How to Handle Bad Book Reviews in a Drama-Fueled World

Published 29 Mar 2024
by Anca Antoci

If you’re itching to set the reviewer straight, keep reading to learn why that’s not a good move and what to do instead.

What inspired me to write about this?

Every now and then, there’s some Twitter drama about authors responding poorly to bad reviews and being called out for it. Well, last week there was an incident where an author criticized a good review. Yes, you read that correctly. And this wasn’t the first time that happened. The reviewer is in the same blogging community as me and I can vouch that she’s both kind and truthful in her reviews.

In a nutshell, she gave this book a 4-star review where she talked about all the things she loved, but she also mentioned there were quite a few typos. The author didn’t like that and made the reviewer feel really uncomfortable. And it all happened in the open, on Twitter. That’s good for two reasons.

First, the book blogger got a lot of support from the community. She needed to know we have her back. And second, I hope the author learned a valuable lesson on how not to deal with a good review.

Strange as it may seem, this isn’t the first time an author attacked a 4-star review. There was a similar drama earlier this year on TikTok where an author insulted a reviewer for a 4-star review because it ruined her perfect 5-star rating (so far). The author did that on video and it went viral. The backlash was immediate, and because it went viral, the author got canceled.

I really don’t get why authors would slam a good review. Even the most popular books don’t have only 5-star ratings.

Let’s move on to the important part now that I’ve finished discussing what motivated me to write this article.

How should you deal with a bad review?

First and foremost, I should define what a bad review is. If you’ve read this far, I clarified that a 4-star review is NOT a bad review. For all intents and purposes, a 1-star or 2-star review shows the reader didn’t like your book. So, let’s say you got one of these. You put a lot of effort into getting your book published, and the review was upsetting and you feel it was unjust. How should you deal with it?

1. Don’t respond

My advice — and I know I’m not alone in this belief — is that an author shouldn’t respond to a bad review at all. However, if you have the habit of engaging with your reviewers and have replied to positive reviews in the past, even just to say thank you, you may be compelled to respond to bad reviews too. In that case, a simple “thank you for your feedback” would suffice.

2. Don’t challenge the review

This doesn’t mean that you agree with the reviewer, but it means you respect their right to express their opinion (even if you think they are wrong). Just because someone dislikes your book, it doesn’t mean they’re being disrespectful towards you. It’s important to understand this.

You must set clear boundaries when it comes to inappropriate behavior. Don’t acknowledge or respond to abusive language, bullying, and unsolicited advice. Just remember, the way someone talks/writes about others says more about them than the actual topic.

3. Trust the readers

In my experience, readers are pretty smart people. In the blogging community, I’ve noticed that many readers become curious about a book after reading a negative review. Most readers I know disregard completely 1-star ratings without a review. They will also analyze what the reviewer complains about. Let’s say the reviewer claims your book is poorly edited. This sounds bad, but if no one else complains about it, maybe the reviewer didn’t like your writing style. As a reader, whenever I check out the reviews of a book I consider reading, I don’t just read one or two reviews. I read more, both good and bad, and I try to find the common denominator. Most book bloggers I know do the same. It's easy to tell which reviews are just spiteful.

4. Look for constructive criticism

Take your feelings out of the equation and imagine the reviewer took precious time out of their day to give you feedback. Even if the review is unpleasant to read, it may hold value to you. So put on your ‘positive attitude’ hat and read their review analytically. What issues did they identify? Too much exposition? Info dump? Too much tell, not enough show? Were the characters insufficiently developed, or hard to relate to? Take notes (even if you disagree with their observations) and send these questions to your beta readers. If picked correctly, your beta readers should be your target audience. And if they agree with your pesky reviewer in certain areas, consider improving those areas (even if you don’t think you need to).

Giving paying customers what they want should be your top priority if you see writing as a business. That’s what writing to market means. If you’re writing strictly as a hobby by all means, write what you want how you want it. If the readers don’t like it, they can write their own damn stories.

5. Make the best out of a bad review

This isn’t a new concept, but it doesn’t work for every review. So let’s say you write erotica and a 1-star review says ‘There’s too much sex and nothing else!’ Clearly, your target audience loves steamy scenes and this review points out this is the highlight of the book. Use it to promote it!

6. Don’t take it personally

I know you want to. I’ve seen a couple of authors tweeting they were considering throwing the towel after a particularly bad review. Hopefully, they were just venting. Keep in mind that reviewers are people too. By that, I mean their reaction is most likely an emotional one. Maybe they don’t like your political views, if you post publicly about them. I mentioned this because I’ve seen it happen.

I could rant for hours about authors who had their books bombed with 1-star reviews because of tweet, or supporting what the reviewer considers a problematic person/cause. Often times the reviewer reveals this up front ‘I loved the book but I will no longer support this author because [insert personal reason]’. If this is the case, please remember no. 3. Trust the readers.

7. Bad reviews validate the good ones

It’s good to have bad reviews. Look up any popular book and you’ll see they all share this aspect. A book that solely has positive reviews is likely to appear suspicious to most readers. Why? Because there’s no one size fits all. Readers’ tastes are so diverse that it’s impossible to please everybody. Readers will question the validity of a book’s reviews if they are all positive and wonder if they were paid or written by friends and family. A balanced range of reviews is more trustworthy.

8. Vent in private

If you feel the need to vent about a bad review, that maybe felt like a personal attack, do it in private. By that, I mean talk about it with your friends and family, or your online private group of writers/readers/moms/coffee lovers, etc. But NEVER do it in public. Keep in mind that everything you post on social media is permanent, and even if you delete it, it might still be found in the future. Just remember, if you handle negative reviews poorly, it could really hurt your reputation. Sometimes, it’s even impossible to fix the damage. Is the momentary satisfaction of setting the reviewer straight worth it?

9. Don’t let it get to you

Sometimes reviewers are just brutal. Don’t forget that reviewers are people with various backgrounds. The bad review can sometimes come across as a personal attack. It doesn’t attack the story (not that you’d want that either), but the writer who created it.

At times, I read reviews and feel like asking the reviewer, “Who hurt you? Are you okay?” I assume something in the story (or something the author posted online) triggered the reviewer so much they felt the need to spill vitriol into their review.

10. Check out 1-star reviews of your favorite book

If a bad review for your book is getting you down, try reading the one-star reviews of your favorite books on Amazon for a good laugh. You’ll likely find plenty of them, especially for popular books. This exercise can offer a valuable perspective on the subjectivity of art. It’s essential to remember that not everyone will resonate with every book, even those you consider perfect. Even for books you admire, there can be valid critics.

So, when you encounter a negative review of your own work in the future, take solace in knowing you’re in good company!

*This article was originally published in Illumination's Mirror on Medium.