Dealing with Bad Reviews

Early in my writing career, I don’t recall finding much information about dealing with bad reviews other than to put on your big girl panties, suck it up, and move on.

I never found that helpful.

I’m on the other side of bad reviews now, but I sure was in the thick of them for a while. I became a target for bad reviews, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

Most of my negative reviews are on my permafree books. It’s easy to download a free book, and if it isn’t your cup of tea – ding it. (Or download a free book for the sole purpose of leaving a negative review.)

I still have emails from the first two years I was writing. Here are some things I wrote to family and/or friends as I was tortured by bad reviews. My comments from these emails are in quotes.

“This whole review system is a kick in the gut.”

“I don’t think this writing gig is for me. … I just want to walk away. … I don’t have the thick skin needed for this.”

Becoming a target from people who read my blog was painful.

“Every time I post good things about my books, covers, whatever, on my blog, a few bad reviews are always right behind – sometimes within minutes.”

“Reviews have been the hardest part for me. I wasn’t prepared for them. I went back through my blog and edited and deleted posts where I felt someone could use my words against me.”

I felt as though my personality was changing.

“I really don’t have what it takes for this. I don’t. Some things with writing and self-publishing have practically paralyzed me. I’ve never had so much depression in my life. This is not who I am.”

What saved me?

February 28, 2014. Two years in. I had an ad run with BookBub for Sunshine Hunter.

There were in excess of 80,000 downloads the first two days. I was quickly able to see that approximately 300 people were making their way through the entire series of books. Sales were brisk.

Reviews started coming in – from complete strangers – not peers and/or readers to my blog. The good reviews far outweighed the bad.

That’s how I was able to get on the other side. That’s when the thick skin began to grow. I can honestly say I rarely look at my reviews now, and I certainly don’t flinch when someone doesn’t like one of my books. They may be an acquired taste anyway. My Susan Hunter books are pink and fluffy. My Murder books are uncouth.

So, what’s the takeaway here?

I honestly don’t think there is one answer. I do believe once your good reviews outweigh your bad by a good margin, you will breathe easier. You’ll develop that thick skin. Then force yourself to let the reviews go. Focus on writing your next book.

I realize not everyone can get a BookBub ad and be able to rocket past the bad reviews. So, do what I did for two years – rely on friends and family to listen to you complain and moan like crazy. Cry at times. Shake your fists at the Heavens and ask, “Why?”

You need an outlet to release the frustration and pressure. However, don’t stop writing. Never stop writing.

Before I let this topic go, I must add that I am of the camp where it is a no-no to respond to reviews. People have the right to free speech, and I don’t need to engage. Usually, nothing good will come of it.

I also think it’s wise to see if there is anything you can take from a bad review and use to either better your writing or fix something within your book. I’ve done both.

How have you handled bad reviews? Do you have some advice you can add? Leave a comment!

I should note that although I was distressed by some bad review “bombing,” the good reviews on my books were always more than the bad. I was never in the negative with my reviews. I liken the situation to the new car that gets a tiny scratch on the way home from the showroom floor. All you can forever see is the scratch. Negative reviews have a way of taking away all the good things people said who loved your book(s).

27 thoughts on “Dealing with Bad Reviews

  1. One has to take into account that people have different tastes, priorities and social standards when examining reviews of their writing. I suppose that one also has to contemplate what results they want from their writing. You’re smart enough to figure out where you want to go and how to get there. 🙂

    • Thank you, Tim. I’m hopeful that my words today will help someone else – especially anyone who has ever been a target of “review bombing.” There was no one to help me when I felt so vulnerable. I’m grateful that reviews carry less weight for me than ever. I write to please myself first, and once that happens, there are others who enjoy my particular brand of entertainment. Happily, it has all worked out in the end.

  2. My first book has a 5 star rating on Amazon. I don’t think more than 30 people read it though. One of my 5 star reviewers was my mom. Another was my best friend from HS. If more people actually read it, the world could know how awful the book was! lol

  3. I’m not sure why, but I haven’t had much trouble dealing with negative reviews. Granted, I haven’t had *many,* but when I saw bad reviews in the past I mostly just felt a little disappointed that they didn’t enjoy what I had to offer and left it at that. I don’t know if it was just being confident in my own writing ability or whether it was not having been exposed to *really* bad reviews.

