How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book Review

Posted on

I recently heard of an author who got a less than stellar book review and went ham, cheese, and bologna on the reviewer (for my readers who may not know: to “go ham” is slang for acting  a complete and utter fool). I won’t post any links (Mama ain’t raised no fool. I don’t want folks coming after me here on my precious blog, trolling me and what not) and I won’t name names but I will say this: nobody likes negative reviews. Everyone wants to believe that their book is so spectacular that it will end up on all the best sellers lists and that Hollywood will come a-knocking, begging to buy the movie rights.

But Linda. Honey, listen: not everyone is going to like your book. If you’re lucky, after you publish a book, you might get some reviews. Some will be good, some will be bad but keep this in mind: it is not a reviewer’s job to lift you up (that’s what your family is for). If someone has an opinion about your novel that is contrary to how you view your masterpiece, then guess what? That’s okay! It’s just an opinion. And if you can’t handle negative reviews don’t read them. Or, if you can’t stop yourself from reading them and then going out and attacking folk all willy-nilly, then chile, maybe you should stick to knitting cause ain’t nobody got time for that maybe this book publishing thing just ain’t for you.

And if you get the desire to respond to a negative review: don’t. What’s that you say? You’ve already written your scathing rebuttal letting the reviewer know how stupid they are and how they just don’t get your masterpiece because everyone, including your Grandma Fran, has been going on about how rad you are? And your hand is on the send button and it would be too much trouble to lift it? Hit delete. Immediately. Now back away from the computer and keep your hands where I can see them. Slowly. Slowly. Now that’s a good author.

*Update: the author somehow got ahold of the computer  when my back was turned and hit “send” anyway. What resulted was a good ol’ fashioned Twitter dragging and slugfest on Goodreads between author and reviewer, and now the author’s reputation is ruined. People are reviewing their book negatively on purpose now to “teach them a lesson.” They are receiving one star reviews and people are putting their book on the “Not even if the author paid me a million dollars” shelf on Goodreads and also the “Not even if the Lord came down from heaven and demanded that I read this mess” shelf.  The author has since moved to Bermuda and has adopted seven cats. She has quit writing and has taken up knitting.*

If you happen to get a less than stellar book review, here’s what you should do: nothing. “But Quanie!” you say, “What if people don’t buy my book based on some idiot one-starring it and saying how no one, not even Socrates, could decode that 70,000 word mess masquerading as a novel?”

Do nothing. Even if you have to sit on your hands: do nothing. Readers aren’t stupid. If your cover, blurb, and first few pages reel them in, they will more than likely still read your novel, despite the negative reviews. But whether or not other readers are going to like it and leave a stellar review…well, you’ll just have to see.

Bottom line: if you get a bad review it’s okay to feel bad about it, but for the love of God, please don’t respond publicly because word of a bad reputation travels fast in this industry and things on the internet live forever. Instead, focus on building your support system of writers but most importantly, honing your craft and writing your next book.

What about others? Do you respond to reviews? Have you seen instances of authors behaving badly online?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!





48 thoughts on “How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book Review

  1. Pingback: How to Get More Book Reviews | Quanie Talks Writing

  2. Pingback: What is the ideal world for the artist? | The Write Story – More Than Write Media

  3. Beautifully written! And so so true.

    I would go a step further. If someone writes a bad review of your book, then that is their opinion. You might not like their opinion. You might not agree with it. But you have absolutely no right (or the physical ability) to climb into their head and say that their opinion is wrong.

    It is also not worth starting a fight with a reader. For one thing, there are more of them than there are of us. We want them to love us, and that is not going to happen if we take out a big stick and beat them repeatedly over the head with it.

    IMHO, the only way to deal with a bad review is for your other readers to drown it out with praise. And, no, that doesn’t mean a sock-puppet war. Let it go, let it go.


    • Hi Will,

      So true! Not worth it to start a fight with a reader. I completely agree that the only way to deal with it is for other readers to eventually drown out the bad reviews with praise. It can be a waiting game, but what other choice do we have? And definitely no sock-puppet war, lol. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  4. Love your writing voice, Quanie. And your very sensible sass. I don’t publish books, so I don’t have Goodreads reviews, but I have performed at Fringe Festivals, where any audience member can write a review on the web site, and often the press does too. I had a very bad review on the second night of a performance once from a member of the press that totally misunderstood the nature of the show. It had a technology theme, so they sent someone who reviews technology, not theater. Go figure. Anyway, it really was tough, because I had three more performances, and my confidence the next time round was crap. I didn’t respond in any way. (Although a couple people who had seen the show and liked it, did!) Even though he gave the show an “avoid like the plague” rating, people still came. And people who understood the show still wrote good reviews. And later I was asked specifically to perform that story at a private party, for more than I earned during the entire Fringe Festival. So yeah. Learn what you can from a bad review, and move on.
    Paula recently posted..Five Creative Things I’m Excited AboutMy Profile

