Nothing is certain except for death and taxes — and negative book reviews for authors.
There is no such thing as a perfect 5-star book. No matter how objectively good you think your work is, someone, somewhere out there, will read it, pull a face, and think, “This ain’t for me.” More likely than not, they’ll take to the Internet, social media, message boards, and reviews sites and express their displeasure with a severity ranging from mild dismay to incandescent fury. Sometimes they can even impact your book’s marketing and sales.
But to be perfectly honest, insulating yourself completely from bad book reviews is an inadvisable course of action, no matter how much it hurts your feelings. I’ve had my share of negative comments about my work, but I’m still here, writing and sharing my dubious wisdom with the lot of you, and I fully expect to receive more criticism in the future. It’s just something we have to live with.
So let’s discuss why negative book reviews come to you and how to use them to your advantage.
Table of Contents
Why are negative reviews even necessary?
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where people like your book all the time and shower you with praise and adoration from the streets to online forums?
I hate to break it to you, but any review of your book, whether positive or negative, is a necessary part of the publishing process. This is a great way to gauge audience perception and acceptance of your writing skills, topic, and message. It’s also a way to identify weaknesses, but we’ll discuss that later.
And besides, seeing a perfect 5-star book with no negative reviews can raise suspicion. I mean, come on, you would be hard-pressed to find a universally accepted statement in a world as divided as ours, much less a whole book. Listings with perfect scores don’t look authentic or credible.
Negative reviews also help with reader guidance, so they know which works to avoid depending on their preferences. This is also the reason why independent reviewers are gaining popularity on social media and YouTube. Users look for book reviewers with similar tastes to get the lowdown on recent releases or old classics.
Why do negative comments about your book hurt?
There are a few reasons why negative reviews hurt. I’d like to touch upon them for a bit because understanding why I feel a certain way helps me cope with the feelings. This may or may not work for you, so I wouldn’t hold it against you if you skip this part and jump to the juicy bits below.
Your work is you
It’s hard to disassociate ourselves from our work because every book is made by pulling out and carefully transferring pieces of our soul onto the page, not to mention the time, effort, blood, sweat, and emotions you’ve devoted in your journey to completing your work. Not everyone can write a hundred pages and risk alienation for their opinions. Negative reviews can hurt because it feels like they’re not critiquing your work — they’re criticizing you.
Ego, self-esteem, and validation
Writers can sometimes be a proud group. After all, not everyone can write a book, craft prose that can tug at heartstrings, present arguments that can break even the hardest of wills, or keep people engrossed with such a simple article about negative book reviews. Getting dissenting opinions about your work can negatively affect a writer’s self-perception, uncover insecurity, challenge praise and validation for previous books, create disappointment and discouragement and make them start to wonder if writing is even worth it.
Sky-high (and unreasonable) expectations
You wouldn’t release a book if you fully expect it to fail, would you? Some take it a step too far and think that their work would be universally praised and become the darling of the literary world. This is a recipe for disaster because there are eight billion people worldwide, and they won’t like the same things. Always remember to set expectations because you cannot please everyone.
It can feel like public humiliation
Positive and scathing criticism is usually posted online in places like Goodreads or Amazon, where millions of readers congregate. So, understandably, some authors may feel like the community as a whole is judging them, especially if they see other people agree with the bad review. This is a logical fallacy, but that doesn’t mean you can stop people from thinking exactly that. Having it all happen publicly can amplify emotions, just like anything else, and create an unflattering image of your work.
It can have an impact on sales
Many authors like to write for the art, but most of us are here for business, so sales numbers are an important consideration. Sometimes people take negative to three-star reviews more seriously than glowing reviews, convincing them to pass up on buying your book. This can hurt sales (and you.) In this case, there’s honestly little you can do.
Types of negative reviews
Not all reviews are created equal. Some of them can be very useful in terms of growing as an author. A few can help you make better marketing and promotional decisions. Other yet can assist with developing and conveying your ideas. And some of them are just plain mean. Here are the three types of reviews you need to consider.
Negative reviews that focus on your work
Books are subjective, but they have a certain quality level required to be considered a decent read. Prose, tone, atmosphere, and your writer’s voice are very distinct elements that are, more often than not, prominently displayed in your writing. Some people may not like how you present your ideas, how your words flow, or how you structure your plot or book. Some may not like your writing style, diction, and tone. That is fine, as these types of things tend to be subjective (unless you are omitting periods or committing what is tantamount to war crimes against basic grammar by saying, “The lunch was had by me.”) Despite that, you need to give these reviews careful consideration, especially if they came from an established reader or fan of your work and genre. They often come as constructive criticism.
How do you handle this?
This is a great practice in objectivity. Time to take off your author pants and put on your reader’s glasses. Examine what’s being said and determine if it applies to the situation. For example, a valid critical review may say something along the lines of, “I feel like the author is clobbering me with the themes, it’s delivered so heavy-handedly.” This is your cue to check if your work is forcibly pushing your themes toward your audience instead of weaving them into the story in subtle, believable ways. If true, then you have something to work on. Hooray!
Negative reviews that focus on your subject matter
A lot of people look at a book’s technical and systemic aspects when they review them, which is a great help for authors as they can identify their weaknesses and work on improving them. Not everyone does that because there’s such a thing as a reviewer’s opinion. Some readers can also drop a negative book review just because you chose to talk about a certain subject or topic that they do not like. Those things are called triggers, and they can be many things for many people. Including talks about war or abuse in your book can turn off some readers. This is unavoidable if you choose to discuss them or if you feel like they’re necessary to your story.
