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September 12, 2013

Tips for Handling Negative Reviews

Being a book reviewer is not an easy job. We spend hours reading a book. And these hours are not just blissful hours of escape. Instead we are thinking about a multitude of things - character development, plot structure, use of language, etc. Plus many take notes to remind them of problem passages or quotes that highlight a well done component. We are also contemplating how well it fits in with the genre and who the book would appeal to.

When we turn the last page of a book we love, then it is easier to write the review. We may worry about sounding like a gushing fan girl, but for the most part we can be confident that our review will be well received.

Now when it's a book that we are less than pleased with, then writing the review is a bit trickier. Many book bloggers have chosen not to publish negative reviews. However, as I stated in a July 2012 article about writing negative reviews, I believe that negative reviews have a purpose in the marketplace.

I'm sure it is not just book bloggers that worry about the reaction a negative review will get. In fact, in 2012 film critic Marshall Fine received death threats after publishing an unfavorable review of Dark Knight Rises. I'm sure other critics have also received threats or hate mail. But the internet has made it easier in some ways to react to reviews, particularly those publishing on the internet. There is a comment button right at the end of the post. Knee-jerk reactions and "speaking" before thinking can be done quickly and without much effort. Also, people feel some anonymity on the internet - they can hide behind a screen name. And for the book blogger there is not a legal team at their disposal as there is for traditional media outlets to help them combat such threats or provide guidance.

Thankfully, I have not been attacked for the few negative reviews I have written over the years, but as an author I did receive a rather un-nice review. I do have a few tips for reviewers for handling negative reviews and the possible backlash they encounter.

Tip 1: Take care when writing the review
Be sure not to attack the author or any person involved in the publishing of the work. When possible cite examples that support your claims, particularly if your complaint is with the writing style or grammatical errors. Don't use incitant or inflammatory language. Try to balance the review with any positive elements.

Tip 2: Do not engage
When attacked I know it is difficult to sit on your hands and do nothing, but this is the best response. I give the same advice to authors who feel that a negative review is overly harsh. Many of the people who attack reviewers are wanting to vent their frustration at what they view as an attack on something they love. While they may not choose the wisest words to express that frustration, a response from the reviewer will just continue to fan the flames. Some people are wanting the attention and by not responding you do not feed this need they have.

I know you will be upset and need to talk about it, but DO NOT do it publicly. I recommend not making ANY reference to it at all publicly. No tweets or Facebook status updates. Talk privately about it with trusted friends and colleagues.

Tip 3: Keep records
There are crazy people out there and in the off chance that the person(s) attacking you aren't just knee-jerk reactions or frustrated fans, you should document any threats or use of hate speech. Hate speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment. You will need evidence should the incident escalate. If possible, also keep records of IP addresses and any other identifying information.

Tip 4: Protect yourself
Most of the social media and communication tools we use online have ways to block and ban people from contacting you. Use them. Like Rotten Tomatoes did with the Dark Knight Rises review, turn off the comments for that post when possible. It may not be possible to block comments on sites you do not have control over, such as Goodreads and Amazon. Unfortunately, Goodreads does not have a good record of shutting down inappropriate comments on reviews. Amazon does seem to make an attempt.

Tip 5: Don't let it discourage you
I know you may feel like throwing in the towel or be a bit gun shy the next time you don't like a book. If you take reviewing seriously, don't let it keep you from providing a needed voice. I like the statement Rotten Tomatoes Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity made regarding comments and negative reviews.

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