I’ve written about this subject before, and received many different responses and opinions. I thought I’d address the issue again, as I still often see authors on social media asking others how they should handle a negative review. The most common response is ‘Ignore it’. That always makes me shudder. if you’re publishing, if you’re putting your writing out there, then negative reviews are something you’re going to have to deal with, and ignoring them is not the right advice.

Writing is hard. You invest huge amounts of time and effort into your writing. It can be a pain. And it’s terrifying having your work out there, where it can be picked apart. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could bear all that in mind when they write a review of your book?

But why should they? No one has forced you to put your book on Amazon. And your reader, who has spent their money and invested their time in reading your book, is entitled to their opinion. You chose to sell your book. They bought it in good faith.

Now, I’m not talking about the reviews that are silly and thoughtless and are to do with delivery times and downloading issues etc. These are ridiculous, and can, for the most part, be ignored as can the sort of reviews that complain about the amount of sex or swearing in a book, something that’s down to personal taste. I’m talking about reviews that point out a fault with your book. And if lots of readers are telling you that your books are full of errors, or are too wordy, or are boring, or that they had to skip great big sections, then you need to take note. The problem is, lots of writers lump all these types of reviews together. Worse, they accuse these readers of being trolls.

Not this kind of troll!

And this is a problem with a lot of authors and it’s one that does other indie writers no favours. There is a tendency among authors to be very precious about their work. They think because they’ve worked hard and because they’ve sweated over a book then that means it should be above criticism. They seem to think that because they’ve poured their hearts and souls into something then no one must be mean. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s rubbish.

It’s not OK to put something that’s poorly written or badly edited out there, expect people to pay for it, spend their precious time reading it, and then not expect to be taken to task if it’s not up to scratch. If you went to a restaurant and bought a meal and it was crap would you think, oh well, but the chef spent time on it, I should be nice? No, you wouldn’t. You’d complain. You’d be entitled to. And if you’ve put a book out there, then the reader is also entitled to complain if it isn’t up to scratch.

I know of book reviewers who have dared to criticise books and who have been met with insults and worse. That’s just not on.

Indie authors say they want to be treated with respect. They say they want to be recognised. But then some expect special treatment. The world doesn’t work like that.

So look at those one star reviews. It’s painful, I know. But there might be something in there that really helps your writing.

Be brave. We only learn through our mistakes after all, and if you never face those mistakes and correct them, then you’ll never grow as an author.

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  1. I’ve learned a lot from my readers, Alison, and 99.99% are helpful. But not this one:

    I really wanted to like this book as Mary Allerton Cushman is an ancestor of mine but it is so poorly written with so many obvious historical mistakes that I could not even bear to get past chapter 3. This is the first book I have ever thrown in the garbage. Sad that the author did not at least have an editor that knew the basics of this important time period of history.

    Nice that I’ve had historians back me up!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree. Its never pleasant to read a bad review, but each reader is entitled to their point of view.
    I find it interesting when a reviewer dislikes a poem because it does not accord with their philosophical or political perspective. I can read a poem and find it beautiful/and/or meaningful without necessarily agreeing with the poet’s political (or other message).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I actually will usually respond to reviews. Most of the negative reviews of my books on Amazon were clearly from people who hadn’t read them and were just reacting to things I had written on Quora or elsewhere.

    If they say anything specific (E.G. “Page after page of crazy lies!”) I’ll respond nicely, pointing out readers of the reviews might be helped if the reviewer would point out a few such lies, just two or three, so those readers could see if I had any response.

    A few really did make the mistake of specifying something, and, as I knew would be the case since anything I’ve written has been VERY thoroughly researched, the bad reviewer gave me a nice little microphone to provide potential readers an example of how solid my work was.

    Unfortunately, Amazon seems to deep-sixed responses to reviews? I didn’t mind the bad ones at all due to the sort of thing I just wrote here, but without that opportunity to respond think I’ll end up having to report some of them.

    – MJM, whose favorite “Bad Review” had, as its headline: “This is a very dangerous book.” Sounds satirical, or, actually, like the start of some heavy praise for upsetting established values and misconceptions. In any event, I never minded that one at all… the title was wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michael. I do think, however, that a reader isn’t really under any obligation to justify their comments. The fact is, if we have put our work out there, and someone has read it then they are entitled to say what they want to say (unless of course it is libellous).


      1. Alisone, I’d agree, IF the reader has actually read the work they’re criticizing. The cases I noted were clearly people offering criticisms because they disagreed with my general stance over on the Quora website, and the things that were said along with the timing around a particularly harsh (heh, by Quora standards) set of postings indicated pretty strongly that such reading of the original didn’t exist.

        In terms of a reviewer needing to justify a review, I’d say it splits. They don’t need to justify an “I didn’t like it.” comment. However, if they say, “All the main experts in the field disagree with this writer.” then I’d say it’s quite fair game for them to name two or three of them so that I can then, hopefully, go and learn from those experts… if they exist. If they DO exist and the reviewer is a board regular then they’ll quite likely cite a few just to show they’re correct… even if they don’t think it’ll do any good in changing the mind of the writer. But if they do NOT exist… then the response will be non-existent, or, as I sometimes describe it (with apologies), “They run away faster than a little girl from a pack of tarantulas!” (Even in our current world I think most little boys at least TRY to not run quite so fast… :> )


  4. I think the advice to “ignore” bad reviews means not to reply to them or have hissy-fits on social media. Reviews pointing out typos or spelling errors are worth noting and acting upon. But “boring” or “too wordy” may be subjective opinions. Like comments by critique partners, not all bad reviews demand action.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Audrey. I have seen lots of authors on social media very upset by reviews that point out bad grammar, poor editing etc. and be told by other authors to ignore those reviews. I do think it’s really important to take note of everything readers say – unless it’s obviously a silly complaint – because we are often too close to our work to see things that might not really be working.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. If the review criticizes a poorly written book, it should be taken as a way to improve your witting. But not everyone is going to enjoy what you wrote, and most readers won’t leave a bad review if they didn’t enjoy a book because they understand it is all about personal taste.
    When I received my first 1-star review for my sci-fi book, I was crushed, but I checked out what other books the reader had reviewed and they had never read/reviewed any sci-fi before, so that made me feel a bit better.
    What did that review say? “Boring stories. Nothing interesting happens.”
    Well, I like ’em.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The main problem with Amazon reviews is that they are not the discursive essays found in magazines or newspapers, but on my experience usually reflect a reader’s emotional reaction to a book. This is inevitably personal, and another reader might not have that same reaction. This said, discursive essay-style reviews (which I write for various magazines etc) have long been weaponised by some reviewers. Where I live in NZ the field for any given topic is so small that books are inevitably given for review by the main magazines etc to rival authors, some of whom succumb to the temptation to show up how much better they are than their putative ‘rival’. The notion that the field isn’t a zero-sum game is, alas, lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Matthew. Such a shame that those authors see themselves as rivals – and perhaps a bad decision by the editors of those magazine to commission those reviews from an author that might see it as such. I would say though that an Amazon review shouldn’t necessarily be detailed – a reader has bought the book and is under no obligation to justify their responses or give reasons for them.


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