What Should Writers Do With Their Bad Reviews?



by Lev Raphael

A friend publishing her first book just got a negative review on Amazon, but it’s the only really bad one among about two dozen positive reviews.  And lots of those were raves.

I told her it was a mistake to read bad reviews.  Ever.

Years ago, way before Amazon, when I heard Philip Roth give a talk, he was asked about his reviews during Q&A.  If you don’t know know his work and his history, he’s been attacked for all sorts of things–including anti-Semitism!–as far back as his short story collection Goodbye Columbus.

I remember being struck by his response.  He said that he had never really learned anything about his work from a reviewer.  I’m sure some people in the audience thought he was arrogant to say that, and Roth had the air of a dyspeptic hawk, so that might have added to the impression.

But my friend’s distress about her negative Amazon review made me reflect about my own review history.  It includes raves from The New York Times Book Review–as well as some really nasty attacks that I wish I’d never read.

Over several decades of hundreds of reviews in print and on line, by professionals and amateurs, I don’t recall learning much, either, about my work from what they wrote.  People have liked or disliked my books for various reasons in various ways.  I’ve been thrilled by raves, enjoyed the pats on the back, and been disappointed by pans: “Don’t they get what I was trying to do?”

But have reviews made me write differently, tackle different subjects, change anything major or even minor?

Not really.  The many fine editors I’ve worked with have been the ones who’ve had a lasting impact on me; they’ve challenged me and helped me deepen my work.

As for Amazon reviews–like those on Goodreads–they can often be mindless and cruel, sometimes little more than cyber farts.

Related Article: How Important Are Book Reviews?


Reviews can reflect different tastes or simply contrariness, as when people feel the need to trash great authors like Jane Austen or George Eliot.  A full 10% of the 644 people reviewing Middlemarch on Amazon gave it only one or two stars.

One of my favorite staycations was taking a week off from everything to re-read Middlemarch a few years ago, and I was even more blown away than the first time I read it in college.  I’m in awe of that novel, the world it creates, and the author’s all-encompassing love for all of her characters, even the deeply flawed ones.

You can’t and won’t please everyone as an author.  But you can please yourself by avoiding the bad reviews.  They’re not likely to make a difference in your work because they seldom offer constructive criticism, but they can make you waste time.  You can obsess about them and even make the mistake of replying, something authors should avoid because it makes them look cranky and vulnerable.

To truly grow as a writer you need to find writing mentors or colleagues who can really help you, and you need to keep writing and keep reading widely, deeply, passionately.



Guest post contributed by Lev Raphael. Lev is the author of Writer’s Block is Bunk and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Check out more of Lev’s work on his blog, Writing Across Genres.




23 thoughts on “What Should Writers Do With Their Bad Reviews?

  1. This is a really good blog post. Thanks for sharing this. I often wondered how published writers viewed their negative feedback. It’s like you said, not everyone is going to like a writer’s book. The best thing you can do is keep working on your craft. However, I feel like I’ll never make it as a writer, no matter how much effort I put into it.

    I’ve tried so hard, but never got any payoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a reviewer I actually find it hard to give a book a negative rating. At worst most books that I wouldn’t click with might get a neutral rating but something would have to be very wrong with the writing for me to truly find the book bad.
    Book reviews are written for the readers so I guess they mostly aren’t good for authors to read and I do know the typical bad reviews that are rants. I think if every review being posted for a book was negative and there were quite a few then there might be something to the reviews and then it would be worth reading them to see what (if anything) people find wrong with the book, but for the odd negative writers have to get used to and should learn to take them with a pinch of salt, if you must read them then laugh at it – some of them can sound really ridiculous when you read them with your funny hat on.
    People I review for say they like my reviews for the simple fact that I point out my own personal thoughts about the good and the bad (if any) but I never do it in a critical way and it’s never targeted at the author. I think a good reviewer can help point out any flaws a writer’s work might have (a bit like an editor) but again bad reviews are almost always written by people who are having a rant and just want to blow steam somewhere. And yes, never engage with a bad review as troll-like people/reviewers will love it if you start a conversation with them.
    Of course after saying all this I think authors who receive any criticism should give the reviewer some respect, if it was a trusted reviewer who read their work. I’ve experienced the flip side of an author ‘friend’ who treated me in an appalling way when I dared give any criticism to their work (a 4 instead of 5 star review). Anyway that’s a long discussion for another day…Hope it’s okay to voice my opinion (long) there :).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your kind of reviews are the kind that should be written. Reviews should include what the person liked and didn’t like about the book. That makes it balanced. 🙂

      I’ll never understand why authors get upset with a 4-star review. A 4-star review is a great review.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I LOVE this post!!