How do you handle this?
This is something that usually happens when you talk about controversial topics. Again, if you feel like they’re necessary for the story or overall discussion, then by all means, keep them in the book. However, be prepared to explain why they’re necessary. Giving your reasons to critical but receptive audiences may help you turn them into positive reviews. However, it’s practically assured that a few of them won’t change their minds about you and your work.
Negative reviews that focus on other things… or nothing at all
Let’s face it: some people like to whine about everything, and others like to use reviews to drop their opinion despite their irrelevance to the product or book in question. Amazon reviews, for example, are great tools to gauge why people didn’t like the book, but they can also be filled with absolutely irrelevant comments. You might see negative reviews for your book because “the delivery took too long” or “the mailer was not polite.”
Here are two of the most egregious examples of these types of negative reviews I’ve seen: one reviewer, a man, left a 1-star review for a book because it rained after the delivery personnel dropped it off their porch. Two, the reviewer complained about the entire boxed set of Harry Potter, giving it the lowest score because her son only read through them once.
Then there are the vague statements such as “don’t like it” or “not my style.” There’s practically nothing to gain from these. To be fair, they’re not taking up much space, but those one-star reviews without concrete reasons still hurt your overall score.
How do you handle this?
I usually throw my hands in the air, let out a long-suffering sigh, and then drive out to get a well-deserved cup of coffee when I see things like this. You’ll run into this sooner or later, so just know there is nothing you can do about it except for maybe reporting some of them as a fake or irrelevant reviews, whenever appropriate.
Oh, and if you’re worried about your book’s publication, distribution, and delivery getting criticized, why not let Leaders Press take the reins and ensure that everything is in top, industry-standard condition? Check out our services if you’re interested.
How to deal with negative book reviews
Now that’s out of the way, consider these tips for dealing with negative reviews.
Stay calm and… stay calm
Humans tend to become defensive when called out about something. This goes doubly so for authors, and it’s tempting to marshal your linguistic prowess to lay ruin upon those who dare criticize your work, all while screaming, “Fear me! I am an author, creator and destroyer of worlds. Fear me!”
By all means, type out your response to the negative reviewer if you feel like you must, but don’t hit send. Instead, stand up and chill for a few hours. Walk your dog, lift iron, wash the dishes, then return to your response, read it, and hit delete. Sometimes, catharsis is all you need. Besides responding harshly to negative feedback can often lead to… unsavory confrontations.
It’s not personal (most of the time)
A writer should know when to take negative reviews personally (which is almost always never) and when to lay back with an objective mindset. Don’t let their words get to you; it’s a review, not a factual statement about you. Some reviewers have been known to use ad hominem attacks, but remember to filter through the sewage to find their point — if they’re making any. Speaking of which —
Try to find the silver lining
Not all negative reviews are bad. Sure, that one star on your book rating may sting like a stubbed pinky toe, and you might be tempted not to read the multiple paragraphs the person wrote. However, you might be missing out on important information and necessary context about the negative review. Again, not all negative reviews are created equal, and some of them may have vital callouts for your writing issues. Being aware of your pitfalls will help you improve and develop your skills in the future.
Take the negative ones with the positive ones
Why focus exclusively on those sullen one-star comments when you have a few shiny five-star reviews on hand? It can be exhausting to read through all the dissenters and doubters. That’s why I suggest you jump in with the supporters and your good reviews once in a while. If you have the time, you can also compare positive and negative reviews about similar aspects of your book. This helps see both sides and determine why their opinions differ completely. Oh, and wouldn’t those glowing reviews look nice on your cover as blurbs?
Focus on the next book
It’s okay to get negative assessments. Just take what you’ve learned, identify your book’s problems, and write some more. Use both negatives and positives as fuel and motivation for your next work. You can’t please everyone, so why even try?
How to write negative book reviews
Now that we’ve discussed taking criticism, it’s time to dish out some of your own.
Okay, that came out wrong. I’m not talking about you taking revenge on some poor, hapless fellow writer for a negative review you got. Instead, I want to show you how to go about writing reviews that are diplomatic and straight to the point.
Hold off on the ad hominem
Look, we’ve all had that urge to tell an author that they write like they’ve never even seen a book before, but hold off on the nastiness. The point of writing a negative review is not to attack the author but to challenge their work. Decent, well-respected reviews don’t just mouth off about the writer but use their talents to make a compelling case as to why they don’t like the work. This should be your goal.
Be concise and precise
As I mentioned earlier, it’s frustrating to get one-sentence reviews like “didn’t like it, one star.” If you’re writing a negative review for someone, explain why you don’t like the work, provide examples to further drive your point, and open a discussion that gives the author a chance to explain their creative choices. You can also provide samples of things that worked for you to compare and contrast with what the author tried to do.
Don’t be a negative Nancy
Sometimes reviewers can get drunk on their power and just start shooting off about everything they dislike. They can come off as pompous, without an ounce of self-consciousness, and pan everything they get their hands on. Don’t be that person. Offer negative responses when appropriate, and praise what is praiseworthy whether you agree or not with the subject matter.
Time for an ending review
You made it to the end of the article. Congratulations! I won’t patronize you by giving you a five-star rating as a reader. But I will take this opportunity to remind you of the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated. Getting and giving reviews operate under the same principle. Having said that, cultivating tough skin, a resistant spine, and a kind heart can go a long way in writing.