Five Ways To Respond To A Negative Review: A Helpful Guide!

1. Do Nothing

Bad reviews happen.

They happen the way snow and rain happens. The way high tide rolls in, or the way mosquitos and herpes and gout and a thousand NCIS iterations exist (my favorite is NCIS: Schenectady, starring Alan Thicke and Johnny-Five from Short Circuit.) That’s not to say a bad review is equivalent in its moral and creative compass as a venereal disease — but that’s not your call to make. For your mileage, bad reviews are a fact of life, and not one that should crawl up under your skin like a botfly worm. (If you don’t know what that is, oh, shit, do not Google it.)

Listen, your favorite author? Your favorite book?

Go look.

That book, that author, will have bad reviews.

At least one of them will look like it was written by a Neanderthal with a head injury.

Did Stephen King slap on astronaut diapers and hunt down his cultural critics? No. Well, I mean, I don’t think so? If he did, he did it quietly, I guess.

So: just relax.

One bad review is them, not you.

(Admittedly, a ton of bad reviews is probably you, not them, but that’s a different conversation.)

Do nothing! Relax. Go write. Write better today than you did yesterday, and write better tomorrow than you did today. Spite them by forever upping your game.

See? So easy.

Are we done?

2. Hey, No, Seriously, Do Nothing

Wait, why are we still here?

What the hell did I just say?

Do. Nothing.

Put down the pen. Why do you have a pen? Were you going to begin an angry letter-writing campaign? A letter of great venom and wit? Who are you, Oscar Wilde?

Okay, I get it, some reviewers — they write reviews that get all up in your marrow. Some blogger slagged your work and it sounds like — okay, it sounds to you like they didn’t “get it.” Or they’re making accusations that you feel are specious at best. They’re getting details wrong. Maybe they’ve suggested that you or your work is racist or sexist or some other kind of -ist. They’re turning people off of your work, you scream and froth and flail about.

That’s their right.

And yes, of course, it’s your right to respond.

But, let’s play this out a little bit.

What exactly do you think is going to happen when you respond? Hm? Do you think they’re going to be enlightened to your ‘corrections?’ That you’re going to engage in a dialogue so productive that not only will the two of you be best friends, but said reviewer will recant his wretched review and apologize publicly and next thing you know: BOOM INSTANT BESTSELLER?

Sure, that might happen.

I also might develop a rare medical condition where I shit buckets of gold Krugerrands.

Here’s what’s probably going to happen.

a) You’re going to draw attention to a review you already don’t want people to see.

b) You’re going to piss off the reviewer, who wrote the review fair and square, and where before they might’ve been willing to chalk up your one book as a single instance, now they’re left to wonder if this is part of a pattern with you, you intrusive jerk.

c) If the reviewer isn’t really fair and square and is instead someone who has the scent of the troll about him, well, you just shoveled food into that troll’s mouth. You fed the beast and now the beast wants more. You probably just became a target.

d) The reviewer’s audience, if one exists, is now like: THAT AUTHOR IS TOTAL JERKPANTS.

You gotta understand: that reviewer is allowed to hold whatever opinion that reviewer wants. It doesn’t make her right. It doesn’t make her wrong. It doesn’t give her authority, and it also doesn’t rob her of it. And here you’re saying, buh-buh-but if she has the right to slag my book then I have the right to slag her slagging of my book.

And yes, yes you jolly well fucking do have that right.

And yet, it would not be wise to execute that right. Can and should are not equal.

There exists a vital cultural exchange between creator and critic. The critic’s job is to exist outside the material — it is the critic’s job to break the work apart and see what the pieces say. It is a kind of divination: guts out of pigeons. It is a kind of anti-repair: breaking a machine apart to see how it works. It is not the creator’s job to be part of that exchange. This exchange radiates outward, one way, from creator to critic and to the audience beyond. Sometimes the audience cares little for the critical response. Sometimes it does. But the radar ping does not sweep back the other way.

Criticism is a conversation.

It’s just not one between the critic and the author.

It is a conversation between the critic and the author’s work.

Your work remains silent. It’s on trial, for better or for worse.

Nobody said the judge or jury has to be fair or right.

Just as nobody said your work has to actually be good.

(This is one of the things that GamerGate gets so woefully wrong: trying to rob reviewers of their ability to be subjective, political, and social is trying to rob the critical conversation of its teeth. Criticism needs its teeth — not to be cruel, not to be mean, but sometimes just to bite deeper into the work than the average audience member would.)

Are there bully reviewers? Troll-types who get off on puncturing your work and popping that balloon? Sure, yes, absolutely. And if it ever becomes harassment, it’s a good idea to address it with the social media administrators or — if it gets that bad — with the authorities. But for the most part, you can smother that fire with a lack of attention. Flames need oxygen to grow, so give them none of yours lest you want to burn up in the bonfire of your own ill-advised response.

