Lesson Learned in June – on developing a very thick skin!

Once again the world has turned and I have with it; we are through another month and my perspective shifts and changes once again. June has been a bit of an upside down month with both highs and lows; through it all there has been one very clear message, one which tells me I need to develop a very thick skin.

Back in May I tried an experiment, which was to make one of my books free for five days on the Kindle platform. The book in question was my first novel ‘ Woman on the Edge of Reality‘ and the feedback I’d had to that point had been really positive. It’s a quiet sort of novel, no dramatic car chases or murders, just one woman’s journey into herself and her life over the course of a week in Cornwall.

However, I now realise I made a mistake including a page at the end of the book that encouraged people to tell me what they thought, with a handy little link to leave a review on Amazon! Given the positive reviews I’d already had and the direct feedback offline, I was reasonably confident all would be ok; I was about to discover how wrong I could be.

To say the reviews have been split would put in mildly. There are some great comments from readers and there are some which really tear at my poor,Β beleaguered creative soul; of course it is the latter which hold the most sway and to which I am continually drawn, like a moth to a flame. They all say the same thing, that the book is dull and boring and is about nothing but drinking tea; on the latter part they would probably be correct – I do talk about tea, a lot.

What surprises me though is that they almost all say that they are surprised they read the book to the end! And I’m surprised too because if I don’t like something I’ll stop reading it and not waste my precious time with it. I suppose I could take comfort from the fact that they haven’t said that it’s badly written; I guess that means that it’s just not a type of novel they find entertaining enough. The trouble is it still hurts when I read them and, after another sleepless night yesterday mulling over the latest ‘dull as ditchwater’ comment, I realised I had three choices:

  1. to ignore them and focus on the fact that (at the moment at least) there are more good than bad reviews
  2. to edit the page that encourages people to leave a comment – because I’m certain that the reason for so many is that I’ve made it very easy for people to vent their spleen on completion
  3. to pull the book off Amazon completely and start again
  4. to stick to non-fiction where I get great reviews and have no ‘personal’ connection to the content

Over 4,000 copies were downloaded during the free period in May which means that as those books are read I could end up with 4,000 negative reviews! In fact, I could be the first person to have the ‘worst’ set of book reviews on Amazon, which might be an achievement of sorts (although I’m not sure it’s one I want though!)

To counteract some of the comments I have revised the blurb (before anyone comments I do know I need to re-write it) and I’ve also stopped doing most of the marketing, allowing it to slip down the rankings so that it’s at about 38,000 on Amazon Kindle UK at the moment. It is still selling reasonably well at that level and given it started at something like number 1,500,000 it’s a great improvement on rank.

Having considered all the options I’ll definitely go with number 4 and stick to non-fiction in the future. As for my other choices I think I’ll wait to see what happens over the coming month before making a final decision on what to do to protect my fragile ego.

I’d be really interested to hear what other people do to cope with bad reviews on something like Amazon, let me know and perhaps we can come up with a solution that works for everyone – barring turning to gin of course πŸ™‚

35 thoughts on “Lesson Learned in June – on developing a very thick skin!

  1. Tammy S. says:

    Negative reviews are so, so difficult to deal with. You want to make sure to listen to feedback, but it can be tough to weed out what is constructive vs. not.

    Before giving up on fiction entirely, I would encourage you to take a peek at some of the books by your favorite authors and see what kind of reviews they got. You can’t make everyone happy–and by the reviews on your book, it looks like you made more than half of them happy. That’s nothing to sneeze at!

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  2. Stacy says:

    So sorry to hear of the bad reviews. I know how hard they can be to deal with as I’ve had my fair share. However, you have to look at the good too. Like Tammy said, “You’ve made more than half the people happy, which is nothing to sneeze at.” As for the number of free downloads, I had over 16,000 free downloads during a 2-day free trial and in the weeks since, have only had 2 reviews come of that. I don’t think you have anything to worry about! Most people are just loading kindles…

    Hang in there – reviews are tough and it’s very difficult to let them go by. But, that is the true test of the writer… πŸ˜‰ Focus on the good, take what is constructive from the bad and leave the rest. The important thing is to keep writing!

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    • Linda says:

      I guess if I look at my own behaviour I’d know that Stacy – I load up with free and purchased books and then read them days or weeks later, some I haven’t had time to get to yet either though. Thanks for the observation about making half the people happy too πŸ™‚

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  3. Michael Cargill says:

    I actually felt the same way, when I suddenly got some one and two star reviews for that Shades of Grey book of mine, that you have read.

