How to Deal With a Negative Book Review

woman-working-on-her-computer-with-a-shocked-expression-on-her-face

So, you’ve recently published your book. After seeing some glowing reviews from satisfied readers, you check back again and notice one nasty little one star review. What do you do?

Do not reply to the review! Even if the review was left by a troll or by a reviewer who prides themselves in trashing writer’s books, do not take the bait. People who look at your reviews might not purchase your book if they see a stream of comments between you and a reviewer debating about why they should have loved your book. Stay professional.

Take a deep breath. You cannot please everyone. This is a fact of life. Many times, bad reviews are very subjective and reveal more about a reader’s tastes than about your writing. Perhaps they wanted more romance from your book, or they did not enjoy the violence. Sometimes, all it takes is one wrong word to agitate a reader enough to stop reading and leave a review. It sucks, yes, but there’s a bright side to this.

Remember all writers get bad reviews. Yes, every best seller gets one star reviews, too. There’s actually a really funny article about literary classics who received one star reviews from readers. It is funny, because it goes to show how taste differs between every individual. People from different backgrounds, education levels, and walks of life will be reading your book.

Think about the legitimacy. It might strike a reader as odd if all of your reviews are glowing five star ratings. As much as nasty reviews suck, just remember how it makes you look more legitimate as a writer. Remember, every famous author gets raked over the coals by certain readers, too. Reputable websites do not tamper with reviews and that makes your work of fiction look reputable in turn.

Use it as constructive criticism. Use that awful little one star as motivation to write your next book with, perhaps, a little more care and detail. Even if there’s nothing wrong with what you wrote, it’s interesting to many authors to discover little quirks and writing habits that don’t resonate well with people. You can even take pride in the fact that your book caters more to a niche market.

Ignore it. That’s right. It’s a little traumatic to read a one star review from a reader that clearly never connected with your book, but it is better for you to ignore it and keep writing. Focus on the good reviews and cherish the readers who connected with your characters and story.

How I Handled It

I got my first one star review a couple of days ago, and it did not bother me that much. Obviously, no one wants a bad review, but when I read that the reader was simply confused by the story, it actually made me feel sort of good. I do aim to write more for a niche market.

Of course, I would love for everyone to enjoy my book, but I know what a lot of people enjoy reading, and I think that my stories are different. My writing is like my mind. It’s quirky, dreamy, and it might be hard to understand unless you happen to be pretty philosophical yourself.

I didn’t get upset. I didn’t reply. Never, ever reply to reviews.

After a little annoyance, I laughed about it and shrugged it off. Then I thought of writing this post! 🙂

By the way, out of curiosity, I took a look at other things this reader reviewed other than my book, and I saw that she rated Fast and Furious 5 with five stars. That explained everything. 😉

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42 thoughts on “How to Deal With a Negative Book Review

  1. Funny you should be dealing with this. I just read and responded to a great article about lit criticism. My conclusion is that such reviews are never about you, per se, but about where the other people are and they synthesize data based on their experiences. As I believe you alluded, if the review is true or constructive, you may get a point of view that is interesting and perhaps even helpful. I have read reviews that were even more interesting, better in the sense that they explained societal phenomenon in the book that didn’t seem to be intended by the author. For example Sam Tannenhouse’s Harper or New York Review of Books’ review of Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom.

    Anyway, here is my comment and link to that brilliant article:

     
    My initial response is that critics are no different than writers. They aren’t necessarily Kantian, which implies testing and experimentation, but rather as I assume critiques of English literature are, they deal with impressions of society and what feels right about what is going on. They try to articulate something that is abstract, hard to find the right words, creating a story about story or poems, where just as society is influenced by the latest theories, deconstruction, for one, or how the Republican party spins the truth so that even the truth is a lie, critics live in this world, speak in its terms, are a part of the problem, this “deadness and meaness,” as you say. I believe as writers, we are like actors. We clothe ourselves in the accoutrements of the times, we fashion the undergarments of what we think is the soul, and as critics, at least for me, I must break it all down to see what is being said because it is often too much for my mind to take in, before I put it back together and comment on it. (Here I have not taken the time.)
     
    I think when she talks about pedophilia, while I don’t subscribe to it, I feel it is the next issue, like gay marriage was, where writers tend to go where injustice may reside, certainly not for the abused, but about those so inclined to have such proclivities and how that must make them feel against the inevitable whole condemnation. Writers deal with that issue and think about it, perhaps, if they are bold enough, they may even write about it.
     
    Writers are like artists, who often have to be original.
     