3. Goddamnit, I Just Told You — Hey, Where Are You Going?

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Where are you going?

What are you planning on doing?

Slagging right back? Writing a response blog? Or visiting the comments section of the reviewer to be like BUT WAIT A MINUTE I HAVE AN OPINION ON MY OWN WORK TOO because of course every author has such a crucial opinion of his own work — and here hopefully my eyeroll is so tectonic you can feel the ground tremble beneath your feet. Or maybe you were planning on retweeting a bad review and letting your audience sharpen their knives on the reviewer? You’re not gonna pull a Kathleen Hale and go stalk your critic, are you?

Don’t do any of those things! Reviewers have a voice. They deserve the voice in the same way you deserve to have yours in writing your book, or tweeting about it, or blogging things and stuff and other snidbits. No, not every reviewer will use that voice responsibly — just as not every author uses her voice responsibly, just like not every Facebook update is the shining bastion of cultural significance the updater maybe hoped it was, just as every word out of every mouth is not utter perfection. You can’t police this stuff. I’m sorry if you’re in the crossfire.

Best case scenario: read it, consider it, learn from it. Even if what you learned was, “I don’t agree and here’s why,” that’s okay. Worse case scenario: ignore the unholy fuck out of it. If you know that you can’t stomach bad reviews? Turn away. Don’t go into the light, Carol-Anne.

(Super-important to realize that you as the author have power. Responding negatively to criticism is an act of punching down. You have a big voice and you’re using it to shout someone into silence. This is doubly more concerning when you are a male author with a large audience responding to a female reviewer. You may not see the act as misogynistic, but it can create that effect right quick. Your audience is not weaponized — do not point them like a gun at those who don’t like your work. Okay, you can probably weaponize them against like, airlines, because airlines are crappy. If you wanna release the hounds on like, U.S. Airways, more power to you.)

4. Fine, Slake Your Rage In Proper Rage-Slaking Ways

This review is like a seed stuck in your teeth, isn’t it?

Fine. Fine.

Invoke your rage.

Quietly.

Properly.

Go punch a punching bag. Write in your bedside Twilight Sparkle diary. Go fire off an email to an author or artist friend and be all like AHHH DID YOU SEE THIS REVIEW (and if that author is truly a friend that author will say, yeah, yeah, that sucks, the reviewer sucks, but hey don’t get cuckoo bananapants, maybe go have a drink, go for a run, eat a cupcake, something, anything, calm thyself because this shit happens all the time).

Totally okay to feel pissed. Totally okay to feel like, grr, they don’t understand me!

And that’s where it ends, okay?

And maybe, just maybe, you need to ask:

Why didn’t they understand?

Maybe it’s something they’re bringing to the table. Critics have baggage.

Maybe it’s something you brought to the table. Authors have baggage, too.

Or maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s random.

Maybe it’s Mercury in Retrograde, whatever the fuck that means.

Ease off the stick, hoss. Take the saddle off the horse.

Go have a cookie and a nap.

5. Oh, For The Sake Of Sweet Saint Fuck, You’re Gonna Respond, Aren’t You?

No no no no noooooo –

You’re doing it anyway, aren’t you?

You’re going to respond.

*deep breath*

Okay. Fine. Let me talk you through this.

You can respond to a negative review.

You can! I’ve done it. I’ve seen others do it.

It’s dumb! It’s dumb. It’s dopey-dingbat-dipshit bad.

This is ‘camel through the eye of a needle,’ but you’re going to do it anyway, so here’s how:

First, you’re going to remember that they have the right to this opinion and that if anything you say contains even a fucking whisper of trying to rob them of that, then you already fucked up.

Second, you’re going to be super-polite. You’re going to be the best version of yourself where the goal is for this exchange to end with: “Maybe we don’t agree, but we had a good discussion.” Because sometimes, sometimes good discussions can be had — particularly if it involves you giving up some of your egotistical territory to listen and engage.

Third, listening and engaging does not mean some kind of… podium-thumping author-splaining. “LISTEN HERE, LITTLE REVIEWER,” and then a bunch of shitty bluster comes windily from forth your ass. No! No. No. If you’ve stepped into this conversation viewing it as some kind of correction, you’ve just blown off your own foot before you took your second step.

Fourth, understand that if you’re responding to the review directly, it might be seen as you entering the personal airspace of that reviewer. Like I said, the critical conversation doesn’t explicitly contain you, and an author entering that space changes the dynamic. It modifies the conversation. And not frequently in a good way. Understand that you’re not necessarily welcome. Maybe you are! Some bloggers are different. Some reviewers want that exchange. But others don’t. Be cautious. Be respectful.

