When it comes to your beloved book project, it can be hard to be objective. Really hard. It's likely taken you months and even years to complete it, and then once you add in editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, promotion, and sales...well, it’s not hard to see why some authors think of their book as one of their babies. Especially if they’ve poured their heart and soul into it.
Sometimes that makes us sensitive to criticism, no matter how well intentioned, how constructive, and how fair it can be. And last week, in our “How to Handle Bad Reviews Like a Pro” blog post, we addressed the tendency to react defensively and lash out—and how it can not only harm your author reputation and branding but also keep you from being open to making changes your book might need.
This week, we’re addressing the opposite issue: responding to good reviews. And as you’ll discover, responding to a good review is a lot more than just a “hey, someone liked this.”
Step #1: Accept the possibility that negative feedback will have a greater impact on you
It’s a simple truth for many of us: when presented with 99 wonderful compliments and one criticism, most of us are more inclined to remember the negative feedback we received. Known as “negativity bias,” it’s a tendency to focus on and even fixate more on the negative than the positive. But the good news is that there’s nothing wrong with you. Negative bias is actually rooted deep in our physiology and thought to be a response our ancient ancestors needed for immediate dangers like predators. (No small irony there.)
“Even when we experience numerous good events in one day, negativity bias can cause us to focus on the sole ‘bad thing’ that occurred,” writes psychologist Catherine Moore in “What Is the Negativity Bias and How Can It Be Overcome?” “It can lead us to ruminate on small things, worry over having ‘made a bad impression,’ and linger on negative comments and the like.”
Moore suggests that we can slowly teach ourselves to eliminate the negative by challenging ourselves when we identify it, being mindful of it, and savoring positive moments.
Step #2: Decide if you want the bad and the good reviews, or just the good
Last week we talked about deciding whether you want to know about reviews, good or bad. For some authors, it’s better to just ignore the lot and keep writing. Others are comfortable reading negative reviews. If you want to hear the good things and not the bad, one of the options we suggested was to ask a trusted friend or family member (or even better, an assistant) to filter your reviews for you and forward the positive ones. This way, you’re receiving some good reviews and feedback, which will bolster both your spirits and your confidence.
Just keep in mind that while positive reviews will make us happy and create the warm feelings that we all enjoy, it’s the critical feedback that will make us better writers.
Step #3: Take time to absorb the goodness
Remember how we were just talking about negativity bias? One of the ways to rewire your brain is to “savor” the good things. Don’t rush through reading that fantastic review. Take some time to really let it sink in. Reread it, make it your desktop, and ensure it’s easily accessible not only for when those nice feelings eventually fade but also for when you’re feeling kind of low about your writing. Simply knowing that someone loves your book can get you through some gray, miserable days.
Step #4: Save it, save it, save it
Do something embarrassing or awful, and the internet is forever. But if someone said something nice about you and your work publicly, it will shock you how hard it can be to find it again. So make sure you record your good review.
- Take a screencap/grab/shot. This way, you have a visual of the review for your files and maybe even for your social media accounts
- Create a spreadsheet of reviews/feedback that lists the link, the date, the reviewer, the source, and the content. All of the information will be in one handy location when you need it
A screenshot will also be highly useful in the event you’re ever challenged on the review. And a spreadsheet won’t just keep you organized, but it will provide you with a list of reviewers and publications that might be interested in your next book or even receptive to advertising on their site.
Step #5: Share the review with friends and family
It’s no surprise that friends and family make up one of the most powerful networks a person can have. Regardless of your book’s reviews, most of (or all, if you’re very fortunate) your friends and family want you to succeed. Let them know about your great review, whether it’s on social media or via a quick email, or even both. It will bolster them to talk up your books.
Step #6: Decide if you can use the review in your promotional materials
From friends and family: Friends and family are biased, and unless you have a very clever marketing strategy, your mom’s endorsement of your book is best left between you and your mom. It’s not going to persuade an undecided reader.
From a beta reader or an editor you hired: Any positive feedback you get from beta readers or your agent/editor is meant constructively and is usually not intended for publication. They can tell you what works so you can keep it in mind for your next book.
From a professional reviewer/publication: This is the big one. A good review from a recognized or established book reviewer (or publication) should be included in most if not all of your marketing and promotional materials. By “blurbing” the review (selecting a key glowing phrase or sentence as an endorsement), you can include this feedback on your book jacket, website, social media, in newsletters, in marketing/advertising campaigns, and more. Good reviews can be essential in convincing others to read your book. Not sure about how to blurb your book effectively? Check out our post “The Art of the Blurb,” which is a detailed account both of how to blurb a great review (or even a not-so-great one that still has some positive feedback) and how to make the most of it.
From readers on forums or bookseller sites: Reader reviews are a great way to persuade an undecided reader to buy your book. While you may not necessarily want to include reader reviews in your marketing materials, you could consider posting an excerpt or screencap of the review (along with a thank-you) on your social media, or even on a “What readers are saying” section on your website or in your newsletter.
Step #7: Be gracious, not gloaty
If you can manage it without being pushy, don’t be afraid to engage with and thank reviewers for taking the time and effort to review your book. A great way to do this is by sharing the link to their review on your social media pages, tagging the reviewer, and thanking them succinctly. DMs can be risky. If you’re looking to thank them personally, email the reviewer and let them know how grateful you are. For extra points, help get the word out about their site or publication from time to time as a gesture of goodwill.
It’s important, as much as our egos adore praise, to not be too egomaniacal about your reviews. Some authors—after sharing some garbage hot take online—use reviews and feedback as a weapon, meant to silence other authors who might disagree. Be gracious about your glowing reviews, and don’t use them to either demean or mock other authors, reviewers, or publications.
Step #8: Remember...you earned it!
For some people, it’s just as hard—if not harder—to receive praise instead of criticism. Not everyone responds well to kindness, and for some of us, there’s this jerk little voice in our heads that whispers, They’re just being nice and You don’t deserve this and It’s OK to eat that entire chocolate cake when no one is looking; go shove it in your face quickly.
You wrote a book, and that’s a big feat. You published a book, which is an even bigger one. And someone read it and liked (or loved) it. This is what you hoped for, so don’t let your brain hijack that sense of accomplishment.
You deserve this good review, and more importantly, you deserve to feel great about it. Trust that other people are being honest and sincere in their praise, and use it as a cue that, when it comes to writing books, you know what you’re doing, and you absolutely, unequivocally, and completely earned that flush of happiness and praise. Don’t be in a rush to let it go.
And whatever you do, make sure you celebrate it.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.