Recently, a nasty review of Novel Marketing appeared on Apple Podcasts. It wasn’t our first negative feedback, but it was our first mean negative review. The reviewer didn’t like me and didn’t think I did a good job of hiding who I am. She was angry that I didn’t hide the fact that I am a Christian.
If you are a writer, you must accept one cold reality. Some people will hate you and your writing.
They’ll post false reviews, stir up untrue controversy, and try to systematically take you down. So what can you do about these people?
James L. Rubart, bestselling author and Christy Hall of Fame winner, has experienced the vitriol spewed by a stranger on the internet. The internet stranger admitted, in the scathing book review he had written, that he had not read the book.
When I created my crowdfunding course, we crowdfunded the course. I posted a link to our campaign in a Facebook group of super-backers, and they hated it! They thought people should have to look it up and research blogs. They were also attacking me, saying “Who are you to teach this information?”
I thought I if showed them the course they would understand what I was trying to do and they’d cool down. So I sent 10GB and hours of video of the course to the first commenter who was so angry. He replied and said, “I don’t expect this to change my mind. Here’s why I don’t like you or what you’re doing.”
Two minutes later, he posted to the Facebook group and wrote, “I checked out the course, and it’s no good.”
Haters are often motivated by jealousy. Any member of that Facebook group could have created this course, but they hadn’t.
What’s the difference between Critics, Haters, and Trolls who give negative feedback?
A critic has an educated opinion, but they may not agree with you. A critic will explain what they liked and didn’t like. They elevate quality and try to help people avoid bad films or books.
Movie critics will evaluate a film based on their values. Often, their feedback is used to improve the film.
A critic can provide helpful feedback on your writing. If you implement the helpful parts, the critique can improve your writing.
Critics, such as editors, don’t have a personal bias. You can dialog with a critic and you may win them over, or they may convince you to see it their way. If you remain teachable, conversation is constructive.
A troll enjoys arguments and a debates. If you’re writing is controversial, you will probably have trolls arguing against you, but every side of an internet argument has trolls, so you probably have trolls who agree with you as well.
They enjoy the fight for the sake a of the fight. Unlike a critic, they are not concerned with quality or conversation. If you dialogue with a troll, everything you say, whether it’s valid or not, will be fodder for their fight. They have a personal bias and they do not reason or converse.
They may even argue a point they don’t believe just for the sake of arguing, and since they’ve had so much practice, they will probably win the argument.
Many authors are tempted to debate trolls and defend negative feedback. Do not do it. I made the mistake of corresponding with the troll about my crowdfunding course, and it was a mistake. I thought he was a critic. If he had been, he would have gone through the course and offered feedback.
A hater is against you because of who you are or what you represent. They are motivated by internal emotional insecurities. They may feel guilty about the topic you’re discussing, or they may be jealous of your audience. Sadly, the larger your audience, the more haters you’ll attract.
It’s always a shock when you encounter your first hater.
The Gary Hoover Matrix of Feedback
Gary Hoover, the founder of BookStop, shared with me his Matrix of Feedback.
He said two kinds of people will give you feedback. People who know nothing about your topic or business he called “idiots.” People who are well acquainted with your topic, experts in your business, and respected in your industry are “geniuses.”
If an “idiot” who knows very little about your topic gives feedback saying they hated your book, you’re free to discard that feedback.
If an “idiot” loved your book, you can be gracious and thankful, but don’t put too much weight on their praise.
If a “genius” loves your book, congratulations! Everyone wants to win the approval and endorsement of the respected experts in their field.
But if a respected “genius” in your industry is familiar with your topic and hates your book, his feedback is a tough pill to swallow. Gary Johnson recommends asking yourself this question: Why do I think they’re wrong?”
Your answer to that question will help you evaluate that feedback.
Your book may be flawed. If you hired an editor and they tore it to pieces, there are likely problems with your book. Editors don’t tear books to pieces for kicks. General speaking, critical feedback is helpful.
One response is to say, “You’re right. That character needs more development. His dialogue is stilted, and I will work on making it better.”
If you disagree with the feedback you can say, “Your argument is valid, but I think you’re wrong. Here are the reasons why.”
The stronger your reasoning for disagreeing with the expert, more confident you can be.
How I Answered the Crowdfunding Critics
I believed my crowdfunding Facebook group was wrong in opposing my course because they didn’t understand or know the audience I was trying to reach. We were trying to reach first-time crowdfunders who found the process overwhelming. The gurus in the Facebook group had been crowdfunding for years, and they had forgotten the fright of being a beginner.