    As painful as they are, you have to remember that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time. Go and look at the Harry Potter books, or something like The Hunger Games – there will be plenty of negative reviews for them, despite their popularity.

    Also, it being free may have prompted many people who wouldn’t normally be interested in that sort of book to give it a try.

    I suggest you leave the review link in there, most people are dying for more reviews. How did you actually do the link by the way? Was it just the usual Amazon website address for that particular book?

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    • Linda says:

      I’m planning to go and have a look at some of the great classics just to see what people say about them Michael and you’re right ‘free’ works incredibly well but it also attracts those who aren’t necessarily interested in your type of writing. You can’t win them all as you say. I did the link (a href=”……”>Leave a Review</a) to the Amazon Kindle Page on Amazon UK as it was the UK version I was promoting … and of course you can follow the link from the Kindle and type a review all in the space of just a few minutes πŸ™‚

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  4. Joanna (Lazuli Portals) says:

    Sorry to hear about the negative reviews, Linda, but I agree that opening up to ‘freebie sales’ does tend to lead to ‘disinterested parties’ (outside of target market) getting hold of a book and then complaining it’s not their cup of tea! (Pun intended!)

    As yet we’ve not had any poor reviews for ‘The Cordello Quest’, but perhaps those who didn’t ‘get’ it just couldn’t be bothered to post one?! We have left a request to leave reviews in the back of our book, but not a direct link.

    I will get round to reading your book soon; it’s in my special ‘Friends’ books’ folder on my Kindle app. I’m pretty sure my review will be positive! πŸ˜‰

    Whatever you choose to do, I wish you success and happiness. πŸ™‚

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    • Linda says:

      Why thanks Joanna, I really appreciate that comment and I must admit that thing about disinterested parties is probably largely to blame, thanks also for adding me to your special friends folder – I feel very priviliged and honoured. And by the way, I received a comment on Goodreads just today from someone who said that they loved the book too .. that makes me feel much better πŸ™‚

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      • Linda says:

        I had another this morning by email from a friend who had read the post and sent it to my better half to send over to me – it seems I have supporters all over the place and it’s a really great feeling, I now need to think about how I can give something back to everyone (but I am working on a cunning plan LOL) x

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  5. Anne Orchard says:

    I think Tammy’s tip is a really good one Linda. I know how you feel about negative reviews and I feel mildly terrified of putting myself in that position again even with non-fiction. But not everyone will ever agree so I’m prepared to take the risk. Personally, I think maybe your book runs too deep for the casual reader who wants the story handed to them on a plate. I enjoyed it even more on a second reading as I felt there was much I had missed the first time through.
    Never say never about the fiction writing, but in the meantime it’s easier to market non-fiction so why not do that for a while? So long as you’re writing. One day, when a story gets hold of you and won’t let you go, you can always dip your toe in the fiction water again.

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  6. Nifti says:

    Hello Linda,

    It sounds to me like congratulations are in order. A lot of what I read was positive. Yes, you’ve got those poor reviews for “Woman on the Edge of Reality”, but your readers also mostly finished the book. I think that a plus. Also, the book did download rapidly, and as you explain, is doing pretty well on rankings – also pluses. I wouldn’t worry about the bad reviews. Many writers are struggling to even get one book published. Enjoy the fact that you are a successful author. And don’t give up your goals.

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    • Linda says:

      Do you know, barring my soul has been a truly cathartic experience – I shared how I felt and got an awful lot of support and encouragement back that has seriously challenged my perception of what is good and bad. You have all given me some great feedback and suggestions for how to turn something that has been keeping me awake at night into a real positive and I really can’t thank you all enough – I think I might have a little cry if I carry on so I’ll stop there πŸ™‚

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  7. thedevelopmentactivist says:

    OK, second attempt. Don’t know if you read my tweet but I think you are very brave fessing up to the negative feedback on your novel. I mentioned option 5 which is just keep going until you love what you have aritten and so does your audience. But here’s an option 6. You are probably quite Left Brain oriented and I am certainly Right Brain oriented. So why don’t we write a short story tohgether to take advantage of this fact (we would kill each other if we tried to write a novel together). I hate to see people stop when they really want to succeed just because they haven’t found what works for them yet.

