Getting the Good Out of Bad Book Reviews

“No statue has ever been erected to a critic.” – Jean Sibelius

As much as every writer wants to bask in the accolades that come with a job well done, most of us don’t get through the writing process unscathed. If, by the time you publish, an editor or proofreader hasn’t zeroed in on all your writing flaws, at least one book reviewer is bound to do just that.

Let’s face it: Bad reviews sting! No matter how much praise your book gets, that one negative critique is usually the one that stands out. But as painful as it is to face the poisoned pen of a critic, it’s our mistakes that have the most to teach us. If you’re smart about your response, bad reviews could be the best thing that happens to you as a writer.

Before you fire off an angry retort or fashion a mojo doll in someone’s likeness, take a slow, deep breath. Don’t do anything in haste. Just cool your jets awhile, then take a few steps to get the ball rolling toward that silver lining:

  • Make sure the “reviewer” isn’t a competing author or a serial malcontent. Look up their other reviews. If they’ve posted an inordinate number of malicious reviews – perhaps all similarly worded – you can probably, at the very least, put very little stock in their comments.
  • Take action when necessary. If you suspect a reviewer is sabotaging your efforts to boost their own book sales or some other reason, contact Amazon, Nook or whatever book selling site is involved. You may be able to have bogus reviews taken down.
  • Answer your critics. Build a little goodwill by answering less-than-glowing endorsements with a personal reply. Let them know you’re sorry the book wasn’t their cup of tea, but you appreciate their comments (OK, you may have to fake that part). Solicit specific likes and dislikes, if they haven’t already spelled it out.

Once that’s out of the way, start making lemonade. It’s up to you to sweeten all the sour bits and turn them into something palatable. And believe me, there is something positive to be found in even the nastiest feedback:

  •  Look for specifics. A review that merely hurls vague insults is meaningless. It may be that the review was based solely on the reader’s preferences and personal biases and has little else to offer. Disregard those reviews, or those parts of reviews, and look for specific critical input. Did the reviewer complain about spelling errors? Were there factual errors in your book? Did he/she provide specific feedback about why the narrative failed to move the story along, or why the characters fell flat?
  • Learn from your critics. You may find that some reviewers have identified a weakness, your Achilles heel as a writer. Use that insight to buttress your flaws; it’ll make you a better writer in the long run.
  • Focus on what you can change. At times, reviewers are going to take a swipe at your style: the way you phrase things, the type of language you use, the type of characters you write about, the subject matter, etc. Often these choices make you you and aren’t up for discussion. Your style is your style. Period. As long as it’s not sloppy and incorrect, stay true to it.
  • Keep it in perspective. Even classics get bad reviews. Heck, huge bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey have received hundreds of negative reviews from readers and critics alike. Your story is simply not going to resonate with everyone.

While negative comments hurt, they’re not likely to sink a truly good book, and the innate desire to prove your critics wrong will inspire you to shore up your writing in the future. If you can muster the humor to laugh about your ugliest reviews, you might even frame the worst as wicked little good-luck charms or sorts – right next to your best-selling book!

Elise works as the Manager of Author Support of Outskirts Press.  She also contributes to the Outskirts Press blog at and a group of talented book marketing experts assist self-publishing authors and professionals who are interested in getting the best possible exposure for their book.

7 thoughts on “Getting the Good Out of Bad Book Reviews

  1. I have blogged about How NOT to Review books in the past. My pet peeve, one I’ve seen a lot on Amazon, is when people trash on a book because they misunderstood the target audience. Ie. “The Fault In Our Stars made me sad and I didn’t like it” or “Jenny Pox isn’t for kids?!?!?”

    1. It’s very sad when authors receive an unfair “bad rap” because someone outside of the target market read it and wasn’t able to relate. Unfortunately, though, it’s something that we have no way of overcoming in the foreseeable future. The hope is that reviews from the target market will outweigh the rest…

    1. That’s a good point, Michelle. What I mentioned above is that authors should publicly thank the reviewer for their feedback. This shows that you aren’t flustered by the review (even though you may be). What you should avoid is publicly ridiculing the reviewer or going off on a tangent about how the review is incorrect.

      1. Interesting. And would you recommend doing that for reviews on all platforms, or just for reviews on blogs and that sort of thing. Because Amazon reviews can number in the hundreds, and I don’t know how you would even go about responding to an Amazon review, let alone responding to all several hundred. Whereas with a review posted on a blog or online journal, it would be much easier to thank them. Plus you would actually know who the person was writing the review, which makes it less likely that the bad review is just some troll having fun.

  2. When an author first publishes their book, it will be a lot easier to manage these reviews “as they go.” However, after the book has been around for a while, it may not be so easy. If you can, I would recommend commenting on reviews on all platforms. If that’s not feasible (due to the volume), commenting on blogs you are notified about through Google Alerts is a good start.

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