5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews

Print Friendly

by Beth Bacon

Authors shouldn't avoid bad customer reviews, they just need know how to handle them

Authors shouldn’t avoid customer feedback, they just need to know how to handle negative customer reviews

All authors’ hearts break a little when negative reviews show up on their books’ sales pages. But a book with lots of reviews has real legitimacy and gives browsing shoppers a range of perspectives, making them more likely to buy it. So seeking lots of reviews is a good thing. But how do authors handle the inevitable bad ones? Here are five techniques for dealing with customers who pan your book.

Related: Learn more marketing techniques at the Digital Book World Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo.

1) Remember: Any review is publicity

No matter what the customers say, those who write their comments on Amazon, Apple’s iTunes store, or BN.com are spending time and energy thinking about your book. They’re spreading the word. When a reader disses your book, remember, not all the people who see the review will agree. Let’s say a reader ranks your dystopian fantasy poorly, saying, “It was bleak.” That bleakness might be exactly what your real audience is looking for. I’m sure you’ve read reviews and thought, “Well, I disagree,” or “That thing he hated was the best part of the book.” Your customers will form their own opinions.

2) List your fears

It’s scary launching your book out to the world. You’re exposing yourself, putting your best effort out there for all to see. Then, with a bad review, someone callously disparages what your heart holds dear. Ouch. What you need to do first is admit that writing a book is one of the most a frightening things a person can do and congratulate yourself for having the courage to share your words. Then, get serious and a face your fears.

List the comments you fear the most. Some bullet points on that list might be: the writing is poor, it’s not funny, the reviewer didn’t relate to the characters, the reader found typos. Identify the terrifying elements of a bad review, think them through, and get over them. No negative review has ever caused the world to  end. Then, in your next book, try make adjustments so you’ll get fewer of those types of reviews.

3) Know what’s irrelevant

Just as you need to identify what you fear, you need to acknowledge the comments that don’t really matter to you. For example, if you’re a romance writer, it might not matter to you that some people think your book is “wordy” or that it’s “fluff.” That might be exactly what your core romance readers want. Your real fans may be looking for lots and lots of your words to savor. When you recognize remarks from your irrelevant list, say to yourself, “Whatever,” and move on.

4) Dwell on the comments that brighten your day

Make another list that includes the special words that make your heart soar: witty, suspenseful, hilarious, imaginative… whatever you really value. Be sure to spend extra time enjoying the comments that contain those words. Acknowledge that there are a few special readers out there who really “get what you’re trying to do.”

Comedy writers may look for reviews with the words, “It made me laugh.” Women’s fiction writers might perk up when they see that someone found their characters authentic. Historical writers could be satisfied when their audience appreciates that the title has been well researched. Which words are magic to you? Recognize them and wallow in the joy.

5) Keep these bad reviews in mind

Every author gets bad reviews sometimes, even authors of the most beloved books. Here are a few I found recently on Amazon:

“It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read.” —review of the American classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Not nearly enough consistency and far to [sic] little plot.”—review of Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

“If I were you, I’d peruse it briefly at your neighborhood library before putting hard-earned money out.” —review of children’s classic A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“I find myself saying to myself as I read it ‘bla bla bla’ as that is what the author seems to be saying.” —review of National Book Award Winner Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

With social media, everyone has a say

Sending a book, either traditionally published or self-published, out to the world puts an author in a vulnerable position. But don’t shrink away from customer reviews. They’re one of the best signals to your customers that you’re a serious writer and your book is worth spending time with. In today’s social media–driven world, anyone with a keyboard gets a say in the online marketplace.

You can recover faster from the sting of negative reviews if you jot down the reactions you are looking for, list the comments that hurt, and note the topics have no bearing of what you’re trying to achieve. Keep the lists handy, or better yet memorize them, and you’ll be armed the right perspective every time a new review is submitted.

Never forget that even the best writers are sometimes poorly received. Then go out and ask your readers to write some more customer reviews.

Image via Shutterstock.

Learn more marketing techniques at the Digital Book World Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo.

Beth Bacon

About Beth Bacon

Beth Bacon is a children's book author and runs www.e-booksandkids.com. Contact her via Twitter @ebooksandkids.

Related Posts:

31 thoughts on “5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews | Digi...

  2. One further suggestion: be honest with yourself about the merits of the bad review. Has the writer dinged on something you need to examine? They sting, for sure, but don’t immediately dismiss criticism. A bad review can be a chance to learn and grow as a writer.

    • That is ture, just as a ‘no’ when you are trying to sell something is a request for more information…so take ‘no’ about four or five times before you give in to ‘no’ When someone tells you no, there is much to learn from that. It will make you better when you learn why they said no. I think you should see what the nah sayers are talking about but not let them shape and form you too much. Be you! You will get ‘down talkers’ no matter what, just don’t develop to them or their outlook, at least not always. The people of the world are dynamic, for everyone that thinks what you wrote is crap, there are just as many who want and like what you do!!! Dynamics! Everything has opposites. One of my instructors always said. “You will always come out looking better than you think you will.