    I agree with not reading negative reviews. The time to learn about the book is during edits. You will never please everyone. You might as well please yourself since it’s your book and you’re stuck with it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I actually had a 1-star review that helped me. I wasn’t aware that the layout in the books was a mess, and I didn’t know. I was able to fix the mess so it was readable and offered to send a revised copy but never heard back.


  5. Thanks, Lev. A review that only finds bad is crushing to the creator. And reviewers that routinely focus only on the bad are incompetents and sadists. It’s a rare book that completely lacks merit.
    On the other hand, I have bought some books/gone to see certain movies that reviewers raved about and — while I definitely saw some merit — I didn’t agree with the gushing praise accorded them.
    So I remind myself that reviews are often based on personal tastes and much subjectivity in our responses to a creative work.
    If I got a very bad review would I be crushed? Yes, temporarily. And then I’d remind myself of what I just wrote here and hope it works! (smile)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think you should only worry about bad reviews if they are all that you get. One bad review when everyone else says that your work is good, is either just someone’s contrary taste or their desire to be nasty.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a very good post because it says a lot about life in general.
    Once as a junior manager I invested a lot of time in building up my team’s morale; then we had this person appear from head office for a ‘chat’ to ‘get to know the staff’; they made one dismissive remark and ‘pow’ morale at rock bottom again!!
    I feel folk tend to focus on the negative because of their own basic modesty, and not wishing to appear ‘pushy’- this is probably why you tend to find a high proportion of *****s amongst the successful, they just don’t care.
    It is difficult and I feel very upset for your friend. Unless a book is promoting Hate or something Harmful, then there is no need for such discourtesy. A neutral review is all that’s required. I have a long list of books I loath, but since lots of folk like them…hey! What do I know???.
    All the best to you and your friend.
    (Final word: after years of getting nowhere writing I have now embraced my incorrigible side. Bad reviews..Ha!…Better than no reviews at all…and anyway some folk just deserved to be annoyed)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not sure if I agree with you on this matter. I’m unpublished as far as novels go so I don’t know how I’ll feel when it happens to me. Still, I do know how I react when my writing buddy comments on anything I’ve written. Yes, it stings when she tells me that I’m not presenting a passage right, or I need to revise an entire scene. Sometimes she even gets harsh. Despite my reactions, I want to know how I can be better at what I love to do. I bite my lower lip and endure.

    If the reviewer is just boorishly making remarks about the characters, settings, or the story itself, sure, toss in the trash and bury it deep. However, if comments are made with well thought out explanations on specific aspects of the book, I think they’d be worth considering. Writers are not perfect, although many of us strive with driven pain to be so. Sometimes our lack of judgment or a mistake needs to be pointed out to us–even after the book is in the store.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yeah, I agree, there’s no point in reading them. I learn plenty from my editor, and I learn from people I know and respect. People who point out that something wasn’t their favorite but also mention what they liked often leave me rethinking a thing or two. But outright negative reviews? They don’t help me. I can only hope they scare away like-minded readers, leaving my book for those who will enjoy my style.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this awesome post. I’ll keep this advice in mind when my book gets released later this year. I already dread reading negative reviews and god knows what I’ll do when I’ll get one, but now I’m sure as hell that I won’t be reading them… 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Very often do I wonder why would anyone waste their time and energy writing a bad review, hating someone online.. I would give 1 star for a really bad book, that’s my highest level of nastiness 🙂

    Your friend is lucky to have a friend like YOU x

    Liked by 1 person

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