Fifth, be willing to back away slowly and politely disengage.

Meaning, be willing to see that engaging at all was probably a mistake.

Bad reviews happen.

One-stars? We all get ‘em.

Once in a while I think an author can call those out to his audience. I certainly do, in part because sometimes a negative review helps sell the book to the right audience while helping divert it from the wrong one. (Negative reviews are not universally bad, you see.) But always be cautious that folks shouldn’t respond, shouldn’t mob, shouldn’t bully. Always be respectful of the cultural conversation and the role of the critic. When in doubt? Shut your trap and go have wine. Because wine is awesome, and responding to negative reviews isn’t awesome, so which would you rather do? Have wine and be awesome? Or get caught up in some online fracas and not be awesome?

*uncorks a bottle*

Let’s drink to all our bad reviews

*clink*

* * *

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93 comments

  • Yes, yes, yes! This is SUCH good advice! Can’t think of any time an author responded that didn’t turn me off completely, especially when they attack, get personal, and resent any less than stellar reviews. Certainly would keep me from buying the book, even more than a bad review.

  • Oh, thank you for this. I just saw the whole KH debacle last night and my first thought (once the horror wore off a bit–but only a little bit, because holy crapoli, WTF?) was, “I hope Chuck has some way to inject some sanity into this craziness…”

    Perfect timing!

  • That’s so spot on. That said, I have to fess up. I have responded to a negative review – 2 stars – because I could see the buy felt short changed and made some comments about the category I’d put the book in. Indeed he cited that as the reason for two stars instead of more. I was delighted when he replied and I learned some valuable things about what Amazon category I should put my work in. ie, not that one! ;-).

    That said, I think now, I wouldn’t have dared say anything because there are so many nutters about both pro authors and pro reviewers that somebody would be bound to take it the wrong way.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • Another reason to leave well alone is that sometimes a reviewer was having a terrible day when they posted; in the warmer tones of a better day, they realise they were pissed off at your book because you did a great job of evoking a crap world and revise the review.

    I received a review a few months ago from someone saying they hated one of my books. A couple of weeks later I was sent a link to a review that called my work not suitable for readers who liked clear and happy endings; turned out to be the same review, only now with a analytical rather than emotional conclusion.

    Had I engaged the original review, it might have made the reviewer entrench or kept them angry long enough that they didn’t take that second look at why the book made them feel uncomfortable.

    • I’ve harbored hopes of something similar happening, but know better. It’s nice to hear that the impossible has happened at least once. My more logical mind is inclined to think that pissing a reviewer off can very easily lead to a re-writing of the review to be more negative and incite negative reviews for other works of mine as well. Still, it’s nice to know there is actual hope for potential upside.

      • It startled me enough that I assumed I had confused two very similar reviews at first. Potentially – unless someone obsessively rereads all their reviews – they might not notice, so it might happen more than people know.

        You are right that remaining out of it is much more likely to avoid an attack than allow an improvement though.

  • Thank you for your wise, humorous words. Personally I like to get on my elliptical or go for a long walk with my dogs whenever the desire to ENGAGE a reviewer strikes. Nothing good ever comes from confronting the reviewers, even if they’re trolls (especially if they’re trolls). Seriously, I thought for a while that I landed in fairy tale land replete with ogres and other baddies when a nasty trio of bloggers decided to cyber-stalk me. No matter what they said, I refused to engage. Haven’t heard from them in a while… hope they’ve moved on to more fertile pastures. As a person who has been stalked both online and in real-life, it irks me that someone can tell the world about her stalkerish ways and be hailed a hero by some, complete with Twitter hashtag and everything.

  • Chuck, one day next year I’m going to have this little novel I wrote out in the world. It will be on Amazon, maybe it will be in book stores, maybe I’ll be selling them out of my garage next to my kids’ lemonade stand. I fully expect that someone at some point will review it. I fully expect that of all the people who review it some will think it’s a steaming glob of watery ass turds. That’s cool. I get it. Moreover, I appreciate it.

    I would love to include something like this in my acknowledgements or as the first comment on Amazon: “Thank you for taking hours of your valuable time to read my book. You didn’t know if you were going to like it or not, but you read it anyway. For that I am grateful.”

    Thoughts?

    • “Thank you for taking hours of your valuable time to read my book. You didn’t know if you were going to like it or not, but you read it anyway. For that I am grateful.”

      It’s fine, I guess, though I don’t know what you’ll achieve by it — it’s safe to assume we’re grateful that they picked up the book and even if we aren’t, we don’t write as some kind of favor, and they don’t read us as a favor, either. We write to entertain and enlighten, and they read to be entertained and enlightened. That’s the exchange — not gratitude, I think.