  3. A great list. I’d add a few more.

    1. Don’t forget what you do yourself. I’ve treated some book rather negatively, so I can’t really complain when others do the same for mine. If I don’t like a book, sometimes I go overboard in criticizing it.

    2. Be aware that some audiences have problems. For instance, a German publisher warned me that some Tolkien fans take their knowledge of and views about Tolkien’s fantasy world all too seriously, and that made them rather nasty critics. That, I found, was exactly what happened with my Lord of the Rings chronology, Untangling Tolkien. \Get a life,\ I felt like saying.

    3. Some aren’t going to be happy if you make steaks from their sacred cows. Over the past year I’ve been writing two books based on my experience working at one of the country’s top children’s hospitals. While the books as a whole are simply an honest look at what happens in hospitals, particularly with children being treated for leukemia, parts of necessity have to take on where hospitals fail their patients.

    Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments criticizes hospitals for doing little to nothing about their patients’s fear of embarrassment, a fear in some that can be greater than their fear of pain. The book’s actually a practical how-to-avoid-embarrassment guide written for teen girls, since that’s where my expertise is. But it does also confront hospital staff and administrators with the need to change hospital policies and practices. Deal with embarrassment like you deal with pain, I say. Go to some trouble to reduce it.

    My Nights with Leukemia is primarily about what it was like to be a night-shift caregiver for children with cancer. But along the way it gives some rather grim illustrations of how hospital screw-ups can kill or seriously harm patients. It’s particularly critical of inexperience residents still undergoing training and in need of closer monitoring. It also questions why hospitals choose to staff head nurse positions with nurses who dislike patients and were failures as nurses. I wrote the book for nursing students to give them a ‘this is what it’s really like’ look at hospital work and to offer advice about how to work around some of the deficiencies. But it has a lot to say to almost anyone and it does challenge business as usual in hospital, including the vanities, the pecking orders, the perverted male medical residents, and the silly male doctor v. female nurse squabbles.

    Both books are now out, so earlier this week I sent review copies to cancer and particularly child cancer advocacy groups. While I’m sure they’ll take what I say seriously, I’m less certain about how the medical establishment will react. Those I’ve talked with personally have taken what I say well, but there are those who’d rather patients not know much about what I explain in those books. Still it is better that they talk about what I say than that they ignore it.

    4. Stupid critics mostly drive away stupid readers. If the criticism of your book really is unfair, the readers you lose are likely to be the more sheep-like ones. In the long run, it may prove better to have a moderate-sized audience of good and dependable readers than a large audience of sheep-like ones who chase after fads and will abandon you as quickly as they picked you up.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  4. One other thing to keep in mind is that often the ‘bad reviews’ on Amazon are not legitimate at all.
    1-Reviews written by people who are not ‘verified purchasers’
    2-”Reviews” written by envious authors who think that doing down your book is going to improve their sales
    3-#2 is especially true if you are getting to the top of a bestseller list at Amazon and they want to drag you back out of the top spots
    4-#2 again, putting a lower star rating just to lower your stars. 1 and 2 looks like it is obviously vindictive, just like people are suspicious of too many 5s. A 3 can do serious damage as well though, to your sales.
    Make no mistake; reviews DO affect sales. One book was selling 20-30 copies a day until a spiteful review by an ‘author’ trying to sell their own book caused it to come to a crashing halt.
    I use the word author in quotes there because it was actually a book of plagiarized content they had been selling in the #1 bestseller spot until a better book came along.
    These days with all the ‘get rich quick by scraping content from sites and selling it on Kindle’ courses that are out there, a lot of people are trying to be an ‘author’.

    So by all means, if there is a legitimate kernel of fair comment in any review, see if you can improve your craft. If not, then go after the perpetrators of the scams. Amazon is not usually willing to take down bad reviews but if it is clearly factually inaccurate, for example, or just so ridiculous it is pointless (once had one with 1 star and a line of the letter k?!) then do not take it lying down. We as real authors putting fingers to keyboards, not copying and pasting, work far too hard to have our work devalued deliberately by people who are so unprofessional.

