So You Got a Review -- Now What?
by Sally Murphy
So you (or your publisher) have sent out review copies of your precious book and now someone has written a review of your book in print or online. Wonderful! But, as an author, what can you do with that review? Reviews can make you feel good about yourself (and your book), but they can also be a useful marketing tool and serve as feedback to help develop your future writing.
Firstly, let's get the bad stuff out of the way and assume you got a bad review. The reviewer has said your characters are one-dimensional, or your plot is thin, or that your rhyme is forced (I had a review like that once and it hurt till I remembered I had used that phrase myself for someone else's work). Anyway, the reviewer is not a huge fan of your book, and now s/he's shared that message with the world.
If it will make you feel better, tear the review into tiny little pieces and burn them, or (if it is an online review) throw things at the monitor. Whinge to your mother, your husband or your best friend. Drink a glass of wine and eat a block of chocolate.
Then get over it.
The truth is, every writer gets a bad review sometime. And a heap of bad reviews could affect your sales. However, the truth is the success of your book does not depend on glowing reviews. Not every purchase decision is made based on reviews there are many consumers, librarians and booksellers who do not have the time to inclination to read reviews. There are also many people who will seek out a book and read it because of, rather than in spite of, bad reviews. They want to see if the reviewer is right.
I suggested above whinging to your loved ones. Let me also suggest that you limit this whinging to those loved ones. Don't whinge in your blog, on your website, or in your email groups, if you can help it. This is drawing attention to the bad review, which you don't want to do, can paint you as ungracious, and is also likely to irk the reviewer should they come across your words. Also don't whinge directly to the reviewer. You can disagree with them privately, but it is very bad form to try to get a reviewer to retract their words. Remember a book review is one person's opinion, not a personal favour to you, the author.
Before I move on from bad reviews, there are two more things you should do. Do consider, once you've calmed down, whether the negative comments the reviewer made have any relevance. Can you learn from the comments they've made to avoid making the same mistakes next time? Also, have you read the review thoroughly? The negative review may, in fact, just be a negative sentence or phrase. The reviewer who said my rhyme was forced, also, if I remember rightly, said she liked the storyline. She didn't hate the book - she was just telling it as she saw it.
Now, if the review is positive, the first thing you should do is a happy dance. Rejoice that someone other than yourself and your editor loves the book. Or at least doesn't hate it. Share the news with anyone who'll listen - and show them the review. This will spread the joy and may also spread the news of your book to people who haven't yet heard about it.
Next, if you have a website or blog, share the news of your positive review there. Tell people where or when the review was published and, if it is available online, provide a link to the review. If possible, include a quote from the review, but be careful here. The review does not belong to you. Like any other piece of writing, the rights to the review belong to the reviewer, or, if they've assigned those rights, to the website or publication where it was published. You need to ask for permission to quote from the review, especially if you are reprinting the whole thing. Most reviewers will be happy for you to quote them - I know I always am - but will want to be acknowledged as the source of the review, including a link back to their site, if online.
Thirdly, add extracts from the review to your press kit and/or media releases. What better way to convince media to cover your book news than showing them how much a reviewer loved it? Again, be sure to properly attribute the source.
Of course, by the time the reviews come in for this book, you are busily working on the next one, right? So when you receive these positive reviews, remember that extracts can be used on the covers and press material of your next book. This is the publicist's job, but they may well ask you if you are aware of any good reviews they can quote from, so be prepared with clippings.
And, just as with a negative review, you can learn from a positive review. The reviewer liked your characters, your storyline, or your unforced rhyme? Take the time to think about what it was you did in the writing of this book that you can replicate in your next project. You want to do everything you can to ensure the reviews for your next book are as positive as these ones.
Enjoy the feeling of being reviewed. A stranger has taken the time to read and comment on your book. Now you can grow the love by spreading the word.