    I don’t honestly know that I have any advice, though. I’ve heard “don’t read reviews of your own books,” which sounds harsh at first, but I think it’s good at least to start. You can get feedback from all sorts of places other than reviews, and if you know it’ll bother you that much, you don’t need to “doomscroll” through reviews of your own work. Apart from that it could help to put yourself in the position of a reader. Like, when I leave poor reviews, I never do it in a rage and I never keep thinking about it for a long time after. Usually I just decide it’s not a good fit for me, write something down, and move on. People who leave bad reviews probably aren’t as negatively emotionally invested as it might come off. They read a bunch of books and yours is just one.

    I am hoping to get a BookBub this year! That’ll be a neat milestone if they accept me.

    • I was actually ok with bad reviews. Not every book is for every person. It was the “mean” person who was getting to me. One person wanted to slap me for writing one of my books. Another person said they would rather have a needle stuck in their eye than to have read my book. And the bad reviews that came immediately after my blog posts were the worst. I never had complaints about clothing descriptions in any of my reviews but when I mentioned in a blog post that I was going to go back and pare down the shopping and clothing descriptions, within a day, no less than three reviews showed up criticizing the shopping and clothing descriptions. Rich and I would literally do a countdown to a negative review(s) when I mentioned in my blog something really good happening with my books. It was so sad. I’ve never been so glad to have something behind me. I’ve read about other writers who have been “review bombed,” and some people have had it much worse than what I encountered.

      I think you have the right attitude … it is disappointing when someone takes the time to read our book, but they don’t find the enjoyment we hoped they would. I’m ok with that. I’ve actually appreciated a few negative reviews that led me to change a few things in my book(s).

      Dont’ ever give up on BookBub!! Once, they turned me down within five minutes. After all, the cover of my Murder Under Construction book is basically DIRT. But I kept submitting it – every single month – and they finally gave me a shot. 🙂

  4. There are two kinds of “bad” reviews . . . reviews that target the author, and reviews that target the writing.

    For both, my approach is to hunt the people down and discretely dispose of them (you’d be surprised how satisfying that is).

    OK, seriously, the first kind of review — targeting me, my abilities as a writer, my ancestry, and my dog (if I had a dog) — I basically ignore. My existence is not based on me pleasing others. Not in person, not in my writing, not in my photography, and not with my looks. Plus, I’m not too fond of my ancestors because I should have been tall, handsome, and smarter. No scratch that; I can’t imagine how I could be any smarter, but the tall and handsome bit, that’s squarely on my ancestors.

    The other kind — targeting the plot, voice, characters, font, and grammar — I take case-by-case .

    I mostly write for my pleasure (and you can ignore the mostly), so I’m 100% sure my writing suits me to a T.

    Ergo, Q.E.D., if someone complains about the voice or style or characters, I blame it on them not being me (their huge loss).

    However, if they point to plot holes, errors, or characters who don’t behave consistently, well, then, I thank them. But then, that type of review falls more in the camp of “critique” as opposed to a bad review, and critiques I prefer as brutal, honest, and brutally honest as possible.

    That’s something you can’t get from friends and family unless you piss them off, and even then, they may be just temporarily spiteful. So, good or bad, I just take note of their input and don’t fret or rejoice much.

    So, do I have any advice regarding bad reviews? Well, of course!

    . . . just be like me, and don’t publish anything.

    • As usual, great comment. Super good points here. Critique vs bad review – spot on! As far as you not publishing … well, you know how I feel about that. It makes me crazy that I read a very well-written and entertaining book, and the rest of the world doesn’t have that opportunity. A killer cover on Gin’s War, and a few good reviews under your belt, and I bet BookBub would snap that book up.

      • . . . sounds like work. . . did you ever read my Michelle Maul Murder Mystery stuff based on the Lester Dent formula?

        The formula is for short stories, and got me interested in writing mystery. I used to read lots of mystery fiction before I was introduced to SF.