    • Hi Paula,

      Gosh, that must have been frustrating! That’s like someone who hates a particular genre reviewing in that very same genre: they are probably destined not to like it! I’m glad that your show turned out great anyway, and because you remained professional, you were able to persevere AND land another job in the process. Can you say class act? I think that’s the take away here: let people say what they want, but keep your head up and keep working. Thanks so much for stopping by!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  5. I don’t usually write negative reviews unless it’s a world classic I couldn’t finish. (Cos the authors are dead and wouldn’t feel hurt.) But I don’t remember leaving anything less than a 3-star for most of the books I’ve read. If I can’t bring myself to give an honest 3-star, I’ll just not leave any rating/review and move on to the next book. You’re absolutely right about not responding to negative reviews: sit and mope around for sure, but do not ever contact the reviewer!
    Claudine @ CarryUsOff Books recently posted..Trouble in TeutoniaMy Profile

  6. Hey Quanie,
    This is sage advice indeed. I’ve been begging for pre-release reviews so hard my fingertips are shredded. They seem to be very hard to come by. This morning I had two emails from my review request and I sat frozen at the keyboard for several minutes gripped by the “what if they hated it” monster before I could open them. Turns out they both told me they were too busy to be bothered with my little nothing novel, but what I went through anticipating a bad review. I am famous for starting a story to my girlfriends with “What I should have done was nothing, but . . .” However, in the case of the bad review I will remember your words “do nothing.”
    Burnita recently posted..TORTURE!My Profile

    • Hi Burnita,

      I think you’ll eventually get some bites (because through trial and error, you’ll learn who to ask and who not to ask), but it might be a slow process, unfortunately (but then again, maybe you’ll luck out and get reviews by the bus load). You might try tweeting that you have ARCs available, including the genre, with a link to your website that will also include the cover, blurb, and book trailer, and your contact information for anyone who is interested in reviewing it. And feel free to announce your upcoming release to some of the groups on Goodreads that specialize in your genre (and offer advance copies to anyone there who may be interested). Good luck! I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed for you.
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  7. I don’t believe in giving negative reviews. If I don’t like a book after reading it, I simply won’t write the review, especially if I connect with the author on a weekly basis. BUT, if the book is so awful, grammatically and plot wise, then I probably would say SOME negative things only to ensure other readers are aware of how bad the book is before they purchase it. I don’t know if this is the right way to go about my reviewing policies but I really hate slamming other writers and authors.

    We all know how it feels to want to be a bestseller. We also know how incredible it feels to publish a book and have it sitting there on Amazon or even on the shelves of our favorite bookstores. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone so I tend to keep my negativity to myself. I also try to look for anything positive in the book, even if that means learning about a new place or embarking on some sort of lesson. But again, if the book is so unbearable to read, and I have read a few which I abandoned because of this, I will pass on the information so others are warned how bad the book is before they buy it.

    I watched that video of the three year old for the first time, thanks to your post! I even went further and watched the youtube video from the Ellen DeGeneres show when he was a guest. What an old soul for such a little man! He’s going to be trouble, I tell ya!
    Great post, Quanie!
    Gina Stoneheart recently posted..Cozumel, You Stole My HeartMy Profile

    • Gina, I totally agree with you on this. I’m especially careful when it comes to indie authors because it’s tough enough trying to make it in this industry on your own. So if I don’t like an indie book, I simply will not leave a review or a rating because I just don’t have the heart to hurt somebody’s feelings. And yes, that little Mateo is something, isn’t he? That video cracks me up!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  8. Whenever I get a bad review (and I’ve been lucky to have only received 1 out of the 20 or so I’ve gotten so far), I do comment, but it’s usually to thank the reader for picking up my book and trying it, which is my default go-to response to any person who reviews my book – or even if they tell me they read it.

    Knowing my busy schedule, it’s often hard to find the time to pick up and read a book (although I have begun scheduling it in because it’s important to support other authors). So if someone took the time to not only pay for my book, but take a few hours to READ it, even if they did not like it, they still did it, and for that, I am grateful.

