How Smart Writers Deal With One-Star Reviews (Hint: Not By Crying Yourself to Sleep)

How Smart Writers Deal With One-Star Reviews (Hint: Not By Crying Yourself to Sleep)

I’d written the manuscript for my novel, Willows, about two years prior and promptly abandoned it, leaving it to lie dormant in my Dropbox. One day my writing partner discovered it and blew the dust (or whatever digital files gather when they’re abandoned) off it.

“Get it out there,” she said.

“It needs to be seen,” she said.

“Publish it on Amazon,” she said.

So last year we embarked on our self-publishing journey, and soon the book was ready and uploaded to Amazon and ready to set the world on fire.

After initial sales from friends, family, and well-wishers, Willows settled into a groove. I’ve had more sales than I thought I would, and on my free days the book was downloaded more than 2,000 times and earned a few good reviews. I wasn’t quite in Lee Child or Stephen King territory just yet, but for my first effort I considered it an OK start.

All in all, I’ve loved my first foray into self-publishing. Despite my complaints and some infuriating moments (like MS Word somehow reversing all my changes and auto correct reversing my edits and changing a character’s name mid-novel), I’ve enjoyed it.

However, the thing I looked forward to, more than anything, was my first review. After all, I wanted what all writers want: to know if I’m any good. I needed to know if I was just fooling myself with this writing jazz. Should I chuck the whole thing? Would people enjoy my work? We would see.

When those first reviews start trickling in

I expected some initial good reviews. Family and friends eager to support you will give you five-star reviews and say things that make you sound like the next big literary star. I truly appreciated these, but the reviews I treasured the most were the ones from complete strangers, who gave honest, constructive criticism.

So, when I got my first one star review, I was shocked! I reread it a few times to make sure I’d read it right.

The reviewer had downloaded my book on a free day, read it (I assume) and was not thrilled. I was flabbergasted. Willows was my first novel; I knew I would be no danger to the authors on the bestseller list, but I never expected that kind of review.

I laughed it off and chalked it up to someone who didn’t give the book a chance or maybe didn’t care for the genre, and resolved to ignore it. Twenty minutes later… okay, two minutes later — when I was supposed to be writing — I read the bad review again.

Does one bad apple spoil the whole bunch?

Then, just like we do in many other areas of life, I totally disregarded the sincere encouragement and kind words I’d received from friends, family and complete strangers and concentrated on my one bad review.

Was there something I could have done to make the book better? I went back to the manuscript and pored over it to see if there was something I missed, or if there were there any edits I could have made to win this lone reviewer over.

I tried to return to writing but the review was on my mind. It buzzed around my head like flies at a picnic, distracting me from my work.

Too distracted and annoyed to write, I picked up my favorite book about writing, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I opened the book and my eye fell on this quote:

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

That is exactly what I tried to do: please some of the readers. I had tried my best, and it pleased some of the readers. Reading King’s quote took me out of my bad review funk and focused my attention on where it should be: on my work.

Dealing with a negative review

If you’re a writer, especially a newbie, and you’ve received a bad Amazon review, here are my three steps to deal with it:

1. Ignore it

2. Ignore it

3. Use it as motivation to make your next article or manuscript even better

Use negative reviews as motivation

Thanks, Ms. One Star Reviewer, for your message. I’ve gotten you out of my system and used your words as inspiration. I hope I don’t ever encounter you again, but if (when) I do, I’ll know how to handle you.

Have you ever dealt with a negative review? How did you respond?

Filed Under: Craft


  • HMU says:

    thanks for sharing

  • EAD says:

    It makes me wonder, getting a one star review from a person on goodreads that has never reviewed any other books before or after giving my book that one star. Coincidence? Thoughts?

  • Jen Cross says:

    Yes! I am self published, and I know my book had some errors (thanks MS word!), but I also knew it was a tight story. Sadly, a woman from my neighborhood went out of her way to right a nasty and personal review. I just ignored it and will ignore it. I came looking for this very advice! And yes, I’m on to the next one!

  • Lorraine says:

    Thank you for hosting this forum. It is nice to see even the best authors receive bad reviews every now and then. I am a new writer. Overall, my reviews have been 4-5 star range. However, I did receive a one star review last night saying my writing was awful, error ridden, and more perverse than 50 shades.Ouch! BTW- My novel is Romance/Erotica with a disclaimer. Being a dyslexic writer, I had my novel professionally edited. I understand what you all are saying – can’t please everyone… but, how do I know if my work really sucks or I should shake it off and continue to write? Is there a review forum out there in cyberspace? Can someone recommend a good editor who doesn’t charge a fortune? Thank You!!