        • No, is your murder mystery “stuff” buried on your blog? Where will I find it? And marketing and trying to get your books out there is definitely work. Sometimes stressful work. 🙂

        • The first MM story is here:

          Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Plot

          The second one is better (more serious) but also much longer (16,900 words).

          It’s in a blog post but it’s password protected to preserve FSNAR (I might want to sell or publish it). If interested, I can send you the link and password. However, if you’re writing, you might want to wait until after you’re done. I don’t want to encourage distractions.

          • I will definitely let you know when I’m ready. The apartment is finally settled, and I’ve begun editing. Today is my first day of working full time – editing AND writing. It feels good!

  5. I don’t worry about reviews as I don’t get any! LOL Seriously, I’ve only written 2 books and that was years ago as you know. So no one can hurt my feelings if I don’t write! 😉 As for your books, I love them but then I have the same sense of humor. You have a talent, not everyone can be funny and yet give a good story. Here’s to you!

  6. The advice given to me growing up was always “man up”. Not exactly helpful, but that was the general consensus for dealing with adversity for boys. I’ve only been writing for 6 months now. My first post was sent directly to 45 people, of which 37 people read it. My next post only 9 people read when it was new. That number went down to 6 the following week and I knew all 6 of the people. I’m not sure what happened in the last 5 weeks or so, but more people are reading, most of them I’ve never met.

    My dad made me memorize If, by Rudyard Kipling when I was 11, so I typically draw inspiration from various points of that poem when faced with bad times as well as the good times. I’d say that poem is like a Stoic’s guide to life.

    • Once again, you show me something new. I’ve never seen IF by Rudyard Kipling, and I am familiar with some of his work. A poem for rising above adversity. Very nice. That was quite a poem to memorize as a young lad. Good for you.

      I actually have blog posts titled Blogging Freaks Me Out. I wanted to journal my writing journey, so I started my blog. I was freaked out when people actually started reading my drivel. I had a panic attack when one of my posts was “Freshly Pressed,” and a huge number of people came by to read my post. That was such a long time ago. I’m certainly more comfortable now. Congrats on all the people reading your blog. Some of those strangers will become friends. 🙂

  7. Thanks for stopping by my blog – I so appreciate it. This post was right on! I was selling quite well and then in a downturn, I made my bestseller free and that’s when the ridiculously bad reviews set in, especially on Good Reads. They hit below the belt. So then I also started questioning my writing and turned to music. I really love making music but am also trying to get back into writing. This post gave me the incentive to really get back into my writing.

    • Hi Kathy. I really enjoyed your Old Houses poem. Old houses have always scared the snot out of me. I just moved out of a house that was 120 years old. Even though I loved it, it could send shivers up my spine in the night. 🙂

      As for reviews … I don’t know why, but I figured out early on to never look at Goodreads reviews. I think I had heard from others that you are destined for some brutal reviews there (especially with free books), and I never wanted to expose myself to that. The theory being everyone at Goodreads is a critic. I focused on reviews at Amazon, and yes, that permafree definitely draws some negative reviews, but it does work to draw readers to the rest of the books in the series. I don’t know if you saw my post about BookBub, but because I have given away nearly half a million free books, I have over 94,000 followers at BookBub. In that respect, I’ll take the negative reviews that went along with “free.”

      I’m glad to hear my words gave you some incentive. For reasons beyond my control, I haven’t been able to write much for almost three years now, but I am determined to get back into it and push forward. I need to find out what all those followers at BookBub will mean for me. 🙂 Good luck to you, too. Write to please yourself first, and everything will fall into place. Don’t worry about what a few naysayers might think.

  8. As a reader, I only give good reviews…the books I don’t like I leave it at that as everyone has a preferred genre and that book was just not for me which is why I move on to my next read. Thank you for following CarolCooks2 🙂

    • Hi Carol! Sorry for the late reply. I appreciate readers like you, and I have the same mindset myself. If I don’t like a book, I simply move on to the next one. Knowing how important reviews are to an author, I probably should leave more positive reviews for books I do like.

      It’s a pleasure to follow you. I’m always looking for new and interesting things to cook. 🙂

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