      That said, I don’t know that your acknowledgment will hurt, either. Acknowledging readers is good because without them, we’re just squawking into the void.

      — c.

    • My gut feeling is don’t.

      An author posting in his or her own Amazon review section feels to me like a shot fired in the air. Even if you don’t say anything directly to any particular person, even if you say nothing negative at all, even if you’re saying “feel free to say and think whatever!”, the act of posting there feels like a statement of “I, the author, am here. I am watching what you post. This is not a safe space for reviewing.”

      I think most people don’t want to talk shit about an author in that author’s living room–they know that would be like calling a baby ugly to it’s parents: even if it’s true, why would you say that? But it’s really important for readers to be able to say these things to *each other* in a space that doesn’t belong to the author and where we can at least pretend the author isn’t grinding his or her teeth at every word. By commenting, I feel that you’re marking your Amazon book page as your territory and, whether it’s intentional or not, souring the atmosphere of free and fair reviewing.

      Also:
      “Hours of your valuable time” is going to sound passive-aggressive in a lot of contexts, and commenting on your own book is going to look 1) unprofessional and 2) like you’re artificially inflating your comment count to get better rankings.

      • Just to add: If you want to thank people in advance on your own website for taking the time to read, that sounds probably okay to me, as long as it’s not a big obtrusive pressury thing you’re throwing at them. People already know that’s your space and you’re excited about your book, and so your graciousness can be gracious there, not aggressive.

        (That said, I’m still leery of the “hours of your valuable time” wording. It still sounds potentially passive-aggressive to me, or even if it doesn’t come off that way, reminding people of just how many hours this book will take to read and the significant risk that it might be terrible is not good marketing.)

    • I wouldn’t. That response really put me off (and I haven’t even read your book.)

      Back when I was in a pretty-pretty-princess-speshul-snowflake workshop group, I engaged a reviewer who said that my story was “just silly.” I got sat down by the group mods and told to shut up. The rest of the review, once I analyzed it, showed she didn’t understand sci-fi at all and had just read/reviewed the story to get the workshop points needed to be able to post her own work. And that it will be obvious to sci-fi readers that she didn’t know what she was talking about. I also discovered that if you write sci-fi, someone will always challenge your science, no matter how much real world you base it on. You should either learn from it if it is good, or mock it in private with friends if it is bad.

      X-number of readers will just not get it, no matter what. Feedback notes I got from an agent on query showed her connection with my novel was exactly zero and her suggestions were useless. Good to know. It showed that I didn’t want her as an agent any more than she wanted me as a client.

      Another bad review on a short story called “Suicide by State” railed at me for saying it was impossible to kill yourself by hanging from a bed frame. That story was based on a real suicide that had occurred at the jail the previous week. Okay. That told me two things. Either this guy was clueless, or equally possible, that I had failed to communicate the scene to him. I could have responded, “OH YEAH . . . CAN SO!” or I could have done what I did – nothing.

      Think about the really bad reviews you see on books you’re thinking of reading. “This stinks. This guy is an idiot.” Do those change your opinion? Probably not. So, trust it won’t change other’s opinion of your book.

      The very first pro level review I ever received started out, “We both know you are talented and we both know this sucks . . .” Well, this hot rod thriller writer now has my book to blurb. Would that be happening if I had gone batshit on him?

      Doing nothing is an option that few too many people take (myself included.) And Hale? She should take 1000 mg of Fukital and sit the hell down. Her agent/publicist/publisher have got to be hating life right now.

      Terri

      • Thanks for chiming in, Terri. I’m not sure I know what a “pretty-pretty-princess-speshul-snowflake” workshop group is but it sounds awful! ;)

        All I know is my time is valuable (as is everyone else’s) and to be genuinely thanked for spending some of it on whatever-it-is feels good, so why not pass some of that love along?

        As I’ve mentioned to the others who commented, I think this can be accomplished with a simple “thank you” in the acknowledgements.

        All the best,
        AFB

      • Terri,

        The reason you got that response on your story could-maybe-might have to do with the fact that execution by hanging doesn’t resemble killing yourself by hanging from a bed frame. Execution by hanging usually relies upon a significant drop which breaks the condemned’s neck. A really violent yank upward might also break the neck as well, but was more rare. Successfully breaking the neck was such a critical part of the process that they used to have tables for scaffold dimensions and rope length based upon height and weight of the condemned.

        Dying by asphyxiation is excruciating, and it would take one hell of a determined (by circumstance or sexual arousal) individual to do it without taking the decision out of their hands through the use of a sedative or complete physical hanging. It could-maybe-might be that if you had depicted your scene to account for the very real difficulties, you would have convinced that reader and not had a problem.

