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How to Deal with Bad Reviews

by Tom Ashford

Nobody likes getting a bad review. Deep in our hearts we know we’d prefer it if everyone in the entire world unanimously agreed that our books were the pinnacle of art and genius. But that’s never going to happen, and as a writer you are going to get bad reviews (if you haven’t got a pantheon of them littering your Amazon pages already).

Don’t take it personally. I’ve had bad reviews. Mark has had bad reviews. Even Shakespeare got them – I’ve seen his first tragedy, Titus Andronicus, described as “botched” and “a premature effort”. Yikes!

The reality is that, unfortunately, you can’t please everyone. Then again, do you really want to? I’ve heard plenty of artists – in various fields – voice their opinion that if people are getting annoyed by your work, you’re doing something right. But that doesn’t mean that getting a bad review is suddenly easy, either. Here are a few tips on how to deal with them.

Use Their Criticism to Improve

This is a lot harder to do when you’re first starting out and everything that isn’t “you’re the next Dickens” feels like a roundhouse kick to your stomach. Still, try to see that bad review as nothing but a new piece of feedback, helping you to develop and improve. Nobody gets everything right with every book. And an opinion is just that: an opinion. They might be right, they might be wrong. If it’s just that one reader’s take on your book, don’t try to rewrite it to suit them. Only think about making changes if that feedback is echoed from multiple readers.

Remember: finding the helpful benefits from a bad review gets easier with time (and a few more books out).

Not all Reviews are Created Equal

Some bad reviews offer honest and insightful critiques of a product, judging it on its own merits and comparing it to alternative products in the market. These are good reviews, even if they don’t happen to like your book.

Other reviews are rambling, incoherent messes in which the reviewer complains about the choice of a character’s name, or that they didn’t like the use of firearms (even though they bought an action thriller), or that the new headphones they bought don’t have great bass levels… even though you’re clearly selling a book. These are not good reviews, but here’s the good news: aside from causing your average review score to dip (which is, admittedly, very annoying), they don’t really matter too much.

You will get both kinds of reviews, but your readers are just like you: they’ll be able to decipher which category each review falls into and react accordingly. In the same way, don’t take all bad reviews to heart. Some carry useful feedback and others are best left ignored.

Improve Your Pool of Proofreaders and Beta Readers

Maybe some stuff is getting missed. Going forwards, it might be worth expanding your pool of proofreaders and beta readers so that any grammatical errors or plot holes are caught early on, before your book gets into the hands of your readers. Of course, it’s almost impossible to catch every mistake – but with any luck, fewer issues means fewer bad reviews. That’s the hope, at least.

Try to Separate Yourself From Your Product

Easier said than done for a writer, I know. You pour your heart and soul onto the page and then lay it out, exposed, for people to stomp on. But rarely does a reviewer mean something personal when they say they didn’t like your book – they’re expressing their opinion of the product, nothing more. And just because somebody doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t like one of your other books, or that they don’t like you, or that your writing isn’t good.

It still stings, but try to remember that even though your book is a product of your passion and beliefs and imagination, it is not you.

Ignore Them

There’s a cardinal rule in self-publishing (and traditional publishing, for that matter): do not respond to reviews. Just leave them alone. But you can go one step further than that (and this will become easier and easier as more reviews come in): just ignore reviews completely.

Of course, I don’t mean completely. If all of your reviews are coming in at one or two stars, you’re going to need to take a look at what went wrong. But if the odd bad review comes in, don’t worry about it. Don’t even look at it. We all have a tendency to ignore all the good feedback in favour of a single negative comment, so it’s not worth it. Let it go and focus on what you can control – writing an even better follow-up.

Be Grateful for Them

This might seem counterproductive, but hear me out. A few negative reviews here and there can actually lend some credibility to your Amazon book page, as explained by Craig Tuch in one of our other articles. People can get suspicious when a book has dozens of exclusively 5-star reviews, as if they’re all from your friends and family. A few negative reviews sprinkled into the mix makes them all look more authentic because, well, they’re inevitable.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.