How to Deal With Bad Reviews

by | Apr 7, 2011 | The Writing Life | 90 comments

Publicly: Ignore them completely.

Privately: Complain like hell to anyone who will listen.

And to cheer yourself up, remember what the great Oscar Wilde used to say:

90 Comments

  1. Ted Fox

    You might also try screaming at pigeons. I've never had a review, good or bad, but this seems like it might help.

    Reply
  2. Lisa Desrochers

    Yup. No one book is going to appeal to every reader. You're never going to change their minds and you just come off looking bad for trying.

    Reply
  3. Richard Mabry

    I noticed when my first two novels were made available as free Kindle downloads they garnered some bad reviews by people who were shocked that they had Christian content. Come on, people. They were free!

    Now, that's my complaining. And I've otherwise kept my mouth shut. See, Nathan. I've taken your advice.

    Reply
  4. Mira

    Very wise. I believe this is how one should approach their entire life. Especially the 'complain like hell' part. Very satisfying.

    Here's an Oscar Wilde quote for you:

    "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much".

    Oscar Wilde

    Thanks for lightening things up a bit, Nathan. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  5. Timothy Coote

    You mean creating a big public shit fight is bad?

    Reply
  6. Lucinda Bilya

    Awesome!

    Voice your complaints to a two-year old. They seem to listen, agree with everything you say, and don't mind if you cry a bit.

    They also don't repeat it. (if they do, no one understands them).

    Reply
  7. kellye

    Well said, as usual. Love the photo/haters mashup. Haters gonna hate, and writers gonna write. Back to it…

    Reply
  8. kellye

    Here's an Oscar Wilde quote for you:

    "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much".

    Love that, Mira! Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Stephanie Faris

    I've never had an actual review, but I don't think we could exist as writers without getting feedback that hurts over the years. I've found that it hurts initially but it strengthens us in the long run. Kind of like working out tears muscle down so it can build back stronger. Of course, that's just the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. The rest is just personal opinion and we know to toss that out because no book will appeal to all readers. It's not possible. Some people, however, are sure that their opinion is gold somehow and everyone should listen to them, not realizing that when it comes to any kind of art, there is no definite good or bad, only what each individual likes…

    Reply
  10. K. C. Blake

    Great advice.

    My first ebook, Vampires Rule, is going to be getting reviewed starting in June, and I am extremely nervous. My mom and I were talking about it the other day. A few of the book bloggers say they'll let you know if they're going to give you a bad review and you can ask them not to post it, but I think a bad review is better than no review. Most people want to judge a book for themselves and won't take someone else's opinion too seriously.

    Reply
  11. Caitlin

    Haha love that picture! And how very true.

    Reply
  12. See Elle Oh

    Haha…love it!

    Once again, the importance of a strong network of friends and fellow creative folks. Who else is going to listen to you complain, whilst ensuring you don't slosh red wine on things you really don't want to stain?

    Reply
  13. L.G.Smith

    Quick and to the point. I like it.

    Reply
  14. Jenny Maloney

    Important safety consideration: Do Not Burn Bad Reviews.

    Remember that only you can prevent forest fires. =)

    Reply
  15. Mira

    Kellye ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oscar Wilde is one of my favs, so clever (despite his issues with women).

    If Nathan will indulge me, here's another one:

    The play was a great success, but
    the audience was a total failure"

    โ€” Oscar Wilde

    Okay, I'll stop now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  16. Bri Clark

    Hate on me haters hate on me….hmmm hmmm

    Reply
  17. wry wryter

    Ms. Trite says:

    To err is human and so is eating to much, drinking to oblivion, screwing to many strangers and spouting off your, opinions, thoughts and all around vitriol to a world of dingoes.

    To forgive is not only divine itโ€™s necessary.

    Reply
  18. E.J. Wesley

    Is his chair made out of Wookie or Ewok?

    Reply
  19. Cynthia Lee

    I used to have a roommate that would complain to a framed poster of Johnny Cash that he'd hung in his room.

    He would talk to Johnny and then go quiet for a minute, like he was listening to what Johnny was saying, nod his head, and continue with his vent. It was both funny and creepy.

