I think Isaac Asimov said it best. “From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
Bad reviews. The bane of every author. They are the prison shivs of the writing world, utterly remorseless in their ability to cripple our motivation. It is an unfortunate fact of life that every author will have to endure a scathing review that plunges a rusty dagger into their heart. The first one really sucks, and the rest … well, they really suck too.
I have endured my share of unhappy readers, ranging from the oddly miffed to the outright dickish. I remember one review that was so over-the-top in its back-patting pretentiousness that it made me question the wisdom of publishing. (It didn’t affect my desire to write, just my enthusiasm for sharing it.) Bad ratings are one thing, but when a bitter reader takes the time to articulate why they hated your book, it can cut really deep.
And no, you should never respond to negative reviews. Readers are entitled to their opinions, no matter how bizarre or disjointed they may be. Your role as an author is to sit quietly while nameless avatars crap all over your hard work. (Wait, why do we do this again?)
No one likes bad reviews.
BUT … they are absolutely, positively, and irrefutably linked to a credible reputation.
You must embrace the suck, young Padawan.
As a simple thought experiment, imagine an Amazon product with 50 reviews. If every one of them is a five-star gusher, do you trust the product? Hell no. It’s suspicious. Now imagine that every review is a one-star rage pit. Did your opinion change? No. It has the exact same effect. Both scenarios are equally shady, which is crucial to understand in a world where anyone can rate anything. The most trustworthy products are the ones that fall into the high-three-star to mid-four-star range. That’s what reliability looks like.
With that in mind, consider another piece of the puzzle. Bad reviews can actually prevent bad reviews. Think about it. If you are browsing for a new book and something tickles your fancy, then you will scan the reviews to see what other readers thought about it. At that point, one of two things is going to happen.
1) You agree with the good reviews and see the bad reviews as unreasonable. You are primed to like the book and decide to give it a read.
2) You agree with the bad reviews and see the good reviews as unreasonable. You are primed to hate the book and decide to pass.
And that’s exactly what you want to happen. Reader #1 will likely enjoy your book and may post a positive reaction (good review). Reader #2 will likely despise your book. You lose the sale, but you also avoid the negative reaction (no bad review).
Bad reviews serve as prick repellent. It’s the equivalent of a cat marking its territory. It may smell terrible, but it keeps the other cats from pissing all over the place.
Always remember that jerks and trolls are solitary creatures. They lurk under bridges, live in basements, and post reviews online. Like it or not, they do serve a vital function in the writing community. You can think of them as creepy gremlins that guard your house. They may scare away some potential guests, but not the ones who actually want to be there.