“Bad” Reviews, and How (Not) To Respond to Them

Today, we continue the Wednesday series with a look at negative reviews.

We’ll start with a universal principle: Not everyone will like your book. And that’s okay. In fact, some people will HATE your book, and that is okay, too.

Most debut authors (and many experienced ones) release a book into the world with the unreasonable expectation that everyone will adore it. Or, in the alternative, they think the people who don’t enjoy the book will decide, collectively, never to mention that fact.

The truth is, some people will love your book. Some people will enjoy it. Some people will find it “meh,” and others will want it burned.

But a beautiful thing about publishing, and books, is that there’s room for all opinions, and room for people to disagree.

It’s okay to want people to like your book (in fact, I hope you do), and it’s even okay to be hurt (for a moment) when it receives a scathing review (and sooner or later, it will). But remember: an author’s reaction to negative reviews says more about the author than the the review will ever say about the book. 

Here are some tips for dealing with negative reviews:

1. Remember that a review is one person’s opinion of your book, not “the world” judging you. It feels personal, but don’t take it personally. Remember that every person is entitled to like, or not like, any book-just as you are free to write any book you wish.

2. Take the “Bookstore Love Test.” If you can’t pass it, a reader shouldn’t have to either. Go to a bookstore and look at every published book on the shelf with yours (or where yours would sit). Would you buy, and love, them all? I’ve never met an honest author yet who would love every book on the bookcase their book sits on. If you take this seriously, and consider your own opinions, you will see that not every person will, or should, love every book.

3. Find a trustworthy friend to talk with when you need to. A published friend is best, because (s)he has been there too, but only if that person handles bad reviews appropriately. The keys are finding someone who can listen without repeating your frustrations to others or considering them a call to action. Your private feelings about bad reviews must … MUST … stay private.

4. Stop reading your reviews, good and bad. Authors who find reviews too difficult to stomach often stop reading them altogether. That’s not a bad thing, if it’s the best way for you to handle the stress. Some authors read only the good reviews (sometimes using friends to check them first), while others try to learn from honest review comments. All authors agree that “trolls” – reviewers who post intentionally mean comments rather than constructive reviews – should just be ignored. But remember: posting a negative review does not, of itself, make a reviewer “mean,” or a troll. It’s fair to dislike a book.

Which brings us to the most important piece of advice when it comes to negative reviews:

5. Do not ever, EVER, respond to a negative review in public. 

I’ll repeat that for emphasis: do not respond to negative reviews, or attack reviewers, in public. Period. End of story. A bad review fades away. Time, good reviews, and new releases are powerful solvents in this regard. An author’s public rudeness, or inappropriate behavior toward a person who merely expressed an opinion, takes far longer to fade.  Readers often overlook negative reviews when purchasing books–they know opinions differ–but few people want to buy a book from an ugly person.

If you publish, negative reviews will happen. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Smart authors prepare, and behave professionally.

Reviews express an opinion about your book, not a judgment of you as a person, even if the reviewer oversteps and makes it personal. Learn not to take negative reviews personally. Focus on writing, and on the people who love your books. 

You can’t stop negative reviews, & actually, you don’t really want to. The freedom to disagree is a wonderful, powerful thing.

How do you deal with negative reviews–of your books, or of other aspects of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!