    Reply
  20. Hillsy

    I stop eating cheese before bedtime

    Reply
  21. Melanie

    "Is his chair made out of Wookie or Ewok?"

    bwahahahahaha…

    Reply
  22. Matthew MacNish

    The credit for this goes completely to Steve Abernathy, who you should know from the forums, but I love to think about Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer when it comes to negative reviews.

    Reply
  23. Dick Margulis

    Funny. But while that's great advice for anyone whose work has actually been accepted for publication by a traditional publisher (large or small) and has been edited, it's perhaps not the best advice for the do-it-yourself publisher who just writes some drivel and uploads it to Smashwords. For that author, it would perhaps be helpful to take a deep breath and then to consider that the reviewer may have something to teach her. Reacting defensively, even in private, is not going to result in better writing.

    Reply
  24. Mr. D

    It's true for any art, be it writing, fine arts, performing arts, etc. Heck, it's even true for just being you. The haters are out there, and they will hate anything. Even apple pie!

    Reply
  25. RobynBradley

    And then, of course, there's always chocolate. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  26. Bryce Daniels

    Okay, so the guy had a few quirks. But this blog illustrates more than any what all of us, I think, aspire to. I would be ecstatic knowing my words were still being quoted a century after I left this world.

    Reply
  27. AderuMoro

    Can't we try to look like goodie two-shoes in public and thank them for their time? ๐Ÿ˜› Stephanie Faris and Dick Margulis both mention considering what they have to say to improve writing, and I don't disagree.

    Reply
  28. Mary Connealy

    Hopefully you've built up a hide like a Rhino from years of abuse adn rejection before getting to the bad reviews.
    All those years had to have SOME purpose, right?

    Also, i've found sucking my thumb makes it a little better.
    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  29. D.G. Hudson

    Smart guy – Oscar Wilde.

    Had to visit his gravesite in Pere Lachaise to see the kisses covering the lower half of the monument. (there's a photo of the monument on my writing blog: (scroll down – it's on the right sidebar)

    http://dghudson-rainwriting.blogspot.com/

    Yeah, haters will hate–and sheep will follow like lemmings as they fall into the black hole that is swarming (of any kind).

    Ignoring a bad review is best. It's there, so what. Consider the source, but use the 3 day rule if you must reply.

    Most likely you'll cool off.

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    You can also get them back in future novels. You have to be discreet. But there are ways ๐Ÿ™‚

    It's great therapy to eat a reviewer for dinner in fiction. You're safe there. And no one can point any fingers.

    Reply
  31. Bryan Russell (Ink)

    And Wilde also said:

    A man can't be too careful in the choice of his enemies.

    Reply
  32. Laura

    reading a book is so subjective. Just because one reviewer hates it, doesn't mean they all will. It's one person's opinion. it should not be taken personally.

    Reply
  33. J. T. Shea

    How to deal with bad reviews? That's what hitmen are for.

    Timothy, of course creating a big public shit fight isn't bad.

    Lucinda, don't just complain TO a two-year-old, complain LIKE a two-year-old. Terrible tantrums are just the ticket.

    Jenny, burn the REVIEWERS instead of the reviews.

    Reply
  34. Krista D. Ball

    Sage advice: tell your dog. She will listen, cuddle, and tell you that it's going to be fine.

    Do not tell your cat. He will say how shocked he was that it took this long to get a bad review and he thought your book was rubbish from the first moment you told him your plot.

    Oh, and you have a typo on page 237.

    Now, feed me.

    Reply
  35. The Red Angel

    I take criticism harshly, so whenever I received bad reviews I smile and nod and take them with as much grace as the Queen, and then rant later on to my two poor turtles.

    ~TRA

    http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

    Reply
  36. JohnO

    I had one, from a supposedly reputable organization whose name you would recognize, that got the plot completely ass-backwards.

    But, you know, I'm taking Oscar Wilde's advice (that Mira so helpfully posted). No biggie, Supposedly Reputable Organization. I'm sure you were trying your very best.

    Reply
  37. Pamala Knight

    *Chuckles* Really? I missed that exact quote from Wilde. But, I get the message and it's totally on point. Thanks for reminding us, Nathan.

    Reply
  38. Emily Hill

    Have You heard what is happening to Michael Connelly?

    Bad reviews for bad pricing! As a storm of protests roll in on his (some say) over-priced Kindle titles, he and his publisher are nursing a black eye this week.

    Ouch! I'd love for someone to get a quote from his on this topic.

    Reply
  39. Steph Sinkhorn

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahaha. Well-played, Nathan. And solid, simple advice, too.

    Reply
  40. Lyra

    This is fantastic.

    Now Nathan, does this go for positive reviews as well, or is "Thanks, Mom!" too much?

    Reply
  41. Anonymous

    Wry wryter, ha, great quote.

    Reply
  42. jesse

    He was eloquent, fo sho.

    Reply
  43. Stacey Thompson-Geer

    There was also a study done that bad reviews can actually improve sales on a book too for a bit. I read that someplace and wish I still had the link. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Reply
  44. Anonymous

    "reading a book is so subjective. Just because one reviewer hates it, doesn't mean they all will. It's one person's opinion. it should not be taken personally."

    There's a lot more to it than that. I used to think the same thing. But then found out how competitive the world of online book reviewing really is. Many of these reviewers are constantly looking for ways to promote themselves. Some even have adds and make money. It's often more about politics than anything esle. And making money.

    Reply
  45. Leila

    I think the best medicine is time and perspective. Time heals all wounds, as they say, and perspective allows us to step back and put criticism in the context it belongs. Away from our ego. (Even though it would feel as if one has been mortally wounded at the time)

    The world doesn't revolve around a bad review, and it won't end either. And if getting a bad review is the worst thing that's ever happened in your life, then you are one lucky person.

    Reply
  46. MJR

    I got a bad review in School Library Journal (ouch, ouch!), but I survived. I didn't think the review was fair so I wrote a polite letter explaining why. Next time, I'll write the letter, but won't send it! The bad review was tempered by the great letters I've received from kids…and a couple of other nicer reviews…

    Reply
  47. robinC

    Love it!

    Margaritas and singing the explicit version of Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" works in many, many, situations too…

    Privately of course…

    Reply
  48. Anonymous

    Krista D. Ball, funny! Cats are awesome.

    Reply
  49. Anonymous

    Except – except! – when the "reviewer" steps beyond the story, and takes the writer to task for something she said in the Q&A, passing judgment on their life? Given that publishers ask writers to include these interviews, and one may say a provocative thing or two, it puts a writer in a very tough spot.

    Also, what of "reviewers" who are bloggers, and fully admit to sloppiness, being rushedness, or just basically glancing at work you, the writer may have spent twelve years on.

    While I appreciate your advice, the publishing industry's kowtowing to – for example – bloggers, who bring not much to the table except SEO value (and are often only looking for content to slap up on their advertising driven endeavors), is nauseating.

    Oscar Wilde didn't live in a time when a "review" would go live, and then – vis the wonder of linked twitter feeds, metastasize all over the net.

    Reply
  50. G

    RAmen!

    Reply
  51. Danette Haworth

    Haha! So true! Some reviewers don't like your book–okay–but mean spirited reviews are a different story. I'm going Sheen on this one: WINNING!

    Reply
  52. Nicole Zoltack

    That's what I do. I don't respond to negative reviews. You can never do it and not come across as whining. Better to say nothing at all. Everyone gets bad reviews, it's the nature of the beast of putting your writing out into the wild and letting anyone and everyone read it.

    Reply
  53. Sally Hepworth

    HA! Thanks for the laugh. Excellent advice.

    Reply
  54. Kaily Hart

    Simple, but invaluable advice.

    Reply
  55. The Team at Shelfstealers

    The study about the impact of a bad review on book sales (referred to in another comment) can be found here:

    http://www.stanford.edu/~asorense/papers/Negative_Publicity2.pdf

    Here's another reference to the study:

    "Is all publicity good publicity? Are all reviewsโ€”even bad onesโ€”good for books? The answer, according to a new study by the journal Marketing Science, depends on whether the writer is well known or unknown. The study examined the impact of a New York Times review on the sales of more than 200 hardcover titles. For books by established writers, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales. For unknown authors, a negative review increased sales by a healthy 45%."

