About to Respond to a Negative Review of Your Book? Read This First

About to Respond to a Negative Review of Your Book? Read This First

Have you heard of Stephan J. Harper’s interactive iBook Venice Under Glass?

If you have, it’s likely that you’ve heard more about the author than the book itself. After a not-so-stellar review of his book at TidBITS, an Apple news website, Harper went on a commenting rampage, picking apart the reviewer’s opinions piece by piece and rebutting nearly every other commenter on the review. It’s a rant of epic proportions.

After reading through his comments, I can’t tell if he’s serious or if it’s a publicity stunt. Then again, considering the amount of time and effort he’s put into defending his work, it’s likely legitimate, although emotionally charged.

The entire affair is an extreme example of the absolutely worst way to respond to a book review.

The only way to respond to a bad book review

Before publishing my book last year, a wise friend of mine who’s an experienced, published author gave me the best advice about bad reviews: never respond.

I know how difficult this can be, especially for first-time authors.

My first Amazon review included two stars and the words “very disappointing.” The reader had expected a different kind of book, so the review seemed unfair to me, as if the book wasn’t being judged on its own merit but on the reader’s desire for something else. One of my “favorite” GoodReads reviews of my book simply states, “Wasn’t great writing, but I really enjoyed the content.” And yet it was granted four stars.

No writer ever wants to read those kinds of words, and sites like Amazon and GoodReads don’t make it any easier for our egos since they allow authors to reply to their own reviews.

The one time I replied to a review — and a good review at that — was to correct a factual assumption I thought the reviewer had made. To me, the reviewer seemed to say that I had personally conducted interviews for the book. I simply responded that I’d only done research and quoted from already available interviews.

The next day, the reviewer had deleted their review! I learned a hard lesson that day, and I hadn’t even responded to a bad review. While those less-than-stellar reviews still haunt me on some days (I’m writing about them here, after all), I know now what every successful writer understands: you can’t please everybody.

[bctt tweet=”As a writer, you can’t please everybody, says @batwood”]

Plus, trying to change someone’s mind who’s already decided against your perspective on life, or who despises your writing style, or who just doesn’t like the fact that you’re a fan of the Oxford comma, is like George Bernard Shaw’s famous illustration: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

A majority of reviewers don’t understand the kind of inner devastation they cause an author when they quickly type and publish two lines of a poor review. What you’ve labored for months on, they’ve minimized in two minutes. From that perspective, it’s enough to make any author’s blood boil.

And an angry author set loose online can be a dangerous thing. This is exactly why an author has to prevent their inner vitriol from spilling over.

7 non-career-destroying ways to deal with bad book reviews

1. Don’t read your reviews

Yes, there are some authors who follow this rule, though I’d hazard a guess that it’s a hard one to stick to for first-time authors. Don’t worry, though — it’s only the first suggestion.

2. Print out your bad reviews, then burn them

It’s a symbolic gesture that releases your inner ire. Alternative disposal methods could include a paper shredder, compost for your garden or turning them into origami.

3. Respond to your bad reviews . . . in a document that’s never made public

You’re a writer, so you’re bound to write. Go ahead and give in to every last cutting remark you’d like to make, but ultimately keep those words to yourself.

4. Talk about it with other writers

Find a writer’s group, whether in real life or online. Every writer gets a bad review from time to time. When you share your bad reviews with other writers and hear their just-as-bad reviews, laughter inevitably erupts.

5. Re-read your good reviews

So long as you keep working at your craft, good reviews will come. Don’t allow one bad review to occupy your mind 90 percent of the time, while letting nine good reviews occupy the remaining 10 percent. (Also, don’t think about your reviews 100 percent of the time).

6. Realize that writing is a journey, not a destination

I know I just went cliché on you, but it’s true. Bad reviews bring growth to authors, and if you’re serious about a career in writing, you’ll work through and past any bad review. Don’t allow a bad review to stop you from taking another step.

7. Start writing your next book

The best way to get over a bad review is to start your next book. Sure, it may garner a bad review as well, but I’m willing to bet that it’ll be better than your last work. Plus, now you know how to better handle bad reviews.

How do you deal with bad reviews? If you’re feeling brave, share your worst book review in the comments.

63 comments

  • Lena says:

    So I’m a new author and just recently published on Amazon. I would say my book was going fine until I got a paragraph-long negative review on how poorly edited the book was, to the extent of the reviewer highlighting the exact line and phrase. This really threw me off balance and I really wish I had read this article before reading the review. Or not reading the review at all

  • peggy jaeger says:

    I just read this article because someone I know retweeted it, and I can’t thank you enough for writing it! I think God was pointing to me today when I read this, saying “You! LIsten up! YOu need to hear this.”
    I’ve gotten amazeballs reviews and not so amazeballs reviews – for the same book! I had one lady give me a 1 rating on goodreads because she thought I wrote the wrong book. She thought I should have made two different characters the leads instead of the ones I’d chosen. Boy o Boy did I want to respond to her…but I didn’t. And just yesterday I was starting to doubt myself again when I rec’d the text with your retweet in for this article. Serendipity, much? Maybe. But for what it’s worth, you really made me feel 100 percent better. So, thanks!!!

    • Blake Atwood says:

      Glad to hear it, Peggy. You’re welcome.

      Writing reviews—especially bad ones—and clicking stars is easy. Writing a book? That’s the hard work most aren’t willing to do.

      You did.

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