How to Deal with Bad Reviews

(or Why You Should Always be Nice to Reviewers)

I hear it often. Writers get mad because their books get bashed, and so they bash the reviewer back. Who's right? I’ll give you the verdict right away, to save you the trouble of reading the whole thing or skipping to the end in case you’re only interested in hearing my opinion about who’s the bad guy when a book gets a bad review and the writer gets upset with the reviewer. It’s really simple.

The writer. That’s the bad guy. Always.
Sorry, fellow writers. Read on if you want to hear my explanation.

First off: I get it. I get why writers feel hurt when someone criticizes their work publicly. It’s easy to understand why they feel like they need to defend the book they’ve spend months, if not years, writing, editing, promoting, maybe even paying to get it out there. And then someone doesn’t like it. That’s hard to swallow.

But here is the deal: Reviewers don’t work for you. They never said they would be nice. Even if they didn’t state it outright in a review policy (which they pretty much all do), they don’t owe you anything. Yes, you gave the review copy away for free, that’s not the same as them owing you something. If they do have a review policy, but you didn’t read it before sending it to them, that’s on you.

And here’s the crazy part: Even though they don’t owe you anything, they still give you something. They give you the benefit of the doubt when they decide to read your book. They give you their time when they read it and write their review. And the most valuable thing they give you is their honesty. Because why would they lie? To take down your book? Do you really think that? Then you’re probably paranoid.

They read and review books because they like reading and sharing their opinion. That’s it. I’m sure they prefer good books. I’m sure they would rather praise a book than put it down. They have no hidden agenda. It’s not personal. Only you make it personal when you get angry with them.

You should be grateful. If reviewers don’t like your book, then maybe your book isn’t good. Listen to what they say: is it the same points that keep coming up? Ever stopped to wonder if they might be right? Maybe it’s not the reviewers who don’t ‘get it’—whatever you think your book is supposed deliver. Maybe what you want readers ‘to get’ isn’t clear enough. Maybe you didn’t write it well enough, but more likely, the thing you think they’re missing simply isn’t that intriguing.

But what if they didn’t even finish the book? Well, then your book apparently wasn’t interesting enough to even finish. That’s an even tougher blow, I know, but you still don’t have any right to get mad at the person, because—once again—they didn’t promise you anything. You can’t force them to finish the book, just as you can’t force them to do a review or to make that review positive. And why on earth would you?

Here is something to make my point even more clear.

Imagine for a second you wrote a bad book and put it out there for reviewers to read, and they did so, but they only gave you good reviews. Every single one of them would lie and say the book was great even if it wasn’t. Do you really think that would work out well for you? Do you think the book would sell just because reviewers praised it? No. The ‘real readers’ would read it, hate it and at best not recommend it to any of their friends, at worst write bad reviews on Amazon.

Let me also say at this point, I know there might be exceptions. There might be book reviewers who are unnecessarily cruel. Just avoid sending any more books to them. People will figure out eventually that those reviewers are overly negative and that their opinions don’t matter.

Be grateful for reviewers and their honest opinion. Feel honored at how they don’t pamper your feelings (knowing full well how they might get blowback from crazy, dissatisfied writers such as yourself) and take their critique as something useful. Treat them like post-publication beta-readers and listen to what they have to say. In the long run, you’ll be better off, I promise you.

So my advice is, to any writer who gets a bad review and feels indignant, defensive and wants to lash out: Don’t. Move on. Write another book. Try to do it better. If you don’t feel like it, if the bad reviews broke your spirit, then don’t write another book. Find some other creative outlet. There would be nothing bad in doing so. I am not saying you should give up on your dreams. But maybe this wasn’t your dream to begin with. If you’re not willing to learn from your mistakes, instead of fighting reality, then you just might not be cut out for this particular job.

Be nice to other people, especially those people who read your books. Even if they don’t like what they read. Let them know that you still appreciate their interest and effort. Don’t make them scared of doing what they love doing, and I’m sure they’ll be grateful to you, too.


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© 2020 Nick Clausen