How I try to respond (internally!) to a bad review

1148655_vintage_fountain_pen_3Bad reviews stink. There’s nothing else to say. That’s not to say a bad review isn’t a legitimate thing or that people are wrong to write them. Readers aren’t wrong to write them. People have every right to express a genuine and honest opinion of and reaction to my novel, or to any other novel they’ve read. It’s a writer’s responsibility to learn how to handle the negative feedback.

All I ask is that people limit themselves to critiquing my work without insulting me or bringing me as a person into the discussion. That’s a legitimate expectation on the part of any author, I’d think. I’m happy to say I’ve never received a bad review that attacked me personally, and I’m grateful that my readers have been so decent.

The occasional bad review is part of being an author and publishing your work. I feel lucky that overall reviews of my first release have been positive. (I have a 4.3 rating right now on amazon.com.)

Of course, I definitely have one or two one star reviews in various places across the web. And those always sting, because you want the people who read your work to enjoy it. You always hope they will. Check out this snippet of a one star I received somewhere a while ago (which I’m printing here as an example of a legitimate and respectful bad review, one at which I can’t take legitimate personal offense)

Ugh. I tried so hard to like this book, but neither the characters nor the plot were compelling.

You can’t expect everyone who reads your work to like it. That would be ridiculous. It’s simply outside the realm of possibility. People’s tastes and expectations vary far too much, and that’s a good thing in the grand scheme of life.

So what do I do when I get a bad review?

  • First of all, I never, ever, EVER respond. Don’t do it. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t disagree, or offer explanations, or take a risk of looking like you’re attacking the reviewer.Β  You’ll look like a baby who can’t handle the criticism. You will never, ever come out looking good by responding to a negative review. This is true even if your intent in responding isn’t worthy of condemnation.
  • What I do instead is I take a deep breath and remind myself that my work will never be to everyone’s taste. That helps me not to take a respectful bad review personally. Because honestly, I’ve no cause to.
  • I try to put things in perspective by asking myself: do other reviews say this same thing? Do I have a positive review–or multiple positive reviews–disagreeing with the critiques here? For instance, considering the review above: Do I have reviews that say someone really connected to a character or two, or that they enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns?
  • If the answer is yes, I have positive reviews disagreeing, this helps me feel better about the negative feedback. It reminds me that a fair number of readers did enjoy my work. It prevents me from overreacting and wishing that, say, I’d never published. It stops me from attacking myself and entering a spiral of self-doubt.
  • Now, the answer for me has never been “no, no one has disagreed with this negative assessment,” but if that were the case, I like to think I’m mature enough to take my feedback as a learning opportunity and a chance to identify where I need to improve as a writer.
  • Even when I can tell myself, “Yes, I have reviewers who disagree with this assessment of my writing,” I still try–in as unbiased a manner as possible–to determine if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. Because hey, I’m always looking to become better at what I do. Constructive criticism is a wonderful tool for that. It’s something to embrace and be grateful for, not to get down in the dumps about.

So thanks to all respectful reviewers out there, of my work and of others’ work. Thanks for your honest feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read our books and give them a chance. Thanks for taking the time to let us know you enjoyed them, and for having the courage to tell us where we can do better. I, for one, am grateful.

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31 responses to “How I try to respond (internally!) to a bad review

  1. Excellent attitude towards the occasional bad review. Last week I received a 1-star review on Amazon calling my novel “totally predictable”. Two days later I received a 5-star review saying that my book was “totally unpredictable”. If I was receiving all bad reviews I would worry. But the one bad review disappeared from my mine when a different reader really connected with my book.

    • exactly!!! that’s the key. when you have good reviews completely disagreeing with what the bad one’s saying, all it means is that your book wasn’t for that specific reader. And that’s fine. A bad review doesn’t mean that you can’t write or that your book is genuinely bad. That can be a tough but necessary distinction to make.

  2. angel7090695001

    Great steps to not feel downhearted with a bad review (though I don’t get many.)

    • for those who wait to publish until the material is ready for that, the good will outweigh the bad πŸ™‚ a bad one here and there will still pop up for everyone, unfortunately.

  3. I love your positive and mature attitude to what is, for us writers, a fact of life. Thanks for setting such a great example. πŸ™‚

    • thanks, Jessica! I can’t say the occasional bad review doesn’t get me down, but I do try not to dwell on it. No good comes from that. Especially when you’re already an anxious person in general the way I am πŸ™‚

  4. Great advice. The part about finding a positive review that contradicts the negative review is really helpful. It drives home the fact that you can’t please everyone.

