Responding to Bad Reviews

A short note about responding to bad reviews.


Have you noticed that, especially in America, everything is Totally Freakin’ Awesome or the Worst Thing Ever? Unless it is “Meh.” If you get a review with such hyperbole or inarticulate apathy, is it worth responding to?

If the reviewer dislikes your politics, you’re not going to change their mind. All you will do by jumping in is galvanize the less radical against you. Stand behind your principles, but don’t drag your book into the horrid mud-slinging of American political debate.

If the reviewer hates doody words, you will not change his or her mind. They have likely been averse to foul language since childhood. It is a matter of taste.

This also means, don’t call the wrath of your readership down upon the commenter to respond for you. Maybe you forgot what readers do. On occasion, we get bored and browse review sites to review books that we like. When we see someone trash it, and we discreetly click “No” next to the “Was This Review Helpful?” question, or we vote the review down. We do this without you weeping, raging, sighing, or laughing at the review and calling our attention to it.

Unless you’re Patrick Somerville, and the reviewer got facts wrong, and the paper’s fact checkers email your character’s email account to check it, and you have an amusing back-and-forth that you publish on Salon, don’t respond to negative reviews.

It makes you seem petty and amateur. It makes you seem lacking in self-respect, that you don’t believe in your work, or your readers’ taste. After all, you have many more readers than reviewers (I hope). Whose opinion is more important?

Requiring constant validation will hobble you as a writer. Do you want to write stories that will garner you praise, or stories you want to write?

Forget the reviews. Why aren’t you writing your next book?


6 thoughts on “Responding to Bad Reviews

  1. I agree. And I think too many people have wafer-thin skins about reviews. What it’s done is create an environment of too much stroking, and there the occasional goof who just wants to create waves with negativity. Basically, I only trust reviews from writers I would follow off a cliff anyway. Earnest reviews don’t get page hits, and even constructive criticism is attacked as EVIL. Yawn.

    • I know one reviewer (a fellow writer) who got his ass chewed for giving a 4 star (out of 5) on Amazon. I mean, really. When I see ALL 5-star reviews, I know the circle-jerk is in effect, and only this guy’s friends, family and writer-pals have read the book.
      Then a strange reads it, and thinks it’s “OK” but feels cheated by all those 5 star reviews… so he writes an angry 1-star review. Then Writer calls in the minions! SEIZE HIM! and the flamefest begins. Yawn, I agree.

  2. WIse words, Thomas. We’ve discussed this in the past and we agreed on it, as I remember. Smoke blowing, back patting and circle-jerking. A trusted 3 star review is fine by me. If someone wants to give me a 1 star review, fair enough. At the end of the day I like my own stories. If someone else doesn’t then so what? We can’t please everybody. Life’s too short to worry about it! Later, buddy.

  3. Makes perfect sense to me and I’m a regular reviewer as well as an author. I have had my reviews questioned by fans of the author but never by an author. A review is the reviewers opinion. They are entitiled to it and I say good luck to them.

    Particularly spiteful reviews always make me question the reviewer more than the author.

    Plus bad reviews never hurt Dan Brown or the fifty shades woman.

  4. I find that I don’t mind bad reviews as long as they offer something concrete and helpful. When all the review does is bash the story (regardless of whether it’s mine of not) and those who read it, I’m less likely to accept it.

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