  • MaikelC says: is really interesting, but why it is on 16th place in google’s search results. It deserves to be in top 5. Many bloggers think that seo is dead in 2016, but it’s not true. There is sneaky method to reach google’s top 5 that not many people know. Just search for: pandatsor’s tools

  • I had published my first for-sale ebook simply to finally belong to ‘the real authors’. Long story short, I wanted that those acquaintances who hang their ego to it would stop worrying about me.

    Given that I published after barely being returned from an urban homeless winter, and that I had to work with technology far below ‘high end’, plus all format being incompatible with the software which finally made the ebook… If I score five million one star reviews the legal way, such may be closest to a bestseller I can ever get! 😉

    Given that I was taught to expect 50% of all unpaid feedback being totally negative, meant to harm due envy or hate, there is no big surprise in that for me. I am more surprised that more successful authors have never noticed that being the norm.

    One hint from my own learning years:

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for this Hugh. Most of my 53 reviews are 5 stars. Recently I got a serious hateful vicious review. At first it was like ..ouch that hurt bad! Today I got a so so review too. Brene Browns book ‘Daring Greatly” states that if you are ‘in the arena’ you will be bloodied and bruised. Yep, but at least we are in the arena not on the sidelines.

  • Hey,

    Thank you so much for your post, I just had my first bad review and I was trying to find something to make me feel better about it and you really helped.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Speakingmymind says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling with a 2 star review for a couple of years now. It took the wind out of me to write even though I had 31 positive reviews. The reviewer even got some details wrong about the book…and ironically she was critical about something that she described incorrectly. So it’s like, of course that would be stupid, but that didn’t happen! I like what you said about how you forgot the positive reviews. I need to remember to focus on those. Those are the people I’m writing for. Thanks!

  • Mel Thorn says:

    One-star reviews aren’t nearly as bad when the person writing them isn’t being a wad of dumbass. I’ve received one-star reviews where the reader seemed apologetic at not liking the book, and said “just wasn’t for me.” I just shrug and say “that’s okay. It’s not for everyone.”

    It’s the ones where people get so angry that you swear they’re trying to throw their computer out the window while writing it. I didn’t know reading induced such rage! After getting over your incredulity at someone being that angry over a book, you can laugh about it later, because honestly, it is really hilarious.

  • J x says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time for me! My debut novel was published last month and of course I’ve had glowing reviews from people who know me, and some 4 and 5 star ones from strangers which were great. Then, the 2 star reviewer hit. And a second. Not only that but the pair proceeded to have a conversation in the comments of one of the reviews about how much they disliked my book. I only saw it last night and I’ve been so upset I’ve felt like giving up writing altogether – I’m not self published so don’t have the luxury of pulling the book off the market. This article and the comments have helped me so much, I’m off to print out your quote to stick by my computer – then start writing again!

    • Anonymous16132 says:

      I have a whole-heartedly different approach when it comes to bad reviews.


      Reply: “Oh, well would if I could, but then you’d run out of things to waste your time complaining about.”

      “This book makes no sense, its plot has more holes than a sponge and it is by far the worst romance novel I have ever read.”

      Reply: “No wonder, it’s a fantasy book.”

      “You’re never going to be the next Meyer if you keep writing like that.” – twilightthemoviefan[somerandomnumber]

      Reply: “Thank goodness, I’d hate to see my book butchered by Hollywood.”

      In short, I troll the trolls.

  • Michael Stanton says:

    Check out Bridges of Madison County. It got tons of bad reviews, some (most) scathing. There are page after page after page. Yet, it was #1 on the New York Times best seller list for 32 weeks! and it was on the list for 3 years! It sold over 50 million copies. It was one of the best selling books of the 20th century. It was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and was nominated for 4 academy awards.

    There were obviously more people who loved the book than those who hated it. I think that’s true of any negative review. I’ve had some bad reviews and my first reaction was that I’ll pull the book from the market. Wrong! Take the negative reviews to heart and rework the manuscript if you’d like or move on to the next one. That’s what I did. It’s a great story-line that can’t wait.

  • Elke Feuer says:

    All great advice! I usually don’t respond, especially if it’s a stinker with no constructive feedback, just plain ole bashing.

    It’s impossible to please every reader and everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it’s not liking my masterpiece. 🙂

    But seriously, using it to improve your next project is the best way to go.

  • Dana Sitar says:

    Hugh, you’re so right about how we (with any kind of feedback) get so distracted by the really bad stuff that we forget about the great reviews! One bad word from a stranger opens the floodgates of all of your own insecurities and pain points about your writing. Your simple tips are perfect: Usually, you can just ignore it and take it with a grain of salt… but it doesn’t hurt to remember those words when working on your next project.

  • T L Huston says:

    When I received my first five star review on Amazon I was stunned, giggly, and so very proud. I shouted “yes!” in a crowded restaurant after reading the review on my phone. Right after that I received a four star review and again I was in heaven! The reviews were from strangers. I had forbidden my friends and family from posting reviews on Amazon, although I have to admit, it would be a great way to keep your review average sky high, artifcially, of course. For me, I wanted to know what complete strangers would think of my writing. The five and four star reviews were quickly followed by four three star reviews.