  5. As a reviewer, this is pretty much my advice as well! I even wrote a whole article about it called Things Authors Should Know About Bad Reviews. Essentially I said that you DO NOT respond to reviewers and if you do, it should be to say the simple but eloquent “Thank you for your time”. After all, if they reviewed a full novel, they likely put in at least two hours reading the book and writing their review. It takes time to review!

    • it definitely does!!! thanks for backing up that writers should never respond defensively, and should always be grateful that someone took the time to read their work. Like you said, it does take time, and time is precious.

      • Part of it is also recognizing that of course different people will have different opinions on your books. The same goes with pretty much everything. For one, lots of people thought Shaun of the Dead was hilarious but it didn’t get a single laugh out of me. I just didn’t find it funny at all. Does that mean it’s not funny? Not necessarily. It just means that it’s not funny to me. Like you mentioned, authors should recognize that there are different opinions out there and that it’s a good thing.

  6. I love your attitude. Last night, I heard an author speak on a panel and one piece of advice she gave was to “Get thick skin.” I admit I don’t have thick skin but I’m trying. I’m pre-published and just getting critiques has been tough. But, like you said, I want to improve and produce the best possible book that I can. I know my work won’t appeal to everyone and I’ll keep reminding myself of that. Thanks for the advice.

    • It’s always hard to develop “thick skin”, especially when no one’s really quite sure what constitutes thick skin. I define it as not taking the critiques personally. Which isn’t easy. But you definitely have the right attitude toward thing and the right goals. Best of luck, Meda!

  7. Beautifully written. It is always an angry moment for me when I see a reviewer tear apart the author as well as their work. The author is not on display for a review, the book is. I certainly agree with you that the author should under no circumstances reply to a negative comment. Even a simple “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy my work” can be terribly misconstrued and end in a bad way. I wish everyone could realise just what you say, that reviews are important, but a negative review is often just as helpful as a positive one if it is critical with good reason and well worded to avoid insult. Really love this blog, sorry for the mile long comment. I do that here lol

    • Ionia, your comment is golden today! πŸ™‚ I love your warning that even a simple “I’m simple you didn’t enjoy the work” can be misconstrued. Because it can and often is. It can seem cloying and manipulative, as an attempt to make the reviewer feel guilty, even if that isn’t the intent at all! I do feel it’s important to try to learn from a bad review, which–besides basic decency–is another reason attacking the author is not helpful to anyone. Attacking the author gives no feedback or pointers in any way. Like you say, the AUTHOR isn’t on display. The book is.

  8. I’ve had one 2-star review. Frankly, I took it no more seriously than I do 5-star reviews, which is not at all. If Bob hates my book, it doesn’t make it bad anymore than Jim’s liking it makes it good. And in truth, I don’t think anyone will trust a book’s good reviews if there are no bad ones.

    The one person who hated my book called it a “halfer,” which was appropriate, since I only read half his review. What I try to keep in mind is that it’s quite possible that 90% of people detest the book, but don’t bother to write reviews (or the converse could be true). So having a review really doesn’t tell me much. I guess I should care, but I don’t, except that good ones boost sales somewhat.

    • I think that’s a healthy approach, Bill! I’ve wondered as well what the people who don’t leave reviews think. Then I try not to dwell on that, haha! I figure I’m better off letting it go.

  9. This is a great post! I have read some of the reviews on Amazon. Some are amusing and some are infuriating. One thing that I have learned as a reviewer is that EVERY author, from the newest Indie to the A list traditionally published author, will always have good or bad (or both!) reviews. No matter how awful it may be, (and some SP books are pretty bad) there is always going to be someone that loved it. The reverse is also true. No matter how good it is (ask Stephen King), there will always be haters, willing to attack the work, and as you’ve stated, the author personally. It is true that not all readers will like all books. I like different genres than my preferred one, which is crime, preferably mystery/suspense. I will read them, but sometimes as a reader, they are simply not my cup of tea. I recently had a sci-fi up for review. I really tried to get into this book. The problem was that although the premise was promising, it was way too technical for this non-techie brain of mine and the multitude of characters were introduced too fast to get a handle on who they were or to care. In other words, it confused me. So far, this is the only book that I have not been able to review. I emailed the author and explained that sci-fi was not my cup of tea so I couldn’t finish it. I wished him luck with it because I am sure there are sci-fi fans that love it. I feel that faid is fair. I will not review a book anywhere that I have not read cover to cover. How can I assess or give a valid opinion on something I haven’t read? This is one of my pet peeves about Amazon and Goodread reviews. The author was very gracious and thanked me and acknowledged that he felt he had erred in soliciting reviews from non sci-fi fans.

