Bad Reviews – How do you handle them?

Misty morning spiderweb - Guenette photo

Okay – let’s be honest, folks …if you’ve ever written anything that you let loose in the public realm, you’ve found out first hand that not everyone loves what you have struggled to produce. It proves that old maxim – you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you sure can’t please all the people, all the time.

Check out any of your favourite authors on Amazon – I mean the big-name favourites. They will have more than a few stinker reviews. Bad reviews are like taxes and death – inevitable.

So, how do you handle the one and two star reviews that really sting? I know of what I speak. Consider these recent reader opinions of Disappearing in Plain Sight:

Quit reading. Drag-you-drama, vile adults, helpless and hopeless teenagers. Too depressing. No desire to finish this story or follow the series.

Or what about this:

This reads like a first draft by a complete amateur … I tried. I couldn’t … if you told me this book was a high school student’s creative writing homework, I’d believe it.

Ouch! I thought of titling this post – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – after that one!

I read all my reviews … of course, I do. I share the one and two star ones with close friends and family who almost always give me a pep talk that ends with – ignore that review, the person is obviously a troll. I know that assessment is not true but a bruised ego will take comfort where it is to be found.

What I never do is interact with the reader who has given a less than salutary review. A good maxim here is: never explain, never apologize. I proceed from the belief that every review is some reader’s legitimate opinion and thus deserves to be respected. There’s a lot of books available through Amazon and a reader chose mine. This someone read, reacted and recorded his or her thoughts. That’s what the review system is for.

Listen up, now, because this part is important – not all bad reviews are written by people with axes to grind. Don’t take it personally. The best thing to do is accept legitimate criticism seriously and leave the rest.

I do my job when I create a story, do the work of rewriting, editing and formatting to the best of my ability so I can offer my novel to the public. Readers do their job by reading and sometimes sharing their opinions. The system works best when writers and readers stick to their jobs.

Let me know what you think.

Misty morning flowers - Guenette photo

14 comments on “Bad Reviews – How do you handle them?

  1. My advice? Take the legitimate criticisms and learn from them. Ignore the rest. 🙂
    Great and timely post, Francis. Thanks., 🙂

    • My thoughts, exactly, Kerry. I think the important thing is to not reject out of hand because something is negative but not to get bogged down in the one and two star reviews, either. Such a tightrope us writers walk, right? Thanks for the comment.

  2. “if you told me this book was a high school student’s creative writing homework…”
    I laughed at this because I have a couple of negative reviews that basically say the same thing. 😉
    Reading preferences are SO subjective that it is impossible to please everyone. Plus some people are just complainers. Keep on keeping on. 😉

    • Well, you made me laugh to know the high school student’s creative writing homework is a common complaint, Allison. Many thanks. So very true on the subjective part. I often read over a few bad reviews from books I’ve loved and I can’t believe that other readers had such a different reaction. Oh well, I will definitely keep on keeping on and many thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Peter Ralph says:

    Mostly they have me in in fits of laughter and they’re like water off a duck’s back. The first one star I ever got said one word “trash.” When I’m at a function and people ask me what I write, I’ve always responded, “trash,” so how could I be angry? James Patterson, Lee Child, Jeffrey Archer, like me, all write trash, just that their trash is better than mine. I’ve never had a one or two review that has done anything other than make me laugh. However, I’ve had a few incisive three starrers where the readers have liked the book but then rolled out the dreaded BUT…..they’re the reviews that impact and I learn from……I don’t laugh at them and often I cringe :-).

    • I did have a few one or two stars that made me smile – someone commented that they had hoped for more adult adjectives. Is that code word for profanity? I have no idea. I agree that the insightful three star reviews hit home. Laugh, cringe, pay attention and learn. Life goes on. Thanks for the funny ‘trash’ story, Peter.

  4. P. C. Zick says:

    My first one-star review back in 2012 nearly did me in. And then I realized if the reviewer had another agenda besides writing a legitimate review, others would recognize it, too. If criticism appears, I read it, absorb it, and then either ignore it or apply. Like you Fran, I read all my reviews, but I’ve learned how to use them or not. And I never, ever respond.

    • You make a good point, P.C. Savvy readers are adept at seeing through the cutting reviews. You and I have a similar take on the less than praiseworthy reviews. And most important of all – never, ever respond. Good stuff 🙂

  5. Jesse Lyons says:

    Sometimes I buy a book because of a bad review – mostly when it’s clear that the book demanded more from the reader than they were able to give in thought process, understanding, perceptiveness, things like that.

    • I love this comment. Many thanks Jesse. Talk about flipping the one star review on its ear. Now, I will always think – well, obviously this reader did not have the perceptiveness my work demands. You’ve made my day 🙂 As I wrote in an above comment about P.C.’s point – savvy readers know how to judge the one and two star reviews.

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    You need a thick skin for sure. If I had a preponderance of poor reviews I’d get the message and I’d go try another hobby. And I actually respect a bad review that finds something positive to say along with the negatives. I think the best authors wear their * and ** reviews as badges of honour, along with their rejection slips 🙂

    • I agree with your point on the bad review that finds the positive but points out the failings. Those are useful. Badges of honour, indeed. Think of me sewing mine on 🙂 Many thanks, Roy, for the review of Coastal Vibrations. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  7. diannegray says:

    I agree with Roy – we need such a think skin. We put so much effort and thought and time into our novels and it can really hurt when someone poo poos it like that. This is why I love saying that I just write for myself and if other people like it, it’s just the icing on the cake – if they don’t, it doesn’t worry me because it’s all about me and my journey through life, not theirs (sounds selfish I know, but it’s true) 😉

    • Always so nice to hear from you, Dianne! Ultimately, we have to feel that pleasure in our own work or we won’t be writing with the passion needed to sustain such an endeavour as creating a novel or producing anything of value. But, I have to admit to that thrill when someone else agrees – LOL. But it certainly isn’t selfish to use writing as the journey through life. What a vehicle, right? What a wild and crazy ride 🙂

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