    I think the point is criticism has become human-hating because artists and writers are irrelevant in a world that lies. It has lied to itself so often that it doesn’t know what the truth is anymore. We’ve accepted perpetual war because the blood on our hands is invisible, we don’t see pictures of the carnage up close. We see cool computer simulations, as all of life is a computer game. We have proxies. We work for corporations that tell us to leave our emotions at home or else we will loose our jobs.
     
    But, as writers, we know we cannot ignore our distortions, if we are courageous and I think as critics, we take that anger and loathing out not necessarily on good writing, but on all writing. We kick the dog. We are moving through the morass of ourselves with an understanding of ourselves and our irrelevance in a world that hates the truth and we are making small noises and readying for the demise of art all together, because the bankers are going to pull the carpet from under us.
     
    Just ask the Syrians or the Iraqies. It is called shock and awe. Take all the resources away and the people will let you rewrite their constitution just as long as you feed them.
     
    Critics are a victim of the law of abused abuse and might makes right. For now, the truth is the underdog. 
     
    http://thepointmag.com/2015/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool

    1. You make a good point that reviews say more about where a person is rather than where your story is.
      Thank you for posting your comment and also the link to the article – I am going to give it a read. 🙂 It was eloquently written!
      I like how you liken writers to actors – we are so similar to actors in a lot of ways! And it’s true that writers are the ones who will go where most people will not go – we will see an area of injustice and write about it, even taking a little pride in exploring the controversial.
      A woman wrote the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and it helped shape a society at that time in the U.S. in their view toward slavery and the abuse that slaves had to endure.

      “The truth is in the underdog”. Great line!

  2. Excellent points, Sara! I find looking at negative reviews do tell more about the reader than the book reviewed. I liked David Hume, the Scottish philosopher’s view on critics. He never responded to his critics, he believed his work would speak for itself.

      1. Sara, for me, I can clearly see how terrible I was in my first attempts at writing and I can clearly see how other writers are far better than I am. But, it’s my progress toward developing my skill that I focus on. Even rough handling from a disgruntled reader has helped me define my focus on what it is that I want to write and the truth is, I want to write the stories that I want to read and when I write a story that resonates with me in a deep way, nothing can disabuse me of the satisfaction I feel. Write on, Sara! Your skill and stories created in a delightful dreamscape are delicious treats to those of us that connect with your stories.

      2. Haha yes, I wasn’t so great at writing either. Hence why my first two books were taken off of Amazon. The writing wasn’t bad, but I felt it was immature. The second book I wrote was a gothic fiction, but I allowed a lot of beta readers to rip it to shreds and it ended up becoming something so different than what I had originally written. A part of me wants to go back and keep it the way it was – I really loved the idea, but people called it a “bait and switch” which annoys me now that I have more confidence. I could see you enjoying it, actually. It blends historical with dystopia/science fiction a bit. One day. 🙂

      3. Actually, your description of your book sounds great. I would enjoy it, I’m sure. If it ever inspires you to go back and relook it, it might be even better if you returned it back to your original idea and used what you’ve learned to reintroduce it. I actually don’t like novels that follow the commercial map too close. You’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I want originality and the authors deep connection to the story. That is so evident in stories like that and I really enjoy reading them.

      4. That’s a very good point, actually. I will go back to it, not only because I allowed myself to be discouraged, but because I really enjoyed writing it and thought it was very unique. I think when I go back to it, it will be even better! 🙂
        Oh, you’re awesome for saying that about commercial fiction. I figured you’d have that opinion since your writing style is unique, and doesn’t follow the usual blueprint of stories, and you also enjoy reading different types of stories as well.
        You make a good point that a story is always better when the author is deeply connected with it. I can always tell when a writer pumped out a story just to meet a certain trend or deadline. Great writers can get caught up in that trap, but I think you and I will always do our best to make our stories as authentic to ourselves as possible.

        Thank you for your great comment!

      5. I think you sum it up very well here, Sara! It’s one thing to write like it’s a duty to meet a deadline or obligation but it is entirely another to invest one’s heart and soul in a story that comes from deep within, giving characters life, depth, and complexity with dialog that entrances and connects the reader and then the literary ability to twist and turn the story with the same unpredictability of real life and the added nuance of the writers imagination. Those are the stories I want to read. Those are the stories I want to write.

      6. It’s very true! And you are a writer who wouldn’t subscribe to the whole idea of meeting deadlines rather than take care to write something from the heart and deep imagination. Your stories are definitely the stories that I enjoy reading, because there’s a lot of depth and soul in the way you write.

      7. Oh and I want to say, I hope you will go back to it and breath life back into the story then let it live as it truly wanted to live, a story that came from your heart and imagination.