They also don’t know us and our track record of producing quality courses in the past.
When I realized I had strong reasons to believe the “geniuses” were wrong, I felt much better.
How does an author get rid of trolls and unreasonable negative feedback?
The guaranteed way to get rid of trolls is to stop feeding them.
Trolls thrive on attention. If you don’t engage and give them attention, they will starve and go somewhere else to get attention.
Debating with a troll is like feeding a stray cat. If you keep feeding the stray, it will never leave. If you keep debating with the troll, it will never go away.
How do you deal with the emotional pain of people who hate you?
You maybe tempted to give up. What if the trolls are right and you really don’t know what you’re doing?
Talk to your author friends about how they’ve handled the hate. Most authors have dealt with haters, trolls, or at least negative feedback and reviews.
Have Fun with It
James L. Rubart attended Thriller Fest in 2010 where they hosted a contest for the most hateful review. The winning author read a hateful review out loud and everyone laughed because they could relate. It took the sting out of the review.
I used to read my Amazon reviews, but I don’t any more. I don’t even read the five-star reviews. But if someone emails me, I always read and respond. If a reader takes the time to write to me, nine times out of ten, they’re a critic with something helpful to offer. I’ll engage with them.
Keep a Soft Heart
One temptation is to develop a tough skin and stop caring what others think. That strategy can be helpful emotionally, but it’s also risky. But “tough skin” can insulate you from community and from legitimate feedback from the critics.
Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic. The first three years he wrote the comic, he struggled. Then he put his email address on the comic, and he was one of the first comic writers to do that. Adams started getting a flood of emails, and the common theme was that readers didn’t like the comics with Dilbert at home.
He took that feedback, retooled Dilbert, made it a workplace commentary, and it became one of the most popular comics of all time. If he had just blown off the criticism, the comic wouldn’t have gained popularity.
Go to the Psalms
David, who wrote most of the Psalms, was one of the most iconic figures of the Old Testament. His predecessor was trying to kill him. The Psalms are filled with his prayers and laments about his struggles and reading them can be very therapeutic.
Don’t Hide Behind a Pen Name
Another temptation is to hide behind a pen name. Trolls, Haters, Critics, and negative feedback are evidence that people are reading your writing. Not everyone will enjoy your writing, but you have a unique perspective to offer the world. To run and hide is to let the trolls win.
Read the one-star reviews of your favorite book on Amazon. You’ll see that the trolls and haters hate because they can’t do. They can’t write like Charles Dickens, so they criticize in order to feel like they are part of the same creative community, even though they’re not. They may be using the same tools, but they are tearing down the community while writers are building it.
It’s Okay to NOT Read Your Reviews
I’ve worked with many top authors who do not read their reviews at all. The problem with reviews is that the five-star reviews make you think to highly of yourself while the one-star reviews make you think too poorly of yourself. Either way, you’re stuck thinking about yourself instead of your reader.
Picture that Troll or Hater in Your mind and remember that people treat you the way they feel about themselves. Hurting people hurt people.
Jesus said to “love those who hate you and do good to those who despitefully use you.” If you can do that to your haters, you’ll “heap burning coals on their heads,” as another Bible verses says, and that could be a great marketing strategy.
My First-Hand Experience with Author Trolls and Negative Feedback
In 2014, I wrote a blog post that put me in the middle of a firestorm of attention and controversy. Hundreds of people were blogging about me. Tens of thousands of people were discussing my blog post on social media. The blog post was even featured on a radio show and a documentary.
While most of the feedback was positive, hundreds of people attacked me.
Today, as you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you have no idea what that blog post or the controversy was about. Maybe you have a vague memory about it, but you’d be hard-pressed to give details.
I point that out as an encouragement for you.
When you are in the middle of a firestorm of attention, whether positive, negative, or both, you must remember that the internet has a short memory. You may be a hero or a villain today, but tomorrow, no one will know you or remember why they hated or loved you.
Whether the firestorm is good or bad, it’s still the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. It will eventually end.
Marketing to People Who Don’t Like You
In general, readers don’t care about you. They care about themselves.
However, sometimes readers care deeply about what you say and do because you make them angry. One fact of life and writing is that people will dislike you.
My viral blog post was called “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” Millions of people from every country except North Korea read it. Many of those people asked me to write a book, so I did.
One of the one-star reviews was so mean that a reader complained to Amazon about it was removed because it violated Amazon’s terms of service.
Negative reviews like that one are particularly difficult to receive because they’re from the people I’m trying to reach. I’m writing to people in the conservative, Evangelical, homeschool community, which is the community I grew up in and still belong to. Sadly, those folks have been the most hostile toward my message.
