.

Discovering the Truth

Before you start panicking, you need to ask yourself an important question.

Is there something wrong with your story?

The truth is you might have a plot thread that you have forgotten to tie up in a clear and coincide way. Unfortunately, only time will tell; you need to wait for more reviews to come in.

How do I know this?

I, too, have been where you are right now. Let me share my story with you, hoping that it will help you decide what to do next.

My Story

In my quest to start attracting reviews for my first novella, I signed up for a few different programmes that promised to put my book in front of readers. A few of those programmes did not live up to my expectations and what was promised. After I signed up for one particular programme by a well-known company within the self-publishing space, I was matched with a reviewer. Long story short, my book was cancelled from the programme because the reviewer thought my “story was poor and badly written.”

I kid you not; that was a direct quote. The company in question sided with this one reviewer and removed my book from the programme. Upon questioning this response, I was met with the reviewer is a good writer. And, that’s what made me do a double-take. I signed up for a reader review, not a harsh beta read from another so-called good writer. What does the term “good writer” even mean?

Don’t worry; I’m not going down that rabbit hole today.

In the “your book was cancelled from our programme” email, I received a lengthy review where the reviewer admitted to not reading the whole story but still gave me a harsh beta-read style review.

How did I respond?

Honestly, my world was shattered. Partly because I didn’t realise I was getting a critique. I cried. I started to believe I was the worst writer to ever walk the face of the earth.

What can I say? I don’t half-arse drama.

Eventually, I went through the lengthy review and asked myself the following question.

Is this criticism right?

I went through the entire review and pulled out all of the points of criticism that the reviewer had made. After this, I went through my novella and checked to see if I did make these mistakes. This is where I learned the reviewer reached chapter thirteen of forty-one.

In my novella, I dedicated entire scenes and chapters to resolve the issues the reader raised. For instance, the reader thought my character James Lalonde who is a journalist and editor of a small newspaper, was helping the curator of the museum. It’s a strange thing to conclude because my character makes it explicitly clear through dialogue and character thought that he’s chasing a story and trying to avoid a blank space in the culture section of his newspaper. James is not in any way doing the curator a favour or helping her. The feedback was full of stuff like this. Interestingly, the feedback I received only criticised the plot elements mentioned in the book’s description. But, once again, this could be the result of a harsh critique of a partially read novella. The truth is I can’t do anything with this kind of criticism; it doesn’t help me to create a better story.

Next, I asked myself another question.

Does the reviewer read in my genre?

Because this reviewer later advertised that they DNFd my book on Goodreads, I was able to determine this. No, the reviewer reads cozy mystery. And my story is an amateur sleuth mystery, slightly different, but it’s important to note. On top of this, I advertised my book to reviewers as a crime thriller. I was wrong about that too.

The Best Thing I Ever Did

After this, I paid for a professional beta reader to read my story and send me a report. This was where I learned that I did not tie up a loose end. Next, I fixed the problems raised in the second beta reader report and paid for a second professional edit from a completely different editor. After the line edit and proofread, I published the second edition. But I didn’t relaunch my book; I just uploaded the new second edition to all major ebook retailers.

Reviews from Actual Readers

Over the next few months, more ratings rolled in, and I received more feedback. Some readers loved my story and gave it four or five stars, while others were critical or didn’t like it and gave my novella three stars or under. It’s roughly a 60/40 split. Eventually, I realised that my readers did not like the epilogue, so I removed it because the story made sense without it at the end.

The Price I Paid

But all of this analysis came with a price. I was putting off writing book two because I was scared of more failure. The constant review checking took a toll on my mental health and my self-esteem as a writer. I went from believing I was good but not perfect to thinking I can’t write to save my life. I wanted to quit. I honestly believed that my life was going down the toilet because I was terrible at the one thing I was told I was great at my entire life. Luckily, the pandemic started, and my husband was working from home and talked me off that metaphorical ledge.

Let’s Reframe My Experience

Not everyone will like your book; expect it. That 40 percent of readers who do not like my book are not my audience. The 60 percent are my audience, and I write for them. Actually, there are many readers on Kobo who like my first-in-series book and its imperfections.

It’s not the crisis I first imagined.

My Advice to You

Don’t make any rash decisions just yet, because it’s never as bad as it seems.

So, what if you actually wrote a bad book?

Then, do what I did, get feedback from a professional beta reader or two. Fix the plot holes in your story. Pay for a second line edit from a different editor, and publish the book again. After that, write the next book.

You need to stop comparing your book launch and review average to other authors. The truth about those authors who publish and instantly get a few four and five-star reviews is, those reviews are from friends of their parents or other relatives or a massive email list of fans.

Yes, I know this for a fact.

Because I know someone who openly said that their parent was recommending their books to their friends, they left reviews, whereas my reviews and ratings were from strangers. Actual strangers, people who do not get a dopamine hit every time they see me. Based on this new evidence, I’m not comparing like for like. And, the truth is, neither are you.

If you want to be writing in the decades to come, you need to stop reading your reviews. Book reviews are not for you; they are for your readers and are more of a reflection of who the reader is than your novel. For instance, some readers who loved my book but didn’t like the ending gave my book four stars, while others gave me a one-star rating for the same reason. These are two very different people; one was more logical about their review and rating system, while the other rates books purely based on the ending.

But, how can you learn from your reviews without risking your mental health or self-esteem? Ask someone else to track your reviews and report the common themes back to you. Keep a folder of screenshots of positive feedback as they arrive, and it will; it happened for me, even in the early days when my book was flawed (pre-second edition). Read these comments when you’re feeling low or broke the rules and checked your reviews.

One Last Recommendation

Remember, one and two-star reviews are evidence that the general population, outside of your friends and family, are reading your book. It takes time to find where your book fits on the shelf. And, I don’t mean a few weeks or a month. It wasn’t until a year later that I realised I had written an amateur sleuth mystery, all thanks to Dean Wesley Smith and one of his courses.

At first, I was marketing my book to the crime thriller audience. Changing the genre of my book made a difference. If you’re struggling with your reviews, I highly recommend you take Dean Wesley Smith course titled “Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by WMG Publishing. It’s on teachable for $60.00 USD including taxes, and he frequently has sales, so keep an eye on his blog and read it regularly. This mini-course helped me to reframe my mindset around reviews.

In the next episode of the five-minute writing coach, I’ll dive a little deeper into why you shouldn’t expect writing to be fun or easy.

Happy Writing, Everybody!

With love,

Amelia D. Hay

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