        I’m not saying this is you, because I haven’t read your story. However, more often than not, writers go with something that they heard about and rather than learn the underlying system of the thing, they make up a story that hinges on the knowing that something is possible, while neglecting the how. This gets people into trouble when they’re depicting an atypical situation, because if you’re going against expectation, you had better explain yourself well.

  • Great post! I have to say, as a reader–when I’m checking out online reviews, I often skip right to the 1-3 star reviews. Why? Well, a) because trolls can be hilarious, but also b) because a critical review often tells me more about the book than a 5-star bookgasm. Even if I don’t agree with the reviewer, they often pick out specific points that turn out to be quite informative

  • A review belongs entirely to the reviewer, I firmly believe. Plus, a strongly worded, passionate one star review is better than most mildly written, 3 star reviews, and seems to perk interest. Here is a recent one star review I received, grammatical errors are the reviewer’s, not mine.

    “The title of this book should be; psychopaths rule the world, it’s starts with the writer. I think it’s dangerous too write these kind of books these days. You can not stop the violence in the word when you write or read this, you only make it worse. I think there is something wrong in the writers mind if he likes too write about this, and also with the peope who gave this book 5 stars there is something badly wrong.”

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R34DNGPKT3GTPB

    You can’t buy this kind of publicity. (well, you can, but it’s cost-prohibitive)
    (there are 8o other reviews, 39 of them five stars, worth adding.

      • Yeah, I feel you on that. The only problem I had with it is, that I believe that many horror writers have the finest hearts around, and are, in fact, more sensitive to the fragility of life. The book was about the power of love for family. Of course, not everyone gets the same message, which is to be expected.

    • Experience teaches that (particularly with regard to movies, but it’s a pretty general rule) that professional reviewers have tastes that are almost, but not entirely, opposite to mine. This is particularly true of things they like: if all the critics are raving about it, I will most probably NOT like it. It’s less reliable but still probative the other way. (Part of this is my congenital predisposition to like badfic.) So if you can get a professional reviewer to absolutely rant about why something is awful, I will at the very least check it out.

      Amateur reviewers are a lot less consistent in this regard, but a review like the above would probably get me to read the sample. :)

  • When I was in college, the various arts and English classes I took all did in-class group critique, with the policy that the person whose work was being critiqued could not respond in any way (except maybe to say “thank you” at the end, for the fact that people took the time to comment on your work). The reason for that, as explained by one professor, was that the work has to stand on its own: you can’t follow it around and say to everyone who encounters it, “No, actually, I meant that part to be THIS thing.” (Obviously, I went to college prior to the rise of the internet.)

    It was a valuable lesson. The work has to speak for itself, and you don’t engage with people who critique it. Listen to the criticism if you want to, take away from it what you agree with, but DON’T argue about it.

  • Excellent advice. As regards to that last bit: “Sometimes a negative review helps sell the book to the right audience while helping divert it from the wrong one. (Negative reviews are not universally bad, you see.)” I usually glance at both high and low reviews before starting a book and the negative ones have convinced me many a time that the book was absolutely for me. For instance, I bought one of your 500 Ways books off Amazon before I’d ever read your blog because the one star reviews all carried the same theme: “Such language! My delicate eyes will never be the same again!” They’re probably what sold me on buying the book more than anything else. Now granted, I’m sure negative criticism on my own work will always cause me to spend some extra time with my therapists (the good doctors Ben & Jerry) but that’s what they are there for, right?

  • Sometimes, bad reviews are even enjoyable. One of my favorite reviews of my book was a two-star review that made me laugh like hell every time I read it. I wanted to comment and tell the reviewer Thanks!, but decided that leaving it alone and periodically enjoying it was good enough. Because, really, rules 1-3 above are the way to go.

    • Actually I did respond to some reviews. I didn’t like how one of them responded to me. They tried to say that I was stalking them through my own page by responding to the review. The last thing they said they were going to report me to amazon, but I decided to report them instead for calling me a stalker. They deleted their post and I stopped posting, because it was useless to ask why they wrote such ugly review. Since then I have decided to not read any other reviews, because I have readers worldwide that actually enjoy my work. A few bad reviews haven’t kept anyone from reading my work. I’m very grateful for that. I became a writer and this is what I do. Write.

  • Not sure reading reviews offers much value to me as a writer. The book is already written, on the shelves, so it’s not like I can change anything. Reviews are for readers. Leave them to it.

  • I remember a Polanski quote, although I’m sure he wasn’t the first one to say this, that if you believe the good reviews you will then have to believe the bad ones as well.