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    • Linda says:

      That sounds like the perfect idea Harvey and I did get your tweet about ten minutes ago and will be replying very shortly too. So, how do you want to do this? I do take part in something called Friday Fictioneers each week which is a flash fiction challenge set by the lovely Madison Woods – we could try something short as the latest photo prompt will be out today …. or we could go for a more normal length short story too (between 1000 and 3000 words). Or we could do the publicly collaborative approach encouraging anyone that ones to take part to join in and create something truly unique … I’m open to all sorts of suggestions too so what do you have in mind πŸ™‚

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      • thedevelopmentactivist says:

        How about 25 words each alternately until we have 100 on the photo. I’ll call HEADS, you toss a coin. If it’s heads I go first if it’s tails you go first. Then we could progress to a short story if we are still talking to each other… maybe on a similar basis, 100 words each alternating until we get to somewhere between 1000 and 3000. You might have to flag up the photo to me for the Friday Fictioneering and how I start as I read the Friday Fictoneering page and there seemed to be at least 8 separate actions required (or were they just 8 options?)… anyway i glaze over after 3 of anything. You might also want to check my work for typos and spelling mistakes.

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      • Linda says:

        That sounds like a great idea and if we start today then we’ll have it ready for tomorrow morning’s post. Don’t worry about the actions, I’ll sort those out and you’ll ge the hang of it pretty quickly if you want to take it on yourself next week. So I’ve flipped the coin and it’s come up … ta da … tails, so I get to go first. The photo prompt is here so you can see what I’m starting with: http://madison-woods.com/photo-prompt-for-the-fridayfictioneers/ and I’ll email you the first 25 words in an hour or so πŸ™‚

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  8. Maria S. says:

    I hate negative review. I want to be a writer and I know that I need to build a thicker skin because I take negative comments personally. I don’t think you should rule out fiction. you should just try something that has more, you know, fiction-y stuff in it. I never want to review a book negatively. There may be negative points to a book that I point out, but if I read a book and don’t like it I probably won’t review it. I think it was extremely rude of them to be so negative. I send many a mental GRRR their way.

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  9. Beanstalk Coaching says:

    Hi Linda,
    I’m a bit late to the party….I don’t have a Kindle (I may publish for it, but I really, really like real books and real bookshops!) so can’t comment on the book. But I do think that creative writing can be something of an iterative process – you go over and over certain parts, if you’re good at self-editiing you’ll be murdering your little darlings as you go, and I think it always helps to have critical readers. You probably did all that. Even then, you won’t please everyone, and if you’re like me, you’ll go back to your baby – er sorry, I mean your book, some months later, and think, how did I let that pass! Got to get rid of that…and the temptation is to start editing all over again. It’s a real downside of self-publishing, that we don’t have that editorial process with a professional, too. But what I really wanted to say, and where all this is leading, is that there is no art without pain, so please don’t give up on your creativity, and if you want to write fiction, then write it, and practise and practise. I know my writing benefits from being in a writer’s group, and I’m not doing much right now because I’m not mixing with other writers and sharing work. So keep at it!

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    • Linda says:

      That’s great advice Annie and thanks for sharing it with me and everyone else. I do know what you mean about the iterative process and it’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘just one more change’ … and the ‘ooops, a spelling mistake’ which means you never truly let go of the book for the world to see. I can tell you that simply writing this post and receiving all the comments has already radically changed my perspective on the whole thing and I’m starting to reframe the reviews in a different (more helpful, if that’s the right word) light πŸ™‚

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  10. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear Linda,

    I arrived here, side tracked by the link at the beginning of your FridayFictioneers piece and feel compelled to add this comment. Do not give up anything. Write what makes your heart sing. It is so easy to write a negative review. Much easier than writing the book that garnered them. if they read it all the way through you have accomplished something positive. Selling well? Even better. Just write and write some more. You’re doing fine.

    Aloha,

    Doug

    P.S. If I had a Kindle I’d buy your book and tell you the God’s honest truth about what I thought about it, but i don’t have one so you’ll just have to accept my encouragement on faith.

    Back to your other story now.

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    • Linda says:

      Thanks so much for that Doug and do you know, even if your review was negative I’d appreciate it because you are balanced in your comments πŸ™‚

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  11. Madison Woods says:

    Oh, I hope you do not give up fiction if you enjoy fiction! You’re just not going to be able to please everyone, that’s all. If after you’ve had some time to distance from the feedback, you think any of it is accurate, then take measures to improve those points. Consider your stories as products and the feedback as feedback any other business gets on any other products. They’ll pass that on to the engineers who designed it so they can tweak the product to make it better. You’re the engineer and the storefront in this case. Does that help?

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    • Linda says:

      That is particularly sage advice Madison and I love the metaphor of engineers – it makes much more sense to me that way too; given the number of supportive comments I’ve receieved as well – I definitely won’t be giving up fiction at all and next time I’ll be able to remind myself that, as you say, I can’t please everyone πŸ™‚

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I'm always interested in what people think and love having a debate so why don't we have a chat :-)

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