Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Indie Author Advice Series #3- Surviving Negative Reviews (and maybe even learning from them!)

Guest post I wrote was originally posted on Kat Mellon's blog.

I’m a writer. I’m a writer with negative reviews. Gasp! The horror!

Not really.

Negative reviews are NO BIG DEAL. Really. I promise. No one is going to die. No countries will be bombed. No one is going to contract the bird-flu or swine-flu or any-other-animal flu and get very sick as a result of you having received a negative review.

Sounds obvious when I put it that way, but I know as well as anyone else how hard it is to survive negative reviews, particularly early on in your writing career. I used to get VERY depressed from a negative review. My debut novel, Angel Evolution, got LOTS of—let’s stop using the word ‘negative’ and call them what they really are—BAD reviews. They hurt. Each negative review hit me like a punch in the gut, knocked the breath out of me, made me very very sad. My novel was supposed to be a bestseller! I worked WAY too hard for someone to read it and sum it up in a couple of paragraphs that said what rubbish it was! I don’t even know these people and they can just judge me like that?

Pretty much.

Honest reviews are part of the writing gig. Not everyone will like your work, and some people will hate it. The sooner you realize that, the better. The other thing you have to realize is: It’s OK that people don’t like your books! In fact, it’s a good thing! If everyone told you that your books were the best thing since piñatas all the time, you’d never grow as a writer. I learn a hell of a lot more from the constructive reviews than from the glowing positive ones. Granted, I love the positive ones because they make me happy that people like what I do and validate all my hard work, but I don’t hate the negative reviews like I used to. I accept them, glean what I can from them, and strive to constantly improve my writing.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Let’s try this. Here’s a guide for Surviving Negative (bad, horrible, painful) Reviews:

1. Don’t read them unless you’re in a good mood! If you’re already in a bad mood, and you see a 1 star review pop up, wait until later to read it. Preferably when you’ve just laughed or done something fun. You have to be in the right mindset to receive constructive feedback.

2. It’s OK to rant and rave and get a little frustrated with things that were said in a bad review. Don’t hold it inside. Talk to your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, mother, father, whoever. Rant and rave about the review just like you would about the other frustrations in your life. It’s good to get these things off your chest.

3. Do NOT respond to the reviewer. Don’t. Just don’t. Not about any aspect of the review. Don’t thank them and say “but…” and then proceed to tell them why they are wrong. Even if you do it politely, it will NOT turn out well. Trust me. I’ve seen it happen to authors with good intentions, and they ALWAYS end up looking like the bad guy/gal.

NOTE: I have broken this rule on four occasions. However, I did it very carefully, in private, and for the right reasons. I contacted four negative reviewers to ask them if they would beta read my next book for me and provide the same critical/constructive feedback that they did in their negative reviews of my already published book. I did NOT challenge any part of their previous review, I did NOT ask them to change their rating/review, I merely said that I thought they had a good eye for detail and would make a good beta reader and that I’d appreciate their help, if they had time. On all four occasions those readers became beta readers and are now fans of mine. They help me hone my books and make them better for the ultimate readers. But the important take away from this story is that there are a lot of reviewers out there who write constructive feedback to HELP the author. Don’t dismiss their opinions so quickly.

4. If you’re really depressed and frustrated about a bad review, go to Goodreads and look at the 1 star reviews for one of your favorite books/authors. There will ALWAYS be 1 star reviews, usually LOTS of them. If even your favorite author gets bad reviews, then you shouldn’t feel bad about getting some too. This REALLY helps me sometimes.

5. Remember that some people who read your book won’t be in your target audience. So if they don’t like your book it makes perfect sense. No biggie. Just move on and seek out the readers who are more likely to enjoy the types of books you write.

6. Ignore the negative reviews with NO SUBSTANTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK. One of my favorite negative reviews was a 1 star review that said, “I should have spent my $1 on a bag of chips.” That was it. I laughed, got a little angry, laughed again, and then ignored it. There was nothing to glean from that review that would help me in the future, so I just let it go.

7. Once you’re in the right mindset, re-read the negative reviews that you find useful. Focus on the constructive points that tend to come up again and again in reviews. If multiple readers think the same thing, then it’s probably something to work on in your writing. You have some options: you can either try to take the feedback on in your future books. Or you can revise/edit the book and re-release a new edition of it. That’s the beauty of the world we live in today. Nothing ever has to be “final.” I’ve released 4 versions of The Moon Dwellers so far, and now that I’ve landed an agent, we’ll be releasing a 5th version soon. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make your book better for future readers. Each time you’ll find your sales go up and your reviews get better.

8. Finally, for every negative review you read, try to read at least a few positive ones afterwards. That will remind you that, although you’re not a perfect writer (no one is!), that you do have talent that people appreciate. It will remind you that dealing with the negativity is WORTH IT when someone ENJOYS one of your books.

So you might be wondering whether I’ve managed to improve my writing from negative reviews? I think I have, and I’ve received many messages from readers who said they think each of my books is better than the last. And the stats about the first book in each of my YA series don’t lie either:

Angel Evolution- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 12%
The Moon Dwellers- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 6%
Fire Country- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 3% (No 1 star reviews so far!)

See what I mean? Taking ALL reviews seriously works and it will pay off in the long run, so don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Your first book won’t be perfect, nor will your 15th book. The goal is to always improve and try to entertain your readers. Never forget that and you’ll be just fine!

All the best and happy writing!


  1. hey nice post meh, I love your style of blogging here. this post reminded me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: Dealing With Pecky Guy .
    keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.


  2. Excellent post. As a reviewer I HATE having to write 1 and 2 star reviews but I now try to be constructive with it. It's worse when you have chatted to the author and know how nice and hardworking they are. You feel like something that crawled out of a sewer! But I agree that a fair constructive 2 star review can be more useful to everyone than a gushing 5 line 5 star review that says nothing. Also if I give reasons why it didn't appeal to me ie too much romance, too gothic etc, those words might make others think 'ah that sounds like MY kind of book' . So it's not all bad!

    1. Thanks so much! And that's a great approach :) I like when reviewers recognize that others may like a book, even if they didn't. Everyone is different! But yeah, providing constructive feedback helps us authors A TON!

  3. No book is a true success until it has some 1 star reviews. Ask JK Rowling, Stephen King or any major author how impossible it is to please every single reader who buys their books.

    1. Thanks so much Jason! Well said, my friend :)

  4. Great advice, David. Thanks! I will try to keep it in mind when I get those negative reviews. By the way, I enjoy your books.

    1. Thank you SO MUCH, Carol!!! Glad you found it helpful and I really appreciate your kind words about my books :)

  5. I am getting ready to publish my first book,and this advice comes at the perfect time for me. I know I would appreciate and respect an honest and constructive review more than a simple rating, regardless of what it is. I'm sure it can be challenging to handle tough reviews of any kind, but with your advice, I believe I can do it gracefully.
    Thank you.

    1. Aww amazing!! Thanks so much and a HUGE congrats on your book!!! What an accomplishment, well done!! All the best and I wish you success!