    Does anyone remember last year Robert Orci went on a rampage responding to Star Trek fans that weren’t exactly enamored with his work on INTO DARKNESS? He came off as a big bag of douche. There’s just no way any reaction you have is not going to be seen as an artist throwing a tantrum because someone had the audacity to not like something they created. Now we all know the internet is filled will people would seem to relish spewing negativity, mostly anonymously, but it’s best to simply not rise to the bait. As difficult and sometimes unfair that may be, it’s really the only way to go.

    • Peter Straub gave a presentation about how he created his own troll . . . to trash his own books. He said that he figured it would happen anyway, he might as well join in on the fun. It was hilarious.

      And, yes, the Orci Incident . . . *eyeroll* Right now there is a big backlash going on about the addition of Jennifer Love Hewitt to the show “Criminal Minds.” For a few days every single time someone said they don’t like Hewitt (I know I don’t,) some guy jumped on and said, “You cunt, you’re just jealous of her. If you don’t like it, quit watching. You’re not a real fan.” I’m sure the intern at CBS who monitors social media was just cringing because it brought the critics out of the woodwork.

      Terri

  • This made my day. I read that Kathleen article yesterday about her being catfished, and though I thought she acted wrongly, I understood. I’ve had bad reviews, and though the good significantly outweigh the bad, those nasty one and two stars get right under my skin. I avoid looking now. So many author friends have advised me to.

    But when I first joined the publishing world, I did contact a ‘bad reviewer’. And luckily for me, the conversation went well. I thanked her for reading my book and said I was sorry she didn’t like it as much as others. That I hoped she’d give my other books a shot. She was sweet about it. I’d never do that again though. But when you are being harassed and this troll is driving sales away, I can’t imagine the frustration and suffering that author/artist/business goes through.

    Nicely put, Chuck. I always look forward to your posts.

    Ciao,
    Ice.

  • I don’t read reviews of my own books, and haven’t since sometime in the early nineties. I hadn’t received a bad review before stopping, I just realized I didn’t give a rat’s ass what any reviewer had to say, good or bad, so why read them at all?

    I care what average readers say, and they always let me know. They’re the one who make or break a book, not reviewers. There’s a saying in publishing that a great review in the right place can sell 100,000 extra copies of a book. And a horrible review in the same place can sell 90,000 extra copies.

    I don’t know if it still holds the record, but at one time, The Bridges of Madison County held the record for most sales of a hardcover book for adults. Then it set the record for paperback sales. Then, after hitting number one on the NYT Bestseller List three separate times, it set the record for most time in that spot. During this massive selling spree, it also set the record for most negative and fewest positive reviews or any novel on record.

    If bad reviews matters, most of the bestsellers out there wouldn’t have sold enough copies to matter. Don’t read your own reviews, and you don’t have to worry about responding to them, good or bad.

    • I’m glad I came in here today. I thought about the same thing too. I have readers worldwide and that’s an accomplishment. I never thought anyone would read my work, but people do. I’m very grateful for sales. I’m also learning that when I decided to write I didn’t think of anything negative. I just wrote and published my work without ever thinking of anything negative. My goal is to keep doing this, because I have so many projects I’m working on right now. I’m very busy. Great success to everyone on this blog. Have a great day.

  • One of the good things for authors about writing and posting on internet sites like literotica.com or fanfiction.net is that you learn pretty quickly that somebody is going to hate your book and they’re going to be vocal about it. The readers at literotica.com are particularly…interesting. You can go through the learning curve of what works and what doesn’t without it affecting your professional name. (What works for me is no feedback at all to good or bad reviews.)

    It also helps to build a thick skin and a proper perspective about bad reviews. There are some where they genuinely didn’t like it and are nice about it, and some where you can tell they’re just trolls who get off on putting people down. Even the nice ones you have to put in perspective. People have different tastes. Not everybody will like your book, even if it earns 4.5 stars out of 5.

    • I agree completely, and wrote a bit on my experience in a comment below if you want to check it out. I’m glad I started out in fanfiction communities, so now when I finally get originals out there, I think I can deal with negative reviews and not engaging with them.

  • I ignore them. I go on Goodreads about once a year (to set up a contest, usually) and I usually only get sent reviews of my books by other people. I have had other people go to bat for me, especially once when someone reviewed the book who admitted they hadn’t read it and that was only because it was verging on slanderous against me personally. That one died down quickly though.

  • As an approval junkie awaiting publication of her first effort, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this cautionary blog. I’ll tie a string around this one when my baby first hits the digital stands.

  • I completely agree with all of this. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I’m glad that I’m publishing my books now, rather than twenty years ago. Twenty-year-old me? She would have responded. She would have engaged. She would have tried to defend herself, because she would have felt under attack. (She had quite a temper, that one.)

    Forty-year-old me? I’ve figured out that there’s no way I can make everyone happy, that I shouldn’t try, and that at the end of the day, not everyone’s going to like what I do.

    I’m okay with that.

