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.

How To Do a Blog Tour

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: 

When Pat asked me to write about my Blog Tour I had to remind her that I have less knowledge of Blog Tours than Sarah Palin did of Russia.

But before I started writing novels, I spent 25 years in marketing. I have promotion in my DNA, so I am always thinking how do I push my franchise toward the tipping point. And while I am hardly an expert on blog tours, I’m learning fast, because I’m in the process of doing one.

Since my publisher can’t afford to fly me from city to city to promote my books (actually, no publisher can) I realized that I can still travel the World Wide Web

If you’re thinking about a blog tour, here’s my version of how to do it.

First you research and recruit bloggers who talk about books. Some are better known than others, but if you’ve been published in the past, and you set up a Google alert with your name and title, Google will notify you whenever your name pops up on the web. That’s how, over the past few years, I have found bloggers who give positive reviews to my books — even though they bought their own copies, and they never imagined they’d ever be contacted by the author. But when I find them, I either email them directly or comment on their site. I’m genuine in my appreciation, and they’re floored because what the hell — I’m a real author, and usually they are bloggers who love to read — although some have their eyes on being published one day.

And then a bond is formed.

So I suggest you line up bloggers. Three months before your pub date send them ARCs. Assuming your publisher sends advance copies to bookstores and libraries, they should have some left over for bloggers. Then set up a calendar. Let’s say you’re doing a 15 day Blog Tour. You give each of your 15 selected bloggers one exclusive day on that calendar in which to review your book. You become available on that day to be a guest on that blog site — either doing Q&A, or an email interview, or writing q guest blog. You also should do a quid pro quo, which includes posting a Blog Tour calendar and giving a permanent link from your site — sending your fans to the blogger’s site.

This takes a lot of time, and I won’t know for a few months if it’s worth it. But at least you can do it from home. Which is good if you’re shy. Or you’re tired of having a TSA guy with a big wand pull you aside and ask if you’ve ever had this done to you before. (It’s a straight line I can never resist and my wise-ass answers have gotten me into a lot of trouble.)

As much time as it takes, ultimately it probably takes a lot less time than a 15 city tour. Let me reiterate that I am a Blog Tour Virgin. I’m planning one — but I have no first hand experience, just information. But I do have first hand experience at doing book signings. On my first signing for my first book, I sold 140 copies, and the store ran out. Friends and family. Second store signing — 25 books. Friends and family who couldn’t make it to the first signing. Third store signing — all I heard were crickets chirping. So for me a Blog Tour feels like a worthwhile experiment.

Booksellers and librarians are your very best allies. They handsell. Even in those cities where I flew in and only half a dozen people showed up at a store signing, the bookseller was grateful, responsive, and got to know me and my work well enough to sell my books day after day, appropriate customer after appropriate customer, long after I left.

I still am friends (real and virtual) with many of those booksellers. The same goes for librarians. My first thought when I found out that 14 people were on the waiting list for my book at a local library was — what kind of business plan is that? Sell one book and 14 people get to read it? I soon learned that libraries are a Mecca for book people and while many people may borrow your book, if they like it, they usually spread the word to their friends who buy books.

Sorry to ramble on. No editor handy. In fact I’ve gone on so long I can’t believe anyone will read this far. So I can get it off my chest right now and tell you that Jimmy Hoffa is buried in my basement, and I won’t have to worry about recriminations.

One last thing. Writing books is a not-so-delicate balance of art and commerce. Nobody expects you to be a natural at the commerce part. As you go through the marketing process, try to stay in touch with the Inner Joy. You started with 500 blank sheets of paper, filled them with your ideas, your words, your emotions, – with everything that is you, and now it’s a Real Book.

Hey, there are lots of people who can keep you from becoming a world famous, best selling, household name author. But only one person can prevent you from feeling the sheer joy and exhilaration you get every time you say . . . I write books.

See also:
Review of Flipping Out  review by Pat Bertram
Titles: What Makes a Good One by Marshall Karp
Conversation with Marshall Karp, Author of Flipping Out