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Writing: How To Deal With Negative Reviews

Writing: How to Deal with Negative Reviews

Head and shoulders shot of Debbie Young

Positive thinking about negative reviews from Debbie Young (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

Negative reviews – we will all get them at some point in our indie author journey, no matter how great we think our books are. Indeed, some writers even see it as a badge of honor to get a savage 1*, because it demonstrates to the world that your reviewers aren't all by your friends and relations. But that doesn't stop it hurting, at least for a little while – especially if the reason for the review feels unfair. In this post Debbie Young shares wisdom from the ALLi hive mind about what to do in these circumstances.


The First Rule of Bad Book Reviews

The first rule of receiving a bad book review is “Do not respond”.

If you do, you risk getting into a damaging verbal boxing match over which you have no control. Pick a fight with a troll – and there are plenty of weirdos out there who really are spoiling for such a fight – and you will only make the situation worse. Just walk away, get a cup of coffee, and move on with the more important things in your day (which is everything else).

1* symbol of a negative book review

Learn What You Can from Constructive Criticism

Secondly, don't assume anything less than 4-5* is negative.

Too many authors take umbrage at 3*- still a positive review.

Consider whether you have lost a star for a particular issue, such as typos. In which case, seize that criticism as a learning opportunity and take the chance to put it right. In this case it would be getting it proofread.

As over time you digest bad reviews, you may start to realize the reviewer was doing you a favor by pointing out a valid issue. Constructive criticism can really help you grow as an author – although of course we'd all prefer it if it came privately pre-publication, from good editors or beta readers. (Might you benefit from starting to use beta readers, or adding more of them to your process?)

Of course, if all your reviews are 1*, maybe you need to think again about the quality of what you are putting out there – but I've yet to see any book get that treatment.

Most authors get largely 3*, 4*, 5*, with a smattering of 1* and 2*s, usually by people who the book just wasn't right for.

And if you're getting a lot of those, consider whether you're marketing to the wrong audience for your book with inappropriate cover art, blurb, categories, etc.

Consider the Context

While ignoring a bad review isn't always easy, setting it into context will help you gain a sense of perspective. You can often diminish its sting by clicking on the reviewer's profile to see what else they've been up to.

  • A review describing your book as “the worst book I've ever read” is written by someone who has only ever reviewed your book and nothing else, you can be sure they are a troll with nothing better to do. “More to be pitied than blamed,” as my kindly grandmother used to say.
  • If you have a poor review of a sweet romance by someone who only ever gives 5* to vampire novels, you can be pretty sure they're not the best judge of your genre.
  • If a 1* comes from someone who gives 5* only to household cleaning products and clothing for dogs, you can be equally sure they're not the best judge of books.
  • Adopt my favourite strategy: mentally award the same number of stars to your reviewer as they've given to your book. What, got a 1* review? It's clearly from a 1* reader (poor soul!)

And don't jump to the conclusion that a 1* review is going to be terrible – surprisingly often reviewers will click the wrong star button and give a low rating to a book they say they absolutely loved!

The Only Time You Should Take Action

If the criticism is nothing to do with your book, e.g. “did not arrive” or “not what I ordered”, then that is according to Amazon's Terms and Conditions an unfair review of your work. Message Amazon to report it, and if you're lucky, they will remove it. But if they don't, it's not the end of the world – anyone reading it won't think less of you as an author or of your book for it, they'll probably just laugh and move on to more meaningful reviews.

Put Yourself in the Reader's Position

In all of this, remember you are looking at this review as the author – and the book is your baby. Readers see it differently.

  • You will read between the lines, over-analyze and take each word to heart.
  • Readers will just be casting their eye over a few reviews and may not even read them in full.

If they're a serious potential customer for your book, they won't be put off by the odd crazy, and they'll be smart enough to realize which reviews are credible. Besides, a surprising number of book buyers never read reviews at all, but buy because they've been sold to by your beautiful cover, carefully crafted blurb, skillful marketing, outstanding reputation, etc. So the significance of reviews in the buying process may be less crucial than it might seem.

Amazon logo with five stars

Glass Half-Full

Finally, focus on the positives. I'm betting that for every less than fabulous review, you have plenty that you're proud of. Those are the ones you should read and reread and pin on the wall over your desk and share on your social media and website to wring every last drop of pride out of the praise.

And if that still doesn't do it for you, then take this piece of advice that I heard long ago from an author who I'd best not name here:

“Get as many reviews as you can – but don't read them!”

OVER TO YOU What's your favourite coping strategy for dealing with less than glowing reviews? We'd love to hear about them!

#Indieauthors - don't be discouraged by a poor review of your book! Read @DebbieYoungBN's coping strategies and you'll feel much better! #bookreviews Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive




This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. I got three five-star ratings for my first book on Amazon, but then a 1-star review written so caustically, calling it “crap.” I did look up the profile of this person and it was the only review she has ever done. But what really got to me was that it was obvious she never read it, saying it was just like Katherine Howe’s Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It is nothing like Ms. Howe’s book!! I guess all that is required to rate a book on Amazon is to buy the book. You don’t have to read it. She also implied that the other ratings were people related to me. I have no idea who rated my book…and how would she know?
    Disheartening, to say the least.

    Hopefully, someone will write an informed review…

  2. This was really helpful. I’ve gotten a couple 1* reviews that really made my head turn. About bad grammar and horrible spelling, when I’ve had a copy-editor go over it with a red pen to prevent those mistakes. Even upon rereading it myself (slowly to try and catch anything I might have missed), I don’t see those issues.

    Then, I found this article and took your advice. I looked at their other reviews. Household products. Kids toys. No books except mine.

