Negative Reviews: Are They Really Negative?

I am the administrator of the Suspense/Thriller Writers group on Facebook. Our discussion this week was about negative reviews, and Marshall Karp left a comment that I wanted to pass along because I thought you’d find it as helpful as I did.

Marshall Karp, the author of Flipping Out, is an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks. Karp says: 

Picture this: I walk into a room and 99 people applaud wildly. One guy is just mumbling “here comes that asshole.” Guess who I pay the most attention to? What is it about the negative reviews that seem to always get a writer’s attention?

For years I wrote TV commercials just because they were never reviewed. When I finally wrote a play and then moved on to TV sitcoms, I thought of my negative reviews as Public Shame. As for my great reviews — I just figured I fooled another critic.

I’ve come a long way. These days, I only take a few negative reviews seriously. They come from people I respect, and I try to learn from them. But most of my really negative reviews are downright laughable, so I refuse to take them seriously.

In fact I can now get a lot of mileage — and a lot of laughs — out of my negative reviews. I read them to my audience at book signings. One guy on Amazon gave me one star for my new book FLIPPING OUT. Reason: foul language and sexual references. I write murder mysteries — what are the cops supposed to say — oh fudge?  So I check his profile. He got my latest book free from the Amazon Vine program. Normally he reads Christian Romance and Church Insight. When I tell the story my audience is laughing and I’m quietly blessing this guy for being such a judgmental ass.

Another guy gives me 2 stars for THE RABBIT FACTORY. He too claims not to be much of a mystery reader. I check his other reviews. He gave 5 stars to a Scooby Doo Chia Pet planter, and 4 stars for a Shrek Chia Pet planter. I tell my audience I don’t understand how Scooby can get 5 stars and Shrek only gets 4, but even so, this dude still thinks the Shrek planter is twice as good as my book. All this gets a lot of laughs and a lot of empathy from my audience. And it doesn’t hurt that the reviewer called himself (or herself) Church of the Flaming Sword.

Audiences appreciate a writer who doesn’t take himself too seriously. So reading your negative reviews out loud can go a long way to making people feel good about you. One more thing — I always tell my audience that if they really like my book, don’t just tell me. Tell everyone else.  Post a glowing review on BN.com, amazon, goodreads or any one of a hundred other book sites. I tell them it helps offset the reviews I get from all those Flaming Swords and other Flaming Assholes.

Bottom line — I have learned to make the most of my negative reviews — I even work them to my advantage. It’s those damn raves that always wind up throwing me for a loop.

Thanks for a great topic. See you on Facebook.

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Contacting Famous People

D.B. Pacini ‘s youth/YA fantasy novel, The Loose End of the Rainbow, will be published soon by Singing Moon Press. Pacini writes:

An author I know often writes to well-known people asking them questions regarding research or asking them to endorse her books. Many graciously respond with answers, referrals, endorsements, and encouragement.  She told me to never be afraid to write to anyone I wish.  The worse that can happen is the person will not respond. 

I decided that there were several well-known people I would like to contact.  

*One was movie producer Paul Davids. He had written/directed a movie I absolutely love, Starry Night; about master artist Vincent van Gogh.  I researched and secured the email address of someone who knew Paul. I wrote and asked that person to please ask Paul to read my novel, Emma’s Love Letters.  I was thrilled when Paul agreed to allow me to snail-mail him a copy of the manuscript.  He was extremely busy with numerous projects but he took time to read my manuscript.  He then generously provided revision suggestions that made the novel more cinematic. My website for Emma’s Love Letters now features a wonderful endorsement from Paul Davids.  

*One was John Prine. The amazing John Prine is the favorite modern day musician/poet of Emma, the main character in Emma’s Love Letters.  I though he would get a kick out of how he is portrayed in the novel. I called his record company, Oh Boy Records.  They allowed me to snail-mail them the manuscript and they gave it to John.  How cool is that?  It is very cool.  

*One was author John Bellezza, a highly respected and incredibly busy Tibetan scholar. The second novel for my youth/YA fantasy Universal Knights trilogy features Tibetan youth and young adults as the main characters. I emailed and asked John if he will serve as a consultant to insure that my information is authentic and honorable to Tibetan people. He read The Loose End of the Rainbow and then agreed to serve as a consultant for the second novel.  I’m thrilled. 

*One was Stephen Hawkings.  I admire him and I want to share The Loose End of the Rainbow with him.  I’m not asking for anything in return, I just want to give him the story as a gift of appreciation.  I have sent him an email.  His website states that it can take a while to receive a response.  I may never receive a response, but maybe I will.  How cool would that be?  It would be out-of-this-universe cool.  

*One was David Friedman.  He is the still photographer behind some of the greatest images in cinema.  He is the first and only still photographer to be voted into the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and the man who took the last cinematic images of Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee.  He has recently published My Life in the Movies (Dalton Watson Fine Books, 2008). After an apprenticeship as an assistant cameraman, Friedman went on to become one of the most in-demand still photographers in Hollywood from the late 1960s until the late 1980s. While shooting on location for dozens of Hollywood’s classic films of that era, he befriended stars such as Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta, Michael Caine, James Caan, Goldie Hawn, Cissy Spacek, Omar Shariff, Olivia Newton-John, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and Jaqueline Bissett. Some of his movie credits include Brian’s Song, Summer of ’42, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, Enter the Dragon, Carrie, Grease, Superman, Rambo II, The Falcon and the Snowman, Rocky IV and The Running Man. Friedman was also the still photographer for Steve McQueen’s last two motion pictures – Tom Horn and The Hunter – in which a chapter is devoted to each film. 

A good friend of mine is a friend of David Friedman.  She asked him to read my manuscript for The Loose End of the Rainbow.  He was on an international tour for his newly released book.  I mailed my manuscript to his home address.  He loved the novel and is providing an endorsement.  

*What I’m trying to share with these examples (I have several more) is that we must be daring. We must try to contact anyone we wish and be open and honest about our reasons.  I’ve contacted well known people for a number of reasons.  Some have not responded.  That is fine.  The best part is that some have responded.