  5. Please remember that not all readers like the same thing. After gushing over a book that I loved, a teen novel written by an British author, to my boss she read it. Then promptly told me that it was junk and that my reading fare was either junk or really great literature. Opinions vary. Because people don’t read books the same way, it’s all in what you are looking for when you pick up a book to read. I want a good story. I can get by with writing that is simply stated, or one that is very discriptive as long as the story holds my attention, and sometimes it doesn’t take much. I have read books that I didn’t care for, but didn’t totally pan them, most of the time. I work with teens and children so I do believe there is an audience for books with less then five star reviews. Not every one sees a storyline in the same way. As a reviewer I try to find something positive about any book I read, clearify what I found unsettling in the book and let the reader make their own choice. When checking reviews for books I would like to read, I dismiss those that are couched in angry tones. After all why should you be angry about reading. It makes no difference if you hated a book or loved it you stretched your reading skills and therefore got something out of it. Do I recommend everything I read to my children and teens, no. If I feel that the author missed the target audience stated by the publisher, I will say so and may suggest a younger or older audience age.

  6. Please remember that not all readers like the same thing. After gushing over a book that I loved, a teen novel written by a British author, to my boss she read it, then promptly told me that it was junk and that my reading fare was either junk or really great literature. Opinions vary. Because people don’t read books the same way, it’s all in what you are looking for when you pick up a book to read. I want a good story. I can get by with writing that is simply stated, or one that is very descriptive as long as the story holds my attention, and sometimes it doesn’t take much. I have read books that I didn’t care for, but didn’t totally pan them, most of the time. I work with teens and children so I do believe there is an audience for books with less than five star reviews. Not everyone sees a storyline in the same way. As a reviewer I try to find something positive about any book I read, clarify what I found unsettling in the book and let the reader make their own choice. When checking reviews for books I would like to read, I dismiss those that are couched in angry tones. After all why should you be angry about reading? It makes no difference if you hated a book or loved it you stretched your reading skills and therefore got something out of it. Do I recommend everything I read to my children and teens, no. If I feel that the author missed the target audience stated by the publisher, I will say so and may suggest a younger or older audience age.

  7. But what about reviews based on an erroneous reading? I’d imagine reviewers often read quickly and may gloss over lines that explain a character’s actions. This has happened to me and, I suspect, to many other authors. We want to correct the reviewer’s statement but have been told never to respond to the review.

  8. As for me, I just don’t leave a review if I don’t like a book. And yes, some reviews are hard to take even if you can tell the person didn’t read the book, had no clue what it was about, etc. I know some writers who never read any reviews. Good post.

  9. Oh yes, forgot one other ‘review’ scam-they give your book a good review and plug their own right in the review! Often complete with a link to buy.

    One other dangerous scam to be aware of is that a wannabee author will see your book is doing well and release a similar title to yours, even a similar pen name, in order to try to create confusion and get sales.

    Even worse is if they write under the same name as yours. This happened to one fellow author we know of, much to his great embarrassment, because the person trying to capitalize on his name was writing what could only be described as porn. So when a list of books by ‘John Smith’ appeared, well, you can just imagine what the covers looked like! with our friend’s more serious business books jumbled in but paling into insignificance compared with the other vivid covers. Ahem.

    So middle initials can help a lot to avoid confusion. So can taking the trouble to create a good author page plus your own website to refer people to. Treat it like your portfolio to impress people with and be sure to update it often.

    Finally, don’t expect to make any serious impact after your first, second, or even third book. People will start to take you seriously by the time you hit your sixth or so. Knowing this, don’t get discouraged and don’t let any bad reviews send you into a wallow of misery. Writing is a job. Writers write. You will get better at it the more you do it. So get over your 6 book hump as quickly as you can and you should find sales start to improve, and the good reviews will definitely outweigh and even drown out the bad.

  10. Thank you for this post. It’s particularly timely. My first book went out into the world two weeks ago. So far, I have only 5 star reviews but I’m sure that won’t always be the case!

  11. Wow, we must be on the same wavelength! I posted an article about a nastygram (a bully) reviewer I got attacking me via a review and how to handle both bully and just plain negative reviews on the same exact day you posted this great article here -> http://ultimatebookcoach.com/what-to-do-when-your-book-gets-a-negative-review/ . While mine is dealing specifically with a cyber bully, you and I share similar thoughts on the overall issue of negative reviews, especially your points 3-5. Great post!

  12. Unless the review has good, useful advice to take to your next project, just ignore it. Most reviews will be seen by very few people unless you go out of your way to promote them. And those very few people rarely include anybody you know.

  13. So far, I have only had one 1-star review of my non-fiction book on the second coming of Jesus, which may or may not have been written by a bully. He stated that books by two other authors on the same subject and position were a lot better (which names he could have quickly gotten by reading the first pages of the free sample). And he accused me of a lot of poor grammar.

    I have not received a lot of reviews, so I try to respond to all reviews with at least a thank you.

    I responded to this one by thanking him for reading and reviewing my book, even though he didn’t like it. I briefly explained that my approach to the topic was completely different from those two authors. I did not address the grammar content at all, figuring that potential readers can read the generous free sample and decide for themselves.