    • I totally agree. Whenever someone is nice enough to review my novel, I seriously want to make them a sweet potato pie and some jambalaya. And it is SO hard to find time to read these days! I was looking at my Kindle last night, thinking I should start reading something soon, because it’s so important to support other authors. I am going to make a conscious effort over the next year to read more books by indie authors and leave reviews (but not bad ones, lol. I don’t want anybody harassing me over it!) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  9. An author whom I respect and whose work I enjoy, John Scalzi, has said that there’s no such thing as a book that everyone likes. I haven’t even had a book published, and I tell myself this over and over, in preparation for negative reviews and even negative comments from readers. What matters is the people who do like it, because they’re the ones who will tell other people about it, they’re the ones who will buy the next book. The people who don’t like it? *shrug* They’re not worth worrying about, and you’re not writing for them.

    I do agree completely that the last thing you want to do is start a fight with someone over a review, though. >_< There's no way that can go well. If you have to, type out your angry response in Notepad or something, where you're guaranteed to not hit "submit" by accident, get it out of your system and then delete it. Oi.
    Mason T. Matchak recently posted..Contested.My Profile

    • Hi Mason,

      I’m not familiar with John Scalzi (I’ll have to look him up, though) but he’s right. Not every book is for everybody. That’s why there’s a little something called a target audience. Granted, not everyone in your “target audience” will like your book, but hey. You win some, you lose some. I think your suggestion is great: write your response, get it out of your system and then delete it. Great advice.
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  10. Yep! I agree. Don’t respond at all to reviews, I say, too. I like them on Amazon and Goodreads and aside from this, I don’t touch them. I appreciate them, would love more of them – especially the good ones, but I don’t interact. At all.

    I so love your voice, too, in this post. Great!
    Dawn Brazil recently posted..Ready. Set. Write!My Profile

  11. “Do nothing” is the best advice authors could get about how to deal with book reviews in general. I don’t even “like” the good reviews I get on Goodreads because I don’t want to seem like a selfish, overzealous author who praises only five star reviews and ignores all others.
    Chrys Fey recently posted..Real Life Improves WritingMy Profile

  12. Awesome advice. That’s actually a rule many marketers give businesses. They’re adamant about it. If someone publicly criticizes your product, never get into a fighting match. It always makes you look unprofessional and it just draws more attention to it. Just let the review stand. It hurts…and you always notice those bad reviews far more than the good ones.

    I love that “go ham” comment. I’m going to have to use that one!
    Stephanie Faris recently posted..Should Authors Post Pictures of Young Fans?My Profile

  13. My first book (not under this name) received a terrible review once. He didn’t name my book or me, but he described it, and proceeded to tear it to pieces finishing up with a tongue-in-cheek demand that someone should pay him for the time he wasted reading the first chapter (that’s all he got through). I typed a scathing response and held my itching finger over the button to send and, thankfully, good sense prevailed. I cried over a carton of ice cream, instead. Ice cream makes everything better (says my thighs).

    When you are new to writing you are incredibly sensitive. It takes a few years or a few thousand rejections to understand that it’s not personal, it’s not something you should ever try to argue, and it’s not the end of the world.

    I later received great reviews on that book from people who loved it (and had actually read the whole thing). I was very glad I didn’t give in to that little devil on my shoulder. 🙂 I would’ve had chubby thighs AND a bad reputation.
    Ava Bleu recently posted..Guest Author Dayo BensonMy Profile

    • Chubby thighs AND a bad reputation? No, ma’am! LOL! Thank God good sense prevailed. You’re right: when you’re new to writing any kind of criticism stings (I could write a whole nother blog post on my experiences in creative writing workshops. Yikes!) but after a while you learn how to deal. You learn your strengths and weaknesses and come to accept the fact that every book is not for every body. I’m so glad that little devil on your shoulder didn’t win out! Who knows? Maybe that person was just trolling you for a response and if you would have responded, you would have given him exactly what he wanted. But not even getting through the first chapter and leaving a review? That ain’t right!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  14. I’m so glad I found your blog. Love your way of thinking and writing. But to your question: I didn’t even respond when a woman gave me a one-star rating on Amazon saying she really enjoyed the book. I think you have to let the preponderance of high ratings speak for you, and shet the freak up.
    BTW, when my book was new, I responded to every comment (in a positive way), thanking them for rating my book. Then a well-intended commentor said “don’t respond to comments, please. it makes us feel like our anonymity is being blown, almost like we’re being stalked” or some such. That blew my mind. Now I only comment occasionally.
    Lynne Spreen recently posted..Robin Williams and Getting OldMy Profile

    • A 1* rating and she liked the book? What in tarnation??? And it’s funny you mention the thing about anonymity being blown because I made a similar comment here: if I leave a review and the author leaves me a note, I will probably feel stalked because when I read a book, it’s all about me and the book (almost as if the book wrote itself, lol), and I don’t even think about the author. I think that’s a good policy to adopt, only making positive comments occasionally (on good or bad reviews).
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  15. That’s a shame…the author lost all sense of professionalism. Or maybe they never had any to begin with. I think it’s to be expected that you’ll have a few bad reviews. Lot’s of really brilliant authors get a few bad reviews. It’s also to be expected that it’ll hurt your feelings. Be angry, disagree, pout and do whatever else you have to do, but DON’T respond. That’s crazy.

