Celebrating Bad Reviews


I come from a line of men who worked with their hands. My grandfather rebuilt boat motors; my dad builds and repairs furniture.  For almost ten years, I made a living as a carpenter/handyman/remodeling company owner.

When you do this sort of work, you inevitably accumulate coffee cans filled with random nuts, bolts, and screws. And this gives rise to what I’m modestly calling Mullin’s Law: In any can of random nuts, 2% of them will be wingnuts.

The rest of this post is not for the wingnuts out there. If you’re an author who trolls threads on Goodreads, you’re a wingnut. If you’re a blogger who continues to review YA, despite professing a disdain for the whole literature, you’re a wingnut.  If you’re a blogger who reviews the author’s weight instead of her book, or uses hateful and misogynistic language in your reviews, not only are you a wingnut, but your threads are stripped. Seek professional help retooling.

Now, to the rest of you, the 98% who are just plain nuts: bad reviews rock. One-star reviews rock. Two-star reviews rock. Authors, celebrate your bad reviews (you’re allowed 5-10 minutes of cringing self-pity first). Bloggers, don’t feel badly when you negatively review an author’s work. Unless that author has published ten or more books, you’re helping her with your negative review. 

Want evidence?  Check out this study of New York Times book reviews conducted using Nielsen Bookscan data and reported in Marketing Science. The upshot is that negative reviews of works by authors who had previously published fewer than two books boosted their sales by 45% on average. Negative reviews of well-known authors (i.e. those who had published 10 or more books previously) hurt their sales by 15%. So the advice about celebrating your one-star reviews doesn’t apply after you’ve published your tenth book.

I first posted on this topic on my blog last July. If you're interested in a more thorough discussion of the benefits of bad reviews, click through. To sum up, the worst thing that can happen to an author isn't bad reviews; it's being ignored.

What do you think? Do the other authors out there help spread the word about negative reviews of your work? Do those of you who blog feel hesitant to post a negative review? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments, please.
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13 comments:

Jill Hathaway said...

I kind of like my bad reviews. At first it might sting a little, but then I'm like, "Huh. Oh yeah... Maybe I'll think about that in the sequel." And most reviewers have been very diplomatic in the way they describe my book's flaws; of that, I'm thankful. And of course grateful they read my book at all. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to link them on my blog or something, though. People who care enough will see them, along with the good.

Jill Hathaway said...

I should clarify that I *love* my good reviews, of course. They make me ecstatic, but in the end, they're not the ones that help me to grow as a writer.

Mike Mullin said...

Yes, I love the good ones, too! If you can summon up the courage to do it, promoting bad reviews is great publicity, in part because very few authors do.

Jill Hathaway said...

So we have a two hour late start today, and I spent the time reading your previous blog post about bad reviews and then went to your GR page from there. Some really fascinating discussions going on in the comments of some of the 3 star reviews! I've bumped your book up in my TBR pile to must read ASAP! Totally proves your point that less than 5 star reviews can be great publicity! :)

Mike Mullin said...

I hope you enjoy ASHFALL, Jill! Or if you don't, that you write a hilarious snarky review that gets linked all over the internet :).

Bittersweet Fountain said...

I used to review books on my blog, whether good or bad. I was always honest about what I thought and no matter how "bad" a book was I found something good in it to celebrate as well. (Because to be published you have to have something good going for you). So out of my probably fifty reviews only two of them were probably negative reviews.

Then the whole YA mafia incident happened and the underlying message was "if you want to be published and make a living out of your writing, don't ever publish a negative review."

So despite the fact that I still read about two books a week, I rarely write reviews anymore. Which is sad, because I think we have the most to learn from each other as writers, and I think readers learn a lot from what writers have to say about books out there.

So yes, I feel really hesitant to post a negative review. Even though I try not to post anything I wouldn't say to an author's face. The risks don't justify it, methinks.

Mike Mullin said...

I hope there aren't really editors and agents out there who will retaliate against writers who write thoughtful, negative reviews. But there probably are. My message to them: grow up.

Angie Smibert said...

Great post, Mike. With first books, we authors sometimes take bad reviews (and even wingnut reviews) personally--when we should be thankful we're being read and talked about.

Dawn Davis said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post. I am cringing at the thought of giving a semi-negative review on a book I've just finished.

Although, as an author, a negative review devastated me, but encouraged me to work harder. So I can see your POV.

Mike Mullin said...

Thanks, Dawn. I think both authors and bloggers should worry less about what we think of each other and more about the service we're all providing to our readers.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I love this post! I have to say it's going to be interesting to see how I react to negative reviews when my book comes out. first of all, I have rhino skin and criticisms don't tend to really faze me. But in fact, I'm the type of person who doesn't like the critiques that just give praise. They make me suspicious. I like critiques that are, well, critiques. Even if I don't agree with it, I respect that they actually analyzed my work and gave me an honest review. I wonder if this mentality will transfer to bad reviews! I hope so, cause I really really don't want to be a wingnut!!

Mike Mullin said...

Thanks, Ellen. I suspect you'll be just fine with that kind of attitude. Sure, sometimes the reviews sting, especially when they don't make any sense or are just plain wrong, but take a deep breath, shot of whiskey, whatever, and remind yourself: the book is the readers' now.

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