  14. “Then, in your next book, try make adjustments so you’ll get fewer of those types of reviews.”

    That’s a valid point for reviews that pinpoint real flaws such as grammatical errors, plot inconsistencies, etc.

    However, some reviewers tend to scan books rather than read them like one of your fans; in doing so, they miss important nuances that are important to the flow and/or accuracy of a book.

  15. Recently I found an article in Forbes \Best Selling Novels Critics Hated.\ The list includes Lord of the Rings, Da Vinci Code, The Help, Atlas Shrugged, Twilight, and Moby Dick. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehde45ehhhj/moby-dick-herman-melville/

    I had an author friend who was heart broken over some really mean reviews on Amazon. (She hit the NYT bestseller list for ebooks). So I looked up some current bestsellers and there was the same thing. Nasty reviews like \Don’t waste your time.\

    What does that tell you?

  16. I review kids books and on the review request page I have written this: A review is only the opinion of the reviewer, me, and not fact.

    I try to find something good in every book I review, but once a year there is a book that is so bad I refuse to review it. Goodreads is one place I used to post the review after a week on my own site, but not anymore. Now, in addition to some crazies attacking authors they are going after legit reviewers.

    Amazon needs to only all0w reviews from verified users. That won’t stop all the fake reviews, since anyone can become a verified user, but it would make it more difficult, plus the author can always find out who the person is. Those who can only work under cover will not continue if their name can be attached.

  17. Bad reviews? I wish I had any reviews? I’ve joined Kindle Select and given away more than I’ve sold. Hundreds have been downloaded since May but still very few have given reviews: it’s so frustrating. I would KILL for a one star review!

  18. Pingback: Boknyheter #51 | Julies bokbabbel - litteratur og småprat

  19. One must also make the distinction between a book review and a personal attack. More and more there seems to be a stalker troll culture who care nothing about books or reviews. Their mission is to do as much damage to authors reputations, careers, and livelihood. Right now thousands of malicious 1-star ratings are being placed on books on the goodreads.com site. One troll alone has bragged of doing a thousand 1-star ratings in a single day. This is usually accompanied by a no-read attack review on the authors. That’s why the API from both goodreads and Amazon are completely fraudulent. If you have books listed on goodreads go see how many 1-star ratings you’ve gotten since Sept 21 when goodreads announced that henceforth book reviews have to be about books and not attacks on authors. the troll went ballistic and in protest have launched a campaign to trash as many books as possible.

  20. One of the best articles on this topic of author reviews. I just read one of my own and it was a point-by-point rip-up of the entire story. I think maybe she may have been advertising her editing skills! Laughing….

    Truly these things are hard to read, but when they are ridiculous it helps to read them, learn, and keep on writing. Like my son said, “Mom, there’s a genre for everyone.” I take it that this reviewer was not reading in her genre! Smiling…

  21. Think about this quote of Teddy Roosevelt:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  22. I’ve only recently discovered this through a link from LinkedIn. This is a great little article, Beth.

    It’s all good, but in particular I like “4: Dwell on the comments that brighten your day”. I’m absolutely never, ever going to rich from my writing, so the next best thing is when someone reads your book and says they love it. In the end, that’s what we do it for.

  23. I didn’t feel as if I’d really arrived as a writer until I got 1-star rating (no review) on Goodreads. I’ve only gotten one “bad” review and it was hilarious. Someone with a particular axe to grind. It was hard to take it seriously. But on the more serious side of this, I think it’s important to remember that no matter what you write, not everyone is going to like your books. If you read reviews at all, learn what you can, enjoy the good, leave the rest.

  24. Pingback: Formas en las que un autor puede manejar la crítica literaria

  25. I made a diet book similar to weight watchers diet. It cuts calories but still fun not to vegan or strick plus I say this is a fun diet and easy not to strict. I had some say delicious meals. The negative comment was like not nutritious enough. Plus I say you don’t eat salads all day in the intro. You eat like turkey wraps and smoothies. Every week I offer a day when you can hAve small cookie as dessert kinda like weight watchers. It’s like you get to cheat but still lose. All diets I know usually have this unless it’s detox. I not going to respond. I think it is pointless since I say intro this is easy diet. This is my first book. I rather leave a comment here than argue about why my diet isn’t vegan. I was going to do a green diet also lol. I want to respond but I don’t want to do my self disservice. I will leave it. This drives you crazy. I offered my book free for a few days as promotion hoping to get a review well I got one ha ha. Maybe I should not look at this. My editor said it was well written and I am excited about that. She also said she reads slot of bad books. Oh well just let it go.

  26. Pingback: ThinkingOutLoud 13: Deal or No Deal? | Thinking.FM

  27. Pingback: Confession | Taylor Grace

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>