    The only way to mitigate the damage and keep your overall review score up is to get more favorable reviews. Send your book to bloggers that review, give aways several copies to people that you know love to read and hope that they enjoy your book more than the negative reviewer. Hopefully they’ll post a good review and the negative ones will be lost in the masses!

    P.S. That “Linda honey” video is hilarious!
    Faith Simone recently posted..Confessions of Faith: A Child, A Quarter and A Cheating ManMy Profile

    • I know, right? Even authors like Gillian Flynn get bad reviews. And she’s at the top of her game right now. But I do think that more reviews might help soften the blow for the author, but then again, you can never be sure that the other reviews are going to be favorable. And I’m glad you liked the video! That little Mateo cracked me up!
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  16. Wow, I feel bad for both parties.

    Im trying to understand both parties, and as someone who has read books, offered by authors no less, and had my intelligence questioned(for pointing out problematic grammar, editing, representation, story structure. I admit, Im not easy, but I think Im also fair) just because I didnt 100% connect with their work the way they did.

    But on the other hand, as someone who writes, and would “like”, and I stress “like” for people to see the worlds that I see through writing, enjoy reading it half as much as I did writing it, and maybe sometime in the near future want to tell other people about it.

    But I’d also like sexism, ableism, racism, ageism, and discrimination to disappear and not come back by tomorrow afternoon. So the likelihood is pretty slim.

    I think perhaps authors dont always have the worst intentions, but when you engage negatively with someone, unintentionally you become a troll. And the more you engage, the more you lose your argument about your work being awesome.

    The truth is, your work could be awesome. But when your attitude sucks, it reflects on you, and it questions your credibility. Whoever the author, I do feel bad. But as a book blogger, having been in that situation, I think it’s best not to engage at all. People review books then forget about them. But when you leave a reviewer with a bad experience, it stays with you. I kid you not, there is one author I mention ALL the time, as my worst experience accepting his book for review. He’s become my verb for “authors behaving badly.”

    • Hi Guinevere,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, both as a book reviewer and an author. I think it SUCKS that you had that bad experience with that author. I agree with you that most authors do have good intentions, but when our emotions are involved, we may become a little woo-woo and also unfortunately, as you say, a troll. Like you, I feel for the author as well because a reviewer posts a review and forgets about it, but an author may never forget it. You have to have tough skin to deal in this business but our books are our babies and a negative review is like someone calling your baby ugly. It hurts, but you just kind of have to brush yourself off and realize that someone’s opinion is not gospel.
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

  17. Recently I’ve been looking at my reviews because a literary agent is considering representing me and a few publishers are as well. I wanted to know what they might read that critical readers were saying about my previously published work. I waited 4 years to do this. Yes, I haven’t been to any of these different book websites, at least not looking at my own reviews, that long. When I was first published, over a decade ago, I must admit to behaving badly. I could tell this shocked readers (that I was commenting) so I reconsidered my actions. Then I figured out, these forums weren’t made for authors but for readers. I completely stopped reacting and stopped reading reviews. What a publicist pointed out to me about one of my books is people seem to either love it or hate it but at least you sparked an opinion and you have a lot of reviews for that book. In most cases reviews=readers and attention for your book. I agree with what you’re saying Quanie and like how you wrote your opinion–so saucy!
    Stephanie Rose Bird recently posted..Moving OnMy Profile

    • Hi Stephanie, I think you nailed it: “these forums weren’t made for authors but for readers.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s hard, though, especially when someone says something about your book that you don’t agree with (or when you know that someone is outright being malicious for no reason), but I think the wise thing to do is just nothing. No matter how much we want to beat them up in the parking lot, lol. And that publicist is right: at least you sparked an opinion, good or bad, and compelled someone to feel something, and to write about it.
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Melissa, I initially read somewhere about “thanking” people for reviews and then it dawned on me: if I like a book and left a good review, and the author sent me a message thanking me, I’d probably feel stalked! When I read a book, the author is completely out of the experience for me, and it’s all about me and the book. So I completely agree with you. I think that not responding, good or bad, might be a good policy to adopt.
      Quanie recently posted..How (Not) to Respond to a Negative Book ReviewMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge