Five ways to cope with a bad review

Writers write so readers can read. But what happens when readers decide to do some writing of their own?

Reviews and ratings. The only type of feedback that’s available for everyone to see. And, of course, from time to time, someone writes a bad review and gives you a one star rating. The review may be a long, essay-like exposition on how bad your writing is, or just a one liner filled with spelling errors. A really bad review might be enough to make your heart throb inside your chest. Tears might be involved as well.

Well, I’m going to tell you some of the best ways to cope with bad reviews. All of them have been properly tested.

1. Sit down, count to three, relax, close your eyes. Think of something funny. Build a happy place inside your head where that bad person who gave you a one star review on Amazon can’t reach you.

2. Walk it off. Go for a stroll in the park. Take your dog with you. Don’t have one? Take your cat, your parrot, etc. Half an hour of aimless wandering can do miracles for your blood pressure.

3. Write a new story. Yeah, simple as that. Start something new, something better.

4. Go to the Amazon page of your favorite novel and read all the one star reviews that are there. Bad reviews are everywhere, and even a masterpiece has to have some really bad ones. No book has ever pleased everyone. As David Gaughran once said, great books tend to divide people.

5. Read your five star reviews. Read some fan mail.

What you DON’T want to do is:  reply. Never, ever do that. Not when you get a good review, because people will expect you to answer to all of your reviews, and especially not when you get a bad one. If a reader is confused as to what the hell where you trying to say in your story, don’t try to explain. Not even in a cheeky, cheery manner.

The thing is that, okay, you write a story. But from the moment someone buys that story, it’s theirs. And they can understand as much or as little as they want/can. They can love it or hate it. But your job’s done. You can’t possibly expect to be there when someone reads your story and explain all the bits that they didn’t understand.

Don’t try to denigrate the reviewer, don’t hire the mob to kill him.

Because bad reviews also lend credibility to your book. Having only five star reviews is a bit suspicious.

We’re all different. We all have different preferences when it comes to literature. So, maybe, just maybe, that person who gave you a bad review did so simply because he didn’t like the story, not because it wasn’t good. It just wasn’t his cup of tea. It happens.

The thing is that people tend to write reviews for the books they either loved or hated. To let others know that the book is worth reading or to let others know they should stay away from it.

So, relax and drink a beer or something.


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46 comments on “Five ways to cope with a bad review

  1. Monica Lee says:

    I love No. 4. I rather enjoy reading 1-star reviews for the likes of J.K. Rowling or James Patterson.

  2. k2globalcommunicationsllc says:

    When all is said and done, write for yourself, your audience will find you.

  3. Something I need to keep in mind when I reach the stage of publishing. A writer may think he or she has the greatest plot since sliced bread, especially if his or her all was put into the making of the work. It may hurt that some people don’t like it, but we just have to move on. And if there is a lesson to be learned by any critiques we may get, make sure to learn them. Next time around, we just might have gained another fan. Within reason of course.

  4. a.h.richards says:

    This makes me smile. Nice work Cristian. There are so many ways to get messed up over a bad review, and you’ve just offered up an arsenal for bad review survival. I have no parrot, but I do intend to read some bad reviews for the ‘greats.’ It might actually turn into a very positive habit. Thanks for the post.

  5. Good advice. Just saw, to my amazement, a 1* review for Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Sure puts things in perspective. Thank you, Paulette

  6. avwalters says:

    I must be out of my mind–I finally got a bad review on Amazon and it was a relief! I laughed! My friends all looked at me sideways. Was there something wrong with me? Naw. All those good reviews–they begin to look staged if there’s no balance. I know that my books appeal to a particular demographic. It was just a matter of time until one of them fell into the hands of someone who didn’t match that profile. Bad review? Just shrug, see if there’s something to be learned and then go about your way.

  7. Piscis says:

    I try to pay more attention to the contents of the review than the rating, since the five-star system means different things to different people. As backwards as it might sound to some, I would rather have a 1-star review that says “Well-written, but I absolutely hated the story” than a 3-star that says “Good story, but the prose was sloppy and amateurish.” Although that may be because I’m also an editor. (>^-‘)>

    But, yeah, it’s all subjective. Try to see if you can take anything useful from the bad review’s points, and otherwise let it be and move on.