    Makes you wonder if debut authors should solicit bad reviews. (Just kidding.)

    Cheers,
    Sheryl J. Dunn
    Chief Thief (a.k.a. CEO)
    http://www.shelfstealers.com
    publishing great books the majors missed

    Reply
  56. Cathi

    I've decided if I ever get to the point where I get reviews…I'm not going to read them – good or bad. I think they would be terribly distracting.

    Reply
  57. Renee Collins

    I was WONDERING who first said that phrase! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  58. Kevin Lynn Helmick

    I don't think I've ever responded to a "public" review, good or bad and I've gotten both.
    But a bad review is more helpful, (once the sting is gone.) I take them more seriously than a good one (depending on how well the bad review is written.) I know I can learn something there.
    The same way we learn more from reading bad writers than we do good ones.

    Reply
  59. djmorel.com

    Another strategy in addition to all of the worthy advice above: if the reviewer is also a writer, go and read his or her 1-star reviews. I haven't had an official review yet, but I have got rejection letters from published writers, a few that seemed a bit harsh. I e-mailed a thank you for the personal response and feedback on my work, then had a good laugh as I read the 1-star reviews of that person's work… and then got back to the writing.

    Reply
  60. Ray Anderson

    I believe he also said "Living long is the best revenge."

    Reply
  61. Other Lisa

    What about, "Drink heavily"? Surely that belongs on the list.

    And Kristen, I have to disagree — my cats have been awesome!

    Reply
  62. Lizzie's Blog

    Hahaha best Oscar Wilde quote ever. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  63. chris

    For Aussie-based readers you can watch an interview with Ken Follet here (http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/742120) talking about bad reviews … and other writer-type stuff in general.

    Sorry overseas viewers, address above is geo-restricted to Australia.

    Reply
  64. Cathy Keaton

    Lol… Oscar Wilde knew somethin' 'about the haterz…

    Reply
  65. C.E. Hart

    LOL
    And don't forget chocolate. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  66. Michelle Muto

    Professionalism. Always. Remember that what goes on the 'net, stays on the net. That's not always a good thing. Not everyone is going to love your book. That's just the way it is.

    Michelle Muto

    Reply
  67. Tony Eldridge

    I love it! You nailed it better than I could have said it.

    Reply
  68. terryd

    Fine post, Nathan.

    I have three responses to bad reviews:

    Ignore, as per OW (99% of the time)

    Swear that I'll fight for the free speech rights of all, whether or not they like my book (which can make human critics feel not-so-fresh, I think)

    Write something akin to Toby Wolfe's BULLET IN THE BRAIN (which is about a critic running his mouth and thereby bringing about the lovely title event)

    Reply
  69. Andy R - UK

    I had the misfortune of being given a book in the late 80's (thank God I didn't have to pay for it), by one of the bestselling authors at the time. I ploughed through two chapters of total s**t before calling it a day. I remember thinking, bloody hell, I was writing better stuff than this in fifth form; I need to find his agent NOW! Lah de dah de dah. Lah de dah de dah. No punctuation other than full stops; not my cup of tea, I'm afraid.
    I never did get to read a review of that book, shame really. It was another chart topping bestseller though! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
  70. Jeanettethewriter

    If by a bad review you mean the reader didn't like the book, but gave constructive criticism, then I say take it in, and realize that not everyone will love your work. A successful author once told me, never argue with someone who's read your work, and criticizes it. However, if the review is simply mean-spirited, without any helpful suggestions, then I agree, ignore it, and feel sorry for the reviewer. It must be hard to be such a jerk.

    Reply
  71. clindsay

    I would say to ignore even in private. I've heard too many third-hand stories of writers who complained about a bad review "privately"; it never remains private and inevitably the writer comes off looking juvenile for not just sucking it up and moving on.

    Reply
  72. Karen S. Elliott

    Excellent (and concise) advice. I'm going to link to this post in a blog of my own. Thanks, Nathan.

    Reply

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