  • I have a few stories… *whistles*

    Luckily for the authors, I’m graceful enough not to share them with the general public, but I sure won’t be reviewing any of their books in the future, even if I loved some of their other work. (This is besides the fact my blog has been mainly dormant for close to a year. Or maybe it isn’t, as I had a few bad experiences pretty close together toward the end there. It’s just not worth the abuse. )

  • Great advice. Plenty of writers out there that I think walk on water, and among all the applause, every time they release a book, there will always be a scattering of negative reviews. And I’ve seen negative reviews for crazy things such as: you’re British and you used British spelling and I don’t like it, so here’s one star. Some reviewers will love your work, some won’t but they’ll be honest about why, and some are just plain crazy.

  • My favorite one-star reviews are those that complain about how long it took for the book to arrive, or how it was somehow physically damaged in transit, etc. Because that totally has to do with the words on the page.

    Seriously, the anthologies I’ve worked on have gotten good and bad reviews, and I just let the bad ones be while trying not to read them during particularly awful self-esteem days. Sometimes they offer things worth considering for future works. And like someone above posted, the best thing to do is focus on your next project.

  • You can always kill the reviewer off in your next story. You should probably change the name before submitting the story anywhere, though.

    (I’ve occasionally realized after writing a story that a less-than-admirable character is based on someone I’ve had a beef with. But not something I do consciously. Well, not often.)

    A while back, someone called me a “pea-brained moral crusader” online. I replied, “Thanks! I’ll add it to my epithet collection.”

    • I always base my villains and dead guys on people who’ve annoyed me in real life. I’ve killed my former boss repeatedly and I’ve got a relative who’s doing hard time in five or six different universes.

      I change the names of course.

      >:-}

  • In another life I’ve been a musician and this is something you learn from Day One – and from watching what happens when other musicians commit the cardinal sin of not only responding, but taking a full page ad in a magazine to refute a bad review. Yes really. It was like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion. The duo that did it sank without trace, possibly due to mortal embarrassment. Aiiieeee!

  • This entire debacle BLEW MY MIND. I thought it was a universal rule for authors, regardless of traditional or self published, NOT to respond to any bad review, ever. Like, EVER. I thought everyone already knew that, for those exact reasons that you just pointed out, Chuck. It’s opinion. Everyone gets bad reviews. Some of them are legit, others are trolls, others are just ignorant jerks, but who in their right mind lets themselves get so bent out of shape over one person’s opinion? Unless it’s Oprah telling her nation of followers to flame your book out of existence, move on.

    My policy for bad reviews is always the same (although thank Christ I’ve literally only gotten one so far, but if my books pick up sales someday, more will come): speed-read through them to see if a legitimate flaw in my work has been identified that I need to fix and then K.O.S.–Keep On Scrolling. I’m the kind of girl who tends to dwell on things, so I just keep scrolling past and keep writing. Haters gonna hate. Writers gonna write. We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to tell stories. Not everyone is gonna like those stories, but if you’re doing your job with love and hard work, then majority of the readers will.

    I guess Stalker Author Chick decided to learn this lesson the hard way.

  • I suspect heavily that on that day when the far-off day when People I’ve never met actually read my work, if somebody actually posts a review of it, I will simply be so pants-wettingly grateful for the attention that they could say anything they like and I’ll be all “But you DID read it, right? OMG!”

  • I’ve only responded 3 times to 80 reviews for Thin Rich Bitches but my responses were to say thanks for the compliments that you gave the writing and sorry you didn’t like the book. (Have to admit I was not pleased by the 3 star review that claimed that the writing was great but it was a genre she didn’t really like – so why did she read and review a book of that genre?)!

  • Well said, though I’m not sure about item 5. I got my second genuine 1-star review recently and when she spread it around the component books of a collection, immediately suspected association with the uber-troll who stalks me. However, I’ve strangled myself and not said a word. All the other reviews for the same book have been good so all the theories in the world don’t matter. We all get the occasional black spot.

  • Applying this same tactic with my wife when she speaks words at me has proven to increase my mental state greatly. Best advice on reviews ever, and great for getting chewed out for staying up too late rolling polyhedral dice with people old enough to know better. Well played, sir.

    • I WANT to find people to roll polyhedral dice late into the night. Never too old. (Wait, I did not mean that as a weird gamer’s euphemism.) Thank you for the connection between writing reviews and real life critiques. Life’s lessons abound here on this blog.

  • I’m on my 9th 1* star review. Most of them say I swear too much. Now I feel TOTALLY ROCK N’ ROLL!! (Okay, no I don’t – I feel like ripping off my own skin and bleaching it in a desperate attempt at scrubbing away the failure. And now I feel the need to say ‘that’s nine 1* stars spread over 100+ reviews so I don’t look like a loser. And now I feel like a loser adding that. Which just goes to show, no matter how you discuss reviews, you look like an arse.)