  8. A good topic!

    In life, homogenous and conformity, I seek not. If all I received were accolades and rave reviews, I’d not only be disappointed, I’d be concerned I had a cadre of “yes” readers. For those who choose to express dissatisfaction or dislike, I say – bring it!

    A quick question: What does “properly tested” confirm?

  9. malartart says:

    Cracking post as usual. Really enjoy reading your blog- always good advice,


  10. goks says:

    Good thoughts… You are right when I see five stars I do feel that something is not right. We have to assume that people who read reviews are intelligent enough to ignore bad comments if they can’t relate to it.

  11. Can this theory be applied to how to brush off ugly comments as well? :)

  12. When I get bad reviews, I use them to stir me to write better. It usually works.

  13. desertrat69 says:

    Thank you for the support and understanding. It’s scary creating!

  14. That’s one thing I don’t get about reviews. A review should be about what the story is intended to be, not what the reader wishes it should be. To illustrate with an extreme example: you don’t give a mindless shoot-em-up action story a bad review because it had no mushy romance in it. You base the review on the quality of the content. Was the conflict believable? Were the goals of the ant- and protagonists clear? Was it entertaining? Did the reader have fun? It might not be your cup of tea but bear the tea-lovers in mind when reviewing.
    Good post!

  15. JBesanko92 says:

    Really insightful read. Thank you, Cristian.

    I especially liked this line, “Because bad reviews also lend credibility to your book. Having only five star reviews is a bit suspicious.” It really struck a chord with me. It’s true that if I saw something that had nothing but positive reviews, I’d most likely skim it over, and then put it aside. But a bit of bad press adds some interest; some curiosity. Why didn’t they like it; what didn’t they understand. All these questions add another dimension to the appeal of a story in my opinion.

    Definitely favourited this post. Thanks again.


  16. Ashutosh says:

    Hi Christian,

    Missing from the list, and probably the most important response to a bad review, should be introspection. Trying to understand what the readers’ are telling you and taking them indicators of where the mismatch between your offerings (your writings) and your customers (readers) expectations are.

    After all, an honest bad feedback is be the most valuable thing an author can get from a reader. It shows that although the reader did not like your work, she cares enough to spend time detailing her thoughts in the form of a review.

    PS: I run a book review blog, and sometimes do write not so good reviews.

  17. I liked #4 as well. Good post!

  18. kcharbneau says:

    Thanks for sharing. Love this :)

  19. Good tips to prepare for any bad reviews I may yet receive – thanks!

  20. I think everyone has to meet up and deal with negative opinions sooner or later and on a regular basis. I’m a dancer and I know there are always people in the audience who have something unpleasant to say no matter how good or bad you are, in fact it has nothing to do with how good or bad you are, and it doesn’t really relate to you – get over it. Opinions are reflections of people who express them. There are positive people who are happy with everything, there are grumpy people who find something negative in everything they deal with. I once heard that a book is a refection of the reader’s soul, not the writer’s. I guess everyone who chooses a career in a creativity field, has to take a course on dealing with negative opinions, because they are always there – the bigger a star you are, the more negative they get. Attention is attention, even if it’s bad it’s still good.

  21. I agree with Ashutosh: depending on the nature of the bad review, it’s a good idea to read through calmly and work out precisely what the reviewer didn’t like. If enough reviewers give you the same criticism, then you know what you need to watch out for when writing your next project.

  22. hellenmasido says:

    I give myself reviews and rarely listen to other people’s views. I have come across pretty warped interpretations and in the end, if I like what i write- if its something even I can read and enjoy, then bad reviews from other people wont dampen my mood or make me falter in my writing.

  23. Love me or hate me but DO NOT ignore me damnit! Thanks for the reminder.

  24. Jess says:

    Bad review can get you stung. I brush my teeth four times when getting that… felt relieve after.

  25. Your suggestion to avoid replying to bad reviews really caught my eyes.

    I tend to take criticisms with dismissal, but I do not argue with the other person. I let it sit with me until I see their perspective. It may seem that your work have gone to waste. This is not true. Everything is a process.

    I believe that improvement over time always grabs attention. :)

  26. emmyleigh says:

    Good points made. When looking for a book, I always look for the low reviews as much as the high ones – finding out what people don’t like about a book can be very enlightening. They don’t necessarily put me off – what does put me off is all glowing 5 star reviews.