One homeschool mom sent me mean messages every 20 minutes on Facebook for an entire day.
But I’ve also heard from people who have married or gone on their first date (at age 27!) because of my book.
Some People are Unwilling to Hear
I’m trying to reach the conservative evangelicals who aren’t getting married. There has been a collapse in the marriage rate across the country, particularly within conservative circles. But not everyone in that demographic wants to hear it. Some folks have ears to hear it, and others don’t.
I’ve learned that no matter how loud and cantankerous the dissenters are, I can’t give up on my message.
There’s an old saying, “If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one who yelps loudest is the one who got hit.” The angriest people are often most profoundly touched by your message but don’t realize it. Their anger may be a product of them working through the ideas you presented.
Once those folks work through their anger, they may become your biggest allies.
Don’t Respond in Kind
Perhaps the most important tip for authors dealing with haters, trolls, negative feedback, or dissenters is to refuse to respond in defense or anger.
I received an angry email from someone I trusted and respected, and it was very difficult to receive. I was tempted to respond with an argument for why she was wrong, but I knew that wouldn’t work.
A Parable for Dealing with Haters
Your angry response only makes your opponent hold on to their position longer. The story of The North Wind and the Sun, from Aesop’s Fables, illustrates the point:
The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.
“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”
“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.
With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.
Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.
Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.Aesop’s Fables.
Don’t Fuel the Argument
When you argue with someone angrily, you’re simply trying to blow off their cloak. Their pride is on the line, so they hang on tighter to their ideas. As much as you want to respond to angry comments or reviews, don’t. You’ll only fuel the argument.
Your fans and readers will likely come to your defense if you don’t respond. Their defense will be far more effective than yours.
Clashing Personality Styles
Some personality styles are toxic to each other. For example, analytical and expressive personalities are toxic to one another. They think differently, but they can learn to communicate more effectively once they understand the other’s bent.
Sometimes a reader’s dislike for your book has nothing to do with you and everything to do with a clash of personality styles.
The Issue is Not the Issue
As the author, you may simply be the lightning rod for someone’s internal anger and angst about their personal situation.
One woman on the internet was very outspoken against me. Her son and his girlfriend got pregnant, had a “shotgun” wedding, and clearly didn’t adhere to his mother’s beliefs about courtship. I have often wondered if I was simply a stand-in for her son, whom she was likely very frustrated with.
She blogged about my book and me for a year, which actually kept my book top-of-mind for the readers I was aiming to reach.
Sometimes, the issue is not the issue, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.
People Treat You the Way They Feel About Themselves
When we remember that people who dislike themselves often take out their anger on others, we can have a little more compassion for them. Deep down, the person may be very troubled.
Internet trolls are often lonely and hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.
Regardless of the opposition or criticism you receive, you must stand behind the truth of your message. Don’t bend to someone else’s brokenness. If you stand for truth, the troll may come around in time.
Two men I admire, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, both had haters. In fact, the Apostle Paul was initially one of Jesus’ haters. He was responsible for arresting and facilitating the killing of Jesus’ followers. But Jesus didn’t back down from the truth of his message, and eventually, the Apostle Paul saw the light, literally, and became a follower of Jesus himself.
One woman on my launch team was kicked out of her group of homeschool moms because she recommended my book. That’s difficult for me to hear, but that drastic reaction also makes for good organic marketing. The word about my book continues to spread through my intended audience because of her situation.
Trolls and haters can’t control how you feel, and they don’t define who you are.
In our current environment, people may try to cancel you. If folks are trying to cancel you, listen to my episode on How to Survive Cancel Culture as a Writer.
You wrote your book to help and serve people. If people don’t want to be helped or served, there’s nothing you can do about it. You must simply keep serving the people who want to be helped.
Stay the course. Don’t back down.
My Obscure No More course is a complete guide to building a cancel-proof author platform. It covers methods of platform building, like blogging, podcasting, search engine optimization, and other methods that don’t rely on social media.
If you want my help building your platform and connecting with readers, check out Obscure No More. This course comes with live, office-hours calls and short, focused training videos that cover every aspect of building your cancel-proof platform. Learn more about Obscure No More at AuthorMedia.com.
Get the special beta pricing until December 31, 2022. The course will be available by subscription only in 2023.
New November 2022 Patrons:
- Sandra de Bruin
- Brigitte Cushman
- Janay Hamrick
- Alicia Layne Thomason
- Rockin Rick Bell
- Bob Hutchins
- Glenda Mays Shaw