I started this series of posts by saying that of all the qualifications a self-publisher needs to have, none is more important than developing the hide of a rhinoceros. Here is just one last example, but it's an important one. For a writer whose book has just been published, it seems that the world is made up of two groups of reviewers.
The first group gives five-star reviews to every book the reviewer reads. You may find that you are particularly vulnerable to these people because they say such wonderful things:
- "Amazing book."
- "My all-time favorite."
- "Best book I've ever read."
- "Read all one thousand pages in a single sitting."
Before you decide that you are destined for the NYT Bestsellers List, you may want to ask yourself a few important questions. Who is this reviewer? Is she your best friend? Your Aunt Mabel? Someone who wants something from you? Or is this someone who is just saying what he thinks people want to hear?
I've been known to warn people away from books that get nothing but five-star reviews, simply on the basis that they are too good to be true. For a while the book world was rocked by two scandals. One developed from the revelation that best-selling authors were buying good reviews (and, believe me, they are not inexpensive.) One enterprising gentleman who sold his reviews for upwards of $500.00 was eventually driven to change his name because investigators had proved that he never even read most of the books he reviewed. The other had to do with a rumor that Amazon was going to forbid authors to review books because it appeared that they were simply exchanging high ratings -- "I'll love yours if you love mine!"
You can hope for five stars, of course, but don't be ashamed of the three- and four-star ratings you receive. They are the ones that are likely to be more honest -- and helpful -- than the highest ones.
The other group takes perverse delight in criticizing the book you didn't write: "Failed to mention. . ." "Never thought of . . ." "Didn't give me what i expected." As writers we sometimes deny we're worthy of high praise, but we tend to believe every criticism as if it were gospel. That's wrong, too. Out on the internet trolls DO exist -- A small number of folks who take pleasure in destroying other people's reputations by writing nasty and misleading things about them. Once in a while a bad review can open your eyes to something you really need to correct. If you find one of those, learn from it and then move on.
If you are unfortunate enough to be attacked by a troll, be very careful about what you do. First, if the review is obviously vicious, you can trust others to recognize that fact. Oven on Goodreads, there has been a recent controversy over a review of an upcoming book. The book was not yet published and the author
had not yet let anyone read it. So the comment "Get Cancer and Die, you idiot" was pretty obviously nothing more than a vicious attack. Unfortunately, the author responded to the review and kicked off a whole series of other attacks by the troll community who jumped on the chance to have some fun. The best policy? Unless there is a real threat to your life and limb, or unless it is a libelous attack that will ruin your professional career, ignore it and get on with your life. An ignored troll will move on to someone who is more fun.
That's where the hide of the elephant comes in. It's always hard to receive criticism. The trick is to look for helpful comments and ignore the rest. One final example. I received a low rating on Amazon for one of my novels. It pointed out that I hadn't handled the kidnapping very well -- its circumstances were unbelievable and the telling was not dramatic enough. That could have been a helpful comment -- except that there was no kidnapping in my book, not even something close to a kidnapping. How did the comment get there? And why? Who knows? Maybe it was an honest error, a misplaced click. But there was no need to waste time worrying about it. Amazon won't remove a review just because there is evidence that the reviewer has not read the book. I simply moved on.
So go forth and keep writing. But be a rhinoceros.