  27. Mich-in-French says:

    Very good advice – thank you

  28. This is an excellent introspective on ‘bad’ reviews. I was almost crushed when I received my first 1 star review, but I did exactly what you mentioned in #4 . . . I actually went and looked at all the other 1 star reviews that the same reviewer wrote on Amazon, and other sites, and it suddenly became apparent that the particular reviewer was extremely critical of many other authors. They didn’t like the colorful language, the story ‘wasn’t their cup of tea’. Up to that point the lowest review I had received was a 3.5, and even that made me go back, and want to make sure I did even better on my future novels, so some ‘genuine’ reviews can be very helpful, while others are just set on degrading ‘indie’ authors in general.

  29. This is some great advice you’ve got here. I especially agree on the point about no replying — whatever the reviews say, take it as a critic and not a debate or an argument. You cannot prove the worth of your book or sell more by answering reviews, but what you can do is take the good advice and use it in your next writing.

  30. kelilly says:

    Totally agree that the readers take ownership of the writing. I do think that readers have a right to be honest about other people’s work – as long as they do that respectfully and constructively.

  31. I Love what you said about your job being done – it’s now the readers story.

    I’m thinking this also applies to pictures. I get lots of good reviews – but some are just harsh. It’s hard to shrug that off.

    It’s also interesting what you said about never ever replying to a review. How does this apply to a review on a blog?

    – Michael

  32. Mike says:

    Yes, Amazon/Goodreads reviews are an excellent exercise in optimism – thank you.

  33. Great article and good advice. As you say, some of the greatest writers have had bad reviews so there’s hope for us all. Getting reviews at all can be the difficult part.

  34. clairewieger says:

    Love this, going to use for future reference!

  35. marys501 says:

    I think writing for yourself is the key – trying to chanel what you think people want is a recipe for disaster as you’ll end up pleasing no one – have faith in yourself and remember 1 star is better than no star, 1 star means you can only get better…

  36. One thing I’d say is one you touched on in the first paragraph: check to see if it’s an actual critique or just a rant with horrendous grammar. One is intelligent enough to take seriously, the other is a rageaholic who can’t even calm down long enough to type a sentence.
    Jon Acuff says it’s also helpful to find what else they reviewed/liked on Amazon or whatever. One guy said he’d rather look at floor tiles than read his book. A further inquiry proved that the guy actually did review and evaluate floor tiles and was a serious fan of them. The world is funny.

  37. naomimgruer says:

    I liked this post so much I posted it on Twitter,

  38. I agree: just walk it offi. It can be disheartening to read not-so-favorable comments about something you poured your heart and soul into, but we can’t always have sunshine. Once in a while, it’s good to experience some setbacks or letdown so we can improve ourselves.

  39. Elizabeth Krall says:

    I’m a fan of option #5. Read those positive reviews, and bask in the knowledge that you HAVE made a connection with other readers. The first time I read in a review that I made a reader cry, I was filled with wonder: my words wrought such emotion in a stranger? That makes up for any amount of dismissive one or two star reviews.

  40. Matt Owens Rees says:

    Good advice generally. But if the review is vindictive and it’s clear the “reviewer” is just clearly flaming you, probably not even having read the book, report it to Amazon. I don’t mind constructive views, good or bad; and Amazon don’t want vendetta type reviews either for whatever reason. They speedily took out one bad review I had as they could see the reviewer was doing.

  41. xavier1610 says:

    This is great advice, especially since this is my first time blogging :) literally just started a day ago.
    Keep up the good work. If anyone has any advice for me being a first time blogger it would also be great!

  42. amseghir says:

    I’m giving you a bad review for this article. It’s terrible, this is terrible! How dare you make this mistake: “…the hell where you trying…” You should have typed “were” instead of “where” LOL!!

    Just kidding! Excellent article and valuable tips! Keep up the great work.

  43. Awesome input, specially for those new bloggers out there =D …

  44. I’m going to try and apply at least one of these tips to the bad feed back I got for the first draft chapter of my Honours thesis, it was constructive but still criticism so I’m just going to plunge into the second chapter and hope that it’s better!

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