You can’t please all people all the time. The best you can do is please most people most of the time. This adage is as true in life as it is to writing. Some readers will love your book, others will not. We all love to receive glowing reviews, as they boost our confidence, but what about those readers and reviewers who don’t care for our book? While I’ve received a few bad reviews for my books, as a reviewer of books, I have had to write some bad reviews. If your book is out there for the public to read, you have to expect to receive a bad review eventually. There are two ways to deal with these negative reviews: the right way and the wrong way.
How you handle bad reviews says a lot about who you are as an author.
My first one-star review was for my first book, First Name Basis. While I was upset that I received this bad review from someone who hadn’t even finished the book, their comments were focused on what did and did not work for them. This was valuable feedback, even if I didn’t like hearing it. It meant that now I had something to work on to improve my writing. After the initial shock of the bad review, I allowed myself to figure out a plan on how to make my books better. Or, at least how to write books that could get people to read all the way through them.
Consequently, because of this review, I don’t give starred ratings for books I don’t finish. I will still provide a brief (but thorough) explanation of how and why I didn’t make it through the book, but I will leave the star rating out so as to not negatively influence the total rating of the book (I know how numbers matter for these things). That being said, I am often a glutton for punishment and will force myself through an awful book even if I should have stopped reading pages ago. These books will receive a bad review, as well as a low star rating.
If you learn from bad reviews, you come out ahead in the long run.
As I said before, there are two ways to take a bad review. The above example is the better way to go about it. If someone didn’t like your book, and they tell you why then there’s potential for growth in your writing. If the review is scathing and resorts to personal attacks, you might be able to report the reviewer to whatever website has hosted the review (i.e., Goodreads or Amazon). Just so we’re clear, personal attacks are not reviews. I don’t know why someone would care so much about reading a lousy book that they’d attack the author with their review. These are the reviews you should delete and never view again. Just ignore them, they aren’t helpful.
“But,” I hear you say, “what if the reviewer is wrong? I should let them know they’re wrong!” My advice: DON’T. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the book replying to a bad review to defend the book’s honor, or if you’re an author who thinks they put out the next great literary masterpiece. The person who wrote the negative review has their opinion of the work, and they are completely entitled to it. If we’ve learned anything in this world, it’s that you can’t win an argument over the internet. Therefore, it is best to not even start an argument when it comes to a bad review. Other readers will see it, sure, but it’s up to them to determine if the points brought forth by the critical review apply to them. Maybe the reviewer didn’t like the particular genre and got the book via a giveaway or as a gift. Maybe the reviewer has some personal issues that influenced them when they read. Whatever the reason, the reviewer has formed an opinion, and if you press them on it, they might open up about more details they did not like about this particular book.
Some people will not like your book.
I’ve already written a post about YA fans who are a little too nasty in replying to bad reviews but let me regale you with a story of an author who did not agree with my review. To start with, I almost didn’t accept his review request because the e-mail he sent seemed like spam to me (i.e., a link to an odd website, “F-R-E-E” spelled out everywhere, etc.). When I did finally receive his book (and a couple dozen cards for F-R-E-E e-book downloads), I sat down to read it thinking it would be a pretty standard time travel sci-fi. While the plot was about what I expected, the writing itself was difficult to get through. Each page had about a dozen proofreading and editing errors that kept interrupting the flow of my reading since I wanted to correct them each time I came across one. Somehow, I made it all the way through the book, and the errors never got any better.
When I wrote my review, I highlighted the fact that the plot was mostly satisfactory, with a few characters making strange decisions to go on unnecessary tangents. My biggest beef was that the author needed to get a good copy editor/proofreader to edit his work, as it was almost unreadable in the state it was. Posting this review to Goodreads and Amazon, I thought I was done with this book and could move on to the next one. I was wrong.
A couple days later, the author e-mailed me and told me that he disagreed with my review. He seemed to think he had written this masterpiece, mostly because he had gained some glowing reviews. He had taken offense at my review and somehow thought that bringing these glowing reviews to my attention would change my mind. If you can’t tell by now, this is not something an author should EVER do. I responded back to him, highlighting the points from my review that justified my position since it seemed to me that he hadn’t read the whole review (merely latching on to one or two statements).
This back-and-forth continued for a few days, with me telling him he needed to hire an editor if his book was to be any good, and him explaining that he did hire an editor and made all the changes the editor requested. Each time I responded, I was increasingly flabbergasted that he kept harping me because of my bad review. I laid out more and more of the things that I thought he needed to fix to grow his writing, but he kept coming back with how many five-star reviews his book has received. At one point, I told him to never contact me again, which lasted for all of a week. Let me be clear to all authors: when you start an e-mail with “You probably don’t want to hear from me . . .” you shouldn’t send that e-mail. To this day, I’m still not sure if he expected me to change my review (which he denied) or to personally let him know that I was wrong in my assessment, but I just know that he handled my critical review in the wrong way.
Contacting a reviewer about a negative review serves no purpose.
One thing I think many authors fail to realize when they send books out for review is that the review they receive is out of their hands. Once their novel is out to the reviewer, they should not influence the content of the rating in any way, so as to have the review be honest and unbiased. In fact, most websites that have reviews (like Amazon) explicitly state in their review criteria that authors cannot “pay” for reviews by giving out free or discounted copies of their books in exchange for five-star ratings. Aside from the advice I’ve already given about what to avoid when asking for reviews, I only have these few additions:
- Do not require the reviewer to send you their review for approval. Once your book is in their hands, their review is theirs to write, not yours.
- If you have a book entered in a giveaway (like on Goodreads), know that many people will enter these giveaways for the chance to get a free book. If they do give you a review, and it’s a bad one, it’s likely due to the book’s title and cover being misleading or the genre being something the reader doesn’t usually read.
- If you do not like a review, do not harass the reviewer. You might be able to take the review down if it doesn’t meet content standards, but also know that a book that only has five-star reviews seems more suspicious than one with a few unimpressed readers’ reviews sprinkled throughout.
Finally, one thing you should never do, regardless if you receive good or bad reviews on your book, is rate and review it yourself. This just looks desperate, especially if you’re the only one to have a rating and review on your book. You’re the author, of course you’d give yourself five stars and a glowing review. At the very least, don’t try to write a “counter-review” to debunk a negative review. This is another desperate move that will likely turn off readers as it screams of insecurity and low confidence. Basically, let your work speak for itself, and the good reviews will inevitably outnumber the bad.