    Here is what I’ve learned so far about reviews. 1. Any review, good or bad, is better than no review. 2. Readers who like the genre you write in will give you a better quality review, whether it’s a good review or a so-so review. 3. Readers who begin their review with “I don’t usually read books in this genre” will probably give you your most stinging review.

    I read them and wonder why they choose to review a book that they knew they wouldn’t have much interest in. One guy reviewed my book, even though he admitted he didn’t read it. When that happens I remember a quote from James Patterson. At one of his book signings he asked a reader who had previously purcased one of his books, “What did you think of the book?” She replied she didn’t like it at all. “What didn’t you like about it?” Mr. Patterson asked with a puzzled look on his face. She responded, “I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet.”

    That, my fellow authors, is the world we live in.

  • Neil says:

    Well, at least you got a review. It is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity and this may apply to reviews. There are those who will read a book based merely on its having gotten a bad review. I can’t even get a review of my two books on Smashwords. Not even from a relative. My wife has a niece from a previous marriage who is a part-time editor of a small publication out of D.C. She promised to review one of my books, a novella…two years ago. Still nothing. At the six-month point I gave her a nudge and she said she was very busy but would get to it soon. At the one-year point she expressed annoyance that I reminded her of the promise. I’ve given up reminding and have moved on. Keep the faith.

    • Hugh Smith says:

      Hey Neil. Sorry about the review situation. The good news however, is that it can only get better. Have you tried review sites? There are tons of folks out there that will give you a unbiased review if you send them a copy of your book. Also, I’m more familiar with Amazon than Smashwords but it seems like on Amazon’s site it’s easier to give a review then on Smashwords. Is your book on Amazon as well?
      If you need a line on some reviewers please feel free to DM me on Twitter anytime.
      Good luck!

  • Katya says:

    One Star reviews are probably the most traumatizing events in a published author’s life. May I leave some more coping suggestions?

    1. If ignoring a bad review is impossible for you, consider the fact that even bestselling authors get One Stars. It’s true. I recently read a book review bashing one of my favorite Christian novels because the author did not let the readers decide for themselves if Christ was God and that specific reader felt like this position was simply pushed on them. Nevermind the fact that the book was a work of *Christian* fiction and was restricted to *religion* shelves of bookstores. Go figure!

    2. It’s okay to take one day from writing to put yourself back together after a particularly bad review. As the article said, it’s EXTREMELY hard to create fresh content when all that is on your mind is One Star and a load of self-doubt. Don’t torture yourself. Make yourself some coffee and call a friend (or your therapist). Talk about it, it’s okay. Even if you know, YOU KNOW the bad review has no merit, it probably still hurt you to see someone talk like that about your baby, err novel.

    3. DO NOT RESPOND TO THE REVIEW. I REPEAT, DO NOT RESPOND! There, there… now back away from the keyboard sloooowly. Hands where I can see them, please. Seriously though, whether it is on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere, resist the urge to defend or explain yourself. Let your novel and other (good) reviews speak for you.

    4. The next day, wake up a bit earlier, take a cold shower, make your favorite coffee, and jump right into writing the next novel. You’re a writer, and this is what you do. One Star reviews are just one drawback of this profession that every author experiences. Understand that while it is NOT normal, it is to be expected, and move on with your life. Don’t let a bad review stop you from pursuing your dream.

    Best wishes!
    -fellow writer 🙂

    • Hugh Smith says:

      Hi Katya, thank you so much for your suggestions. You hit the nail on the head with each one. The one I’ve been guilty of is responding to the review, trying to refute the reviewers points one by one, when the bottom line is, if they don’t like it then I’m unlikely to sway them.
      Thanks again, all the best to you in your writing,

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Great suggestions, Katya! I’m going to bookmark this for when I need it 🙂


    • Rachel says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write this advice – I have just had my first one star on amazon having previously had all fours and fives and I have been wallowing in the mire of my own misery for a few days!! It hurts, but I am starting to get my head round dealing with it and your comments here have really helped.. It would be narcissistic to assume you would please everyone all the time and as always, the best medicine is to get writing..thanks again

    • Just had a 1 star review on Amazon and GoodReads by the same person. I’m guessing she is not the biggest fan of my first fiction novel. But hey, I have some fans, and people who I don’t know genuinely leave me decent reviews. The first 1 star rating (on GR) hurt, but it did me a favour, in a twisted sense of things. I raised my game. I ignored the poster, whilst acknowledging I can and will do better. I also accepted no matter what I do, people out there just like hating on stuff. They are often like this in real life too. Let’s move on, write better books, and enjoy our lives. We will achieve more than any of these haters.

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