      8. And you make a good point that some comments from others have helped to shape your writing for the better. “I want to write the stories that I want to read” is awesome! You perfectly described my sentiments, too. 🙂
        You can always use reviews as a critique, even if you completely disagree with them, it’s interesting to know what someone took from your writing. And you know what I also forgot to mention: When someone leaves a comment or a review, it means they actually invested time and cared about your story enough to say something. So, it’s still not a total loss.
        And thank you for your compliments. 🙂

      9. You are very welcome, Sara and you are absolutely correct. Anyone that invests the time to read and comprehend and cares enough to comment is someone I’ll listen to. I’ve received a lot of help from my readers and especially from you and that has made all the difference in the world to me.

      10. You inspired me to keep writing at a time when I was debating if I should stop. That is the measure of your investment to me. I’m thankful to you for that. 😀

      11. I’m so happy that you continued your writing, and that you still feel inspired to write. I cannot imagine you never writing! I’m honoured to be a factor causing you to continue on with your literary works! 🙂

      12. I’ve been very fortunate to meet wonderful and talented people, such as yourself, here on WordPress. It is the example of their talent and engagement that has helped me continuously improve and share the results of the inspiration I’ve felt.

      1. Yes, it’s true he didn’t really produce anything that resonated until his 60’s and then suffered to his death with a stomach disease but it was his personality and demeanor that was his true mark as a man. He didn’t let his failures or critics define him and he stuck to what he loved doing which was to write.

      2. It’s sad how he suffered so much before his death. 😦 I am curious to read some of his writing now. And it’s true, the fact that he didn’t let his critics get to him and continued to speak through his work says a lot about him, regardless of what others thought.

      3. That was really why I liked David Hume. His attitude was right and he didn’t give up. He did finally enjoy some success late in life and that was what mattered to him.

  3. Yes, there are some English Lit professors who claim that Shakespeare never wrote Shakespeare.

    This argument is refuted by two playwrights of the time who wrote what they considered comical satirical plays making fun of Shakespeare and telling the audience what an incredibly bad hack writer he is.

    These playwrights have since drifted into obscurity (where they belong) – their names I’ve even forgotten – but I just remember them from a research paper I did because their incredibly negative reviews they did on Shakespeare (in the format of plays and skits) and in their heaping ridicule and familiarity with both the man himself and his work meant that Shakespeare must have written Shakespeare.

    Why spend so much time attacking a man who didn’t write the works you regard with contempt.

      1. No, it’s actually some modern English Lit professors who claim that Shakespeare never wrote Shakespeare.

        Some say Christopher Marlowe actually wrote his plays or Francis Bacon.

        But in the parodies on Shakespeare they wrote, these 2 playwrights whose names are now lost to history made fun of Shakespeare directing the plays he wrote.

        So they these 2 contemporaries who ridiculed him obviously believed Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

        And they’d be in a position to know unlike modern English lit profs who live some 400 years after Shakespeare died.

        So I was trying to say that thanks to these negative reviews of the time, we do know Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    1. Yes, exactly! Why would they create plays to make fun of Shakespeare’s style if he didn’t write them? These English lit profs were definitely not thinking too clearly when they thought that.
      Interestingly, I just saw some articles about how Jane Austen may not have written her stories, and some claim that it was, in fact, her editor. Which to me is ridiculous Pretty much every author hires an editor for their books, and they still deserve credit for their writing. I suppose they could argue that he re-wrote chunks of her books or whatever, but I still don’t buy it.

      1. Yes, I think some people find it hard to believe that geniuses like Shakespeare and Jane Austen existed so they try to pass the plate on to somebody else- forgetting that this means an unknown genius existed who wrote their works.

  4. Great attitude, Sara. It took me awhile to grow a thick skin, so you’re way ahead of the game. Unfortunately the wide net that’s cast out on free promotions always brings in a few negative reviews. Readers who find your book through searches, also boughts, and word of mouth result in much more positive reviews. Free promotions are a necessity, but I always brace for a couple negative reviews after. Your biggest goal is to get your books out to your audience. The trickiest part is finding them 🙂

    1. It’s rough to see someone give you a one star review after so many months (years) of working hard on a book. Your writing is excellent and I’m glad that you’ve been dealing with those nasty reviews better than before.
      You’re right, you can attract some negative reviewers when you give away your book for free. You also made a great point about the need to find your audience. You mentioned before that blog book tours help a lot and I’ll be doing one of those soon. A little marketing can go a long way. 🙂

  5. Sometimes the review might say more about the reader’s state of mind than your book. For example, I have over 50 hours of favourite music on my player. But some days, that wonderful and dramatic soundtrack score which I adored on Friday might grate and irritate on Monday because I’m too tired to appreciate it. It hurts to press stop and select something more mellow, but I simply wasn’t in the mood for it. Not that I’d be driven to leave a bad review about it, but I simply wasn’t enjoying it on that day in particular.

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