It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: after getting feedback from beta readers and your editor, revising your book, and generally stressing out, you finally work up the courage to publish your precious, finished product. You release it into the world, hoping that you gain a few readers. People start to purchase your book – hooray! But then the reviews roll in. And there’s a 3 star. Or a 2 star. Or (*gulp*) a 1 star review.
How do you bounce back from that? Here are five ways that I cope with handling less-than-glowing feedback.
1. Every book has negative reviews.
Think of your favorite book – the book that you love more than anything, that you have read and re-read so many times. Even that book has negative reviews, I promise you.
For example, Philip K. Dick is my favorite author. I checked out the reviews for Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (a/k/a the book that Blade Runner is based on). Though the overwhelming majority of reviews for this book are great, there are a few outliers. Here’s some complaints from 1 star reviews:
- “The story is an absolute mess.”
- “No new ideas and overall poorly written.”
- “It reads like it was written for the mentally ill searching for their inner self. Strange and awkward wording was one of the many lowlights of this audiobook.”
Of course, these make me cringe. What? I think. How in the world can you find Philip K. Dick’s work poorly written?! Okay, but maybe this is a bad example. Maybe MY favorite book isn’t universally acclaimed. So, let’s check out a widely acclaimed book:
- “I am sorry but I would rather have my teeth pulled than to keep reading this whatever.”
- “Did not finish reading it after about 1/3 into the book. In my opinion, there was too much dialogue and the story moved too slowly to keep my interest.”
Those are two 1 star reviews for To Kill a Mockingbird.
- “I don’t get why this is such a classic, why people seem to love it so much, really I just don’t get it. It is just a bunch of rich people in the 20’s having parties and their nonsensical conversations.”
That’s from a 1 star review for The Great Gatsby.
In other words, every book will receive negative reviews. You will never find a book that has only positive reviews (at least, not one properly distributed to a lot of people), and so there is no reason to believe that you will receive only positive reviews. First and foremost, remember that you’re in good company.
2. The reviewer may not be your ideal reader.
Look, you could write the best vampire romance in the entire world, and I probably won’t like it. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve written a bad book. It means that I’m not the person who you envisioned reading your book.
Putting your story out into the world has drawbacks. When I first published my book, I had it available for free for a few days. I had over 5,000 people download it! That was wonderful, but I’m sure a lot of those people were downloading it only because it was free and not because they are fans of my genre. I would bet that a lot of those people never even read it.
I have pretty strong feelings about reviewing a book outside of your preferred genre. For example, I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but sometimes, I want a light read, and I’ll download one on sale from Amazon. I’ll read it in a day or two. It’s fluffy entertainment, but I wouldn’t necessarily call these books “good.” So, I try not to rate and review those books on Amazon or Goodreads. I am not the target audience, and even if I would give that book 2 stars, most people in the target audience are giving it 4 or 5. I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to write a pointless review that says, “Meh, not really my thing.” (Believe me, I don’t have an issue giving negative reviews to books that I think are legitimately bad or poorly written books where I am the target audience).
This is not to say that if you get a review from someone who clearly doesn’t like books in your genre, you should disregard everything they say. But take it with a grain of salt. If the person has legitimate complaints about characterization, dialogue, etc, then you should consider that. However, if you write a fantasy novel, and someone’s review says, “I’m just not into fantasy, so this book wasn’t for me,” you know that the review isn’t truly helpful.
3. Learn what you can from the review.
Some negative reviews are completely unhelpful. “Eh, I thought it was boring,” is one such review. A review that criticizes character development, plot structure, etc. is more more helpful to a writer’s long-term success. I had several people read my story before publishing it, and there have been a couple reviews that have pointed out things that none of my beta readers did. This shouldn’t surprise me, because everyone reads with a different perspective. Some people may love your protagonist, while others may find her frustrating. Does the review explain why the reader had a problem with characters/plot/etc? It’s tempting to just write off the negative comments, but especially if more than one person has mentioned something, sit down and really think about it. How can you take that criticism and use it to improve your next story?
4. Ignore jerks.
As stated above, use the reviews that are helpful. If someone is vague or downright mean about why they dislike your book, push the review out of your head. There is a difference between someone providing a critical review and someone just being a jerk. There’s no reason for a reader to write something cruel, especially on Amazon or Goodreads, where they know they’re affecting future sales. Unless there’s something constructive in the review, ignore it. Otherwise, you’ll spend your time dwelling on why this reader thought your book was the worst thing they’ve ever read.
5. Criticism doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer.
Sometimes, when we hear criticism, we overreact. I’m definitely guilty of this. But a negative or quasi-negative review of your work does not mean that you’re a terrible writer or that your dream of being a writer is stupid. It means that this reader had issues or concerns with aspects of your story. If the person gives you a 2 or 3 star review, that means that something worked for them. Despite any issues they had with the story, this isn’t the worst book ever. Even if someone gives you a 1 star review, look at the reasons they use in their review. If someone hates your story for valid reasons, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on writing.
6. Read the positive reviews!
For every negative review your book gets, I’m sure there will be more positive ones. Go back and read those. Remember that even if someone didn’t like your book, there are readers who LOVED it! I think reading a positive review of my book is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. One reviewer commented that she hoped I wrote another one, and I was just floored. Someone wants me to write more?? I couldn’t believe it. Reading the positive reviews will help remind you why you published in the first place. You wanted to connect with people and to give readers a great story, and for a lot of people, you accomplished that goal.
(Side note: readers, take note of this. If you read a book and love it, please rate and review it on all the platforms you can. Writers thrive off positive feedback. When I see a four or five star rating on Goodreads with no accompanying review, I want to beg the reader to write something on Goodreads and Amazon, but I feel like that’s a little too stalkerish.)
Writers: How do you deal with negative reviews?