    I have seen some of the authors that do respond to
    bad reviews. I don’t think that an author should ever apologize in any way for a book that they wrote. If the advice is sound, implement it in your next book and keep writing. You will find your audience and the lovers will far outweigh the haters. Write for them, they appreciate it! (Sorry I wrote such a long comment, Victoria. Your posts really make me think!)

    • thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Rebecca!!! I love everything you say here. It’s such brilliant advice to a writer to make sure you’re soliciting reviews from reviewers who read and prefer your genre.

      For the sake of my fellow authors, I wish everyone were as professional and gracious as you!!! I’ve never had a reviewer say they couldn’t write the review after all, but if it has to be done–and in case it was the right and kind call over writing a bad review for a book you couldn’t finish–you did it the right way πŸ™‚ Thanks for giving that example for all of us to learn from.

  10. Thanks for the kind words, Victoria! I appreciate that. I do try to be fair. I love reviewing, but I want to be a novelist, author, writer..whatever term you care to employ..I like novelist because it is specific to writing fiction novels. I am very much the debut author, but I learn a lot. I know that no matter what genre we write as fiction writers, there is no question that we work hard, sometimes an entire day for a good sentence that we end up hating the next day! I think that anything less than reading a book from cover to cover has no business on any review. How can you know if the ending was good, the pacing a proper rate, etc. if you never get to that ending or find the difference in pacing to weigh it in your mind? I think that Amazon or Goodreads should really either change the guidelines for reviews or call it “Recommendations” instead. Would you recommend this book? Why or why not? But that is me on my soapbox, so I’ll step down now..lol..

    • I totally agree. It’s a “recommendation” over a review if you haven’t read it. you can’t review what you haven’t read. you can recommend or not, though.

  11. Even though I actively seek them, I hate reading reviews on my books. The bad ones sting and the good ones embarrass me. No matter what, I don’t comment, although I will send a thank you email to the reviewer.

    That said, I did respond to a one star review on Goodreads offline, since the review had nothing to do with the book. After responding to my email offering a review copy, the reviewer said she started receiving lots of spam in her mailbox and assumed I was the reason for it. She never read the book.

    I was as polite as I possibly could be, apologizing for the spam while pointing out that I had nothing to do with it. Either due to my diplomatic exchange of emails with the reviewer, or the fact that I reported it to Goodreads as inappropriate, the review was eventually taken down.

    If a reader gives you a one star review for reasons that have nothing to do with your book, then you should respond, politely and offline, away from public view.

    • That’s a good point. There’s a difference between a malicious review that actually isn’t a review and a legitimate, negative review. Glad you got your situation taken care of!

  12. Thank you for this post. I liked how you lay out the process you use.

  13. Pingback: Why Independent Authors Love Your Good Reviews: It’s Not About the Marketing | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  14. I am really glad I found this post. I have three books published and have gotten my share of 1 and 2 star reviews. The following review must be from someone I know, and it really got under my skin. They have only ever reviewed one book on Amazon–MINE–and they are from the same area as me. Boy, I think that’s really cowardly when people can’t own up to the reviews they write. I never write anonymous reviews for that reason.

    Here it is:

    1.0 out of 5 stars I just wanted to slap Grace silly., May 28, 2014
    By pullsnopunches
    Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: Grace Unexpected (Kindle Edition)
    “I do not find mean girl, high school shenanigans in an adult, professional setting or a heroine who can’t keep her pants on to be engaging, witty, comedic or entertaining. The writing’s not bad, but the story is unexpectedly puerile and graceless. So I guess it lives up to half its title.”
    ***
    Pretty nasty, huh? I hope you don’t mind my sharing it with you. Would be interested to see if it rings as mean-spirited to you as it does to me.

    • Reviewers are allowed to respond viscerally and emotionally to a book if that’s their choice. That seems to have been this reviewer’s choice. She definitely seems to have had problems with the content of the book, which means she isn’t a member of your target audience. Personally, I’m not a fan of books that are sexually explicit, and I have no way to know how sexually explicit your series is, but I imagine if it IS sexually explicit the blurb and description and cover more than likely make that clear, and I imagine that should have clued her in to what she was getting into. Personally, I would never feel right giving a book with decent writing (as she claims your has) only one star!!! It seems she was offended personally in some way because the story didn’t hold her interest (because, like I said, she doesn’t seem to be a member of the target audience.)

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