    On a serious note, reviewers scare me and make me want to hide. Do Not Engage is the bestest advice ever.

    • May I ask what you wrote and where I may read it? I’m curious about the reaction to cussing. There are some people who do not accept it. At all. (If it’s not okay to post links here, I apologize for asking.)

  • I have some five stars and some ones too. I really got into writing, because I enjoy it. I didn’t even expect anyone to read my work. It’s one of those things where you just never know when anyone will read your work. I like being an author after all. This is the plan.

  • I’ve been chanting this mantra since I began reviewing: do not respond to reviews. Ever. They rarely turn out well. Sure, sometimes I’ve had conversations with authors that were productive and nice (one actually ending with me helping an author pick out some typos) but the majority were ones that I would not want repeated. They’re just nasty affairs.

    The whole Hale debacle hit way too close to home. I was told to kill myself after rejecting a review request (yes, a REQUEST!) when my submissions had been closed for almost two years. I’ve also seen reviewers go apoplectic about little things authors do.

    In short? The crazy is on both sides and the best thing both sides can do is not engage each other over negative reviews.

  • Coming from the theater world I’ve grown a fairly thick skin to negativity. You just can’t control peoples perceptions – at best, you mitigate them. With regards to bad reviews, you just have to remember (as you state very well) that they have no more value than a good one. Each person will come to whatever conclusion they will come to. In a way, be glad for the response at all – Art is meant to engage (good or bad). You succeeded in making them feel SOMETHING – so your art did what it was supposed to. Revel in that.

    You have no way to manage these things. Best to leave it where it lies and move on.

    Personally? While I like the idea of being a Best Selling Author, I’d rather have a core group of people who truly love my work. I’d rather reach a single gay boy kid (like I was) and have him respond to something I wrote that said, ‘don’t worry kid, it’ll all be better one day…’ It was that way for me and John Rechy – the man saved my young boy life. His words were my bible in so many ways. I am writing for that kid. I am writing to pay it forward. If someone find it disdainful – move on buddy. There’s nothing for you to see here. Like my work in theater – I do it and move on. The chips fall where they may. I can’t get caught up in the whole “do they love me or not routine” that way lies a certain path to 9 bags of wacky crazy. Pasadena…

  • This post is wonderful in explaining the why of not engaging with reviews/reviewers and providing great alternatives. I learned the lesson the hard way, when I responded to a very rude review somewhat passive-aggressively on a fanfiction site at age sixteen… since the unpleasant fallout of that exchange, I have been pretty good at ignoring negative comments on my writing (my art was another story for a bit). I think that I’m ready to deal with not replying to reviews of all sorts when my original works are published.

    This post is also timely because I keep putting off a blog post I have planned, tentative titled “Fanfiction Reviews: The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious”. I plan to include some of the reviews I’ve gotten and what I’ve learned about replying to reviews in an online fanfiction setting, which is somewhat different from a professional setting (example – thanking people for positive comments is often well-received because it’s often a community of writers and readers that interact). But I’m glad I didn’t write that blog yet because I’d love to link to this post in mine.

    If anyone is interested in reading my most hilarious review to one of my most well-received male/male erotic romance stories, here it is, verbatim:

    “Okay, this is the first yaoi story I have read, and it was well written, but I feel like banging my head into a wall because I am not gay, and only read this because a friend said it would be good. I love your writing, but the gay parts made me sick to my stomach. So, the whole thing made me sick to my stomach.”

    It was so tempting to reply and ask why he started reading a gay erotic romance story if he didn’t like gay male relationships, and why he kept reading it if it made him sick to his stomach. But I refrained, and instead talked to friends about it and they thought it was rather amusing.

    And it’s easy enough to not reply to reviews like this one, which is, again, verbatim with formatting intact:

    “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?
    KAKASHI AND IRUKA FUCKED UP
    FUCK YOU”

    Hee hee.

    Thanks again, Chuck!

  • this is excellent advice. Normally what I do, and I just got finished ‘reviewing’ to a bad reviewer actually. For the past handful of chapters all they’ve reviewed was how weak the characters are though they’re usually strong, and how strong the villains are and they don’t want to read anymore until the Heroes are strong again…so I dedicated a short 600 word chapter to her that totally buffed up the heroes…gave them super strength, had them win the fight and walk away with each of their happy endings…all in 600 words because, you know, they needed to be strong. Then, of course, I bid them adieu and welcomed the rest of my readers to continue on with the real story. So far the reviews on the dedicated chapter are quite humorous and welcome hehe. Nothing wrong with being politely sarcastic in the reply =^^=

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