    I may not be the best writer, but I AM being the best writer I can be.

    Thank you for your article and advice!

  3. Hello,

    My first few reviews have been low ratings in GoodReads. So far, I’ve received two 2 stars, one 3 stars, and a DNF. I have to admit it’s hard to see these ratings and not take it personally. Should I consider rewriting my book?

    1. Yes.

      You might not end up doing it, but at the very least, you should give it a good think. Most people seem to actually be unwilling to give a low rating – if you got several, and there is no clear bias, eg. they are not from right wing trolls or the f-word police (maybe there is no cussing in your book anyway) then there is a strong possibility that your book is actually bad. Remember that failure is an option.

  4. Someone can click on a book, buy it and intentionally post a terrible comment, hoping to hurt your sales, because they are a writer, or think they are and hate it that you have a book on Amazon and they don’t.

    Other people can have mental issues and randomly targeted your book.

    Write the best book you can, edit until you are blue and your book will stand up to what the average reader will think of your book.

  5. This is a great article.

    I never re-read my books after I finished writing them in Word2016.

    Spell check said all was well.

    But I never re-read them for grammar errors or punctuation mistakes.

    Here is my worst 1 star review and it will be on the book until I have passed away.

    “I don’t think that I have ever given a book a one star review before and certainly don’t like to, but this one was pitiful. It had the potential to be a good story but was very poorly written and was filled with unrealistic episodes. Like all the men and women calling each other darling, sweetheart in almost every sentence, and kissing each other every time they turned around. I don’t think so! Then there were grammatical errors galore! How does this happen? Surely no author could write or spell this poorly. And does no one proofread these books anymore? Sorry for my rant but I am just getting really sick of trying to read this type of thing. And if children/young people read these books, how are they supposed to learn proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure? In my view, no excuse for this.”

    I hope this book readers Amazon comment will drive hope to everyone to (RE-READ) your book out loud and in a quiet room to try to catch mistakes.

    Use a beta-reader friend who loves to read and hates bad grammar. They will be a blessing to you.

    3 Months and 6 months after your book is on Amazon don’t be afraid to re-read your book (OUT LOUD) and catch mistakes when the euphoria has worn off.

    You will still catch mistakes.

    All I can do to lesson the damage of a one star comment is to re-edit the book to make it better and hope readers will be happy with what they wrote and leave a better Amazon comment.

  6. My favourite review that I received was 3 stars and simply said ‘This book was a bit boring.’ Upon checking the profile I found this person had never reviewed anything else at all, so actually felt honoured that my book was so ‘a bit boring’ he felt compelled to take up reviewing it.
    1 star and ‘I hated this book’ as a first review or 5 stars and ‘I loved this book’ both make sense, but for your first review to be something your are clearly pretty indifferent about is very strange.

    1. Hi Hannah:

      I too looked at a commenter’s profile and saw they had not commented on a western frontier book before, but saw they had commented on 2 mental disorder books.

  7. I got a 1-star review that was obviously for a product, NOT my book. I asked that it be removed. Nothing happened. But a bunch of my readers marked it as not helpful, which mysteriously bumped it to the top of the negative reviews list. I decided that was just fine. Readers could obviously see it wasn’t about the book.

    In general, my policy is to check my star avg. for each book periodically, but I don’t read reviews anymore (helpful constructive criticism when I was a novice writer, but these days, I trust my betas and my editor and my own track record more).

  8. I received a review that said, “I’m giving this one star because I didn’t like one of the authors other books”. over a dozen 5 star reviews.

    Another for a novel went on for pages about what she hated about the book, the characters, the theme, and everything else. One star. 14 other 5 star reviews.

    On a grayscale coloring book, “It’s all grey!” one star.

    Another didn’t like me on Facebook, so write a one-star review that my book about ghostwriting was a real downer. She gave one star. Fourteen others gave 4 ot 5 stars.

    “Not even worth free” 2 stars. About a dozen other 5 star reviews.

    I just ignore them.

  9. Great article!
    I read all negative reviews out loud at the dinner table to my young kids. Some of them are really fun, “Whoever said this writer is like Stephen King is a liar. Save your $4 and buy yourself an ice-cream cone instead.” At first the kids (I have five) were indignant and insulted, trying to console me. But the message was that I didn’t need to be consoled. That when you do anything artistic, someone’s not going to like it, and that’s 100% OK. If everyone likes it, you just made beige. Bleh! Also, I wanted to show them name calling and meanness has no sway over me, hopefully modeling how to react when they are insulted by the nimrods of negativity in their lives. The five star reviews are fantastic and I love my readers who take the time to post a review, but the negative ones are nothing to fear. Used the right way, they can help make a great point.

    1. Hi Jeff:

      One wonderful review by someone will stay in our memory for years to come.


      This Amazon comment was made on one of my books in 2016:
      “One part of this book, took 5 Kleenex’s, I was almost sobbing, it was so emotional. The story just kept going along with this family from one drama to the next. I kept thinking this is enough for these poor farmers. it showed how lawless a lot of the West was in the 1800’s..”

      Regardless of how my day is, this comment made 2 years ago still makes me smile.

      We can only do our best.

  10. Hi Debbie, l recently got one of those “I never got this book” reviews. The reviewer went on to say, “I love Amy’s books, but couldn’t review it.” When I reached out to amazon, I only asked that they get the book delivered to the reviewer (never asked for it to be removed). Of course, I got the template answer that everyone gets, that it still fits their TOS. *shrug* Actually, it reflects badly on Amazon customer service but is a pretty good review of my work so I’m not terribly unhappy that it stands.

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