Laura Howard: Why Bad Reviews Don't Scare Me


Why Bad Reviews Don't Scare Me

In the spirit of Halloween week, Young Adult author Nikki Jefford is here to tackle a subject that frightens many a writer: Bad Reviews.

You Are Now Entering The Review Zone

If you publish a book, no matter what the method (traditional or indie), there will be readers out there who don’t dig it. Yeah, it sucks, especially when you put your heart and soul into a novel, but not everyone’s going to like the choices your characters make, their personalities, the language they use – or something as minor as their names. (Yep, there are people who get hung up on that sort of thing.)

Do you like every book you read? No, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of readers who don’t adore the sleeper you just couldn’t get into. (Ahem, Twilight – couldn’t even finish reading that one. Don’t hate me.) The point is, there’s an audience out there for what you write, readers who will enjoy your voice and fall in love with your characters. That’s the group you want to focus on and aim to please in subsequent releases.

Be Your Own Self Critic

First please yourself. Most authors are humble, self-critics. The plus side to being your own critic (and not releasing your book(s) until you are satisfied with the outcome) is 1) you’ve already toughened up by meeting your own high standards and 2) you feel confidence in your work that cannot be undermined by naysayers.

That doesn't mean you’re immune to criticism or outright nastiness. The good news: The nastier a review is, the easier it is to dismiss. That’s why the brutally outlandish ones are my favorites. All I can think is, “Did I accidentally cut this person off in a past life?”

Duck and Cover

What about the audience witnessing Freddy Reviewer taking razor claws to your book? Have no fear that potential readers will run in the other direction.The only person who looks freaky is the one spouting off… most of the time.

There are cases (raise your hand – me!) when a mob of viewers grab their pitchforks and jump into comments to say that because of the rotten review they are passing on your title. (And may even throw in some disparaging – often misspelled – comments of their own even though they’ve never read a word of your book.) Just know that these people would most likely have been bad matches for your novel and probably had no intention of reading it in the first place. It’s better for both parties to find a better fit.

What You Don’t See Can’t Hurt You

If you are sensitive, and what writer isn’t, it might be a good idea to put your blinders on and avoid reading negative reviews of your book altogether.

I stopped reading Goodreads reviews of Entangled last spring because of ridiculous comments like this: “This cover is hideous. And the names Graylee and Charlene? Someone please kill me!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Sure, would you like me to pass you a knife?

The best way to avoid bad reviews in the first place is to carefully select your reviewers. Don’t just read their review policy, read over some of their past reviews to get a sense of what they like and don’t like (and how they handle the ones they don’t like).

I came across a reviewer policy once that consisted of one sentence: “I’ll let you know if I hate your book.”


Yin and Yang, That’s Life

Now that Entangled is on NetGalley I don’t control who reads and reviews my book. So far readers either love it or hate it and I’m fine with that. Here’s why:

With the bad comes the good.

When a reader falls in love with your book there is no greater reward. And that’s worth braving a few rotten tomatoes.

How do you handle a bad review? Do you risk the potential heartache of Goodreads? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Thanks so much for this post, Nikki. You make some really good points. The worst is when someone gets your book for free on Netgalley and starts their review with "I don't really read [insert genre here] so maybe I'm not the best person to review this book but it really sucks..." Now my agent just sends me reviews that are constructive -- either positive reviews, or negative reviews that are actually saying something I might take into the writing of my next novel. Otherwise, I'm learning not to care.

    1. No joke, Jamie. One of my favorite reviews goes: "This book was probably written for the teen and preteen age and not adults." (Affirmative.) "Would I recommend it to someone my age? No, but I would recommend it to a teenager."

      That's who the book's for, woman!

      That's great to have someone weeding out the duds. Someone should start an indie service and do that for the unagented folks. ;)

    2. I'm not the best person to read this book, but... So why did you bother?? LOL

  2. Haha, Nikki! Love your snark, girl.

    Negative reviews to me just mean the wrong person read your book. It's taken me a long time to start to develope elephant hide, but my skin gets tougher every day.

    I, like you, have learned not to look at goodreads. There are some great people on there that are really helpful, even when they don't like a book they are kind. There are also people that go around putting bad reviews up all over the place.

    The thing is, I don't like every book so how could I expect all readers to like mine? It's just the way it goes. I happen to be one of those that loved Twilight. It spoke to me and got me reading again. I'll always have a special place for it in my heart. It's funny, though. It wasn't until I read New Moon that I really appreciated Twilight as much. Go figure.

    Anyway, the great thing about being a writer is that there's pretty much an audience for everyone. You just have to find them.

    Having the right cover and blurb help quite a bit to make sure you're attracting the right people to your book, but there will always be a few that take a chance and don't like what they read.

    It's all good. They can keep searching for the right books and I can keep searching for the right readers.

    Great post, Nikki!

  3. I think there's a difference between negative reviews and nasty reviews. And here, it seems like you've encountered a lot of nasty ones. The nasty ones always make me laugh and shudder at the same time, so I think you've offered some good ways to deal with those.

    Negative that respectfully point out the good and the bad and make constructive criticism...those are amazing. We as authors can learn from those, even if the reviewer didn't like our book. And while we may not actually change anything from a particular review, especially if they just weren't our target audience, it's nice to have that respectfully worded input.

    But yeah, what you mention here sounds more to me like these reviewers in particular aren't paying attention or are lashing out at a public figure because they can (and authors are public figures...we put ourselves out there like few others do).

    Good advice. I, uh, I'd say hide the knife though. *wink*

  4. Great post! I'm not so vain that I think that I sneeze gold. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I try to learn what I can from reviews. But if you're a public figure, which you are as an author, random internet haters come with the territory.
    I collect the vitriol I get as a journalist and publish them on my blog under "critics." Kinda makes me laugh now.

  5. Reviews are really for readers and not so much the authors. I know that authors need to know how their baby is being treated, but once you publish it, it's out of your control and there's nothing you can do. However, people who slam an author because of her writing or what she wrote about is wrong. Pick apart the book, not the person who wrote it. That's why I get so angry with Goodreads. So many people who don't like a book don't just state why they have to bring the author in and bash them. And I don't like it when an author can't leave well enough alone. DON'T start a flame war with a person who doesn't like your book. Just shrug and MOVE on. Don't give that pratt any more reason to dislike you, even though that pratt doesn't know you and is only talking about your book.

    1. Any kind of slamming is not okay in my book. Like Nikki said not everyone likes every book. But, for Pete's sake- that book is somebody's blood sweat and tears- have a heart, some authors don't have the self-control not to peak, right?

  6. Great advice and an excellent post, thank you! And I love your covers Nikki!!

  7. I'm with you - I don't read reviews. Once the book is out's out there and it's time to work on the next one.

    Great blog post! :)

  8. Thanks for this inspiring article--you've bolstered my courage to pay less attention to reviews by people who are not going to be my readers in the future & who will never like my books no matter how much I tap dance. Also, I'm glad someone finally pointed out how snarky Goodreads can be. I've been genuinely shocked at times by the "hater" types on Goodreads who rag about books they got for FREE on Amazon. It just demonstrates that people tend to value things more when they pay for them, and it shows up in their reviews. Great post : )

    1. I can see some people wanting to learn from constructive criticism, but I'm critical enough of myself, I'd rather recieve the critiques from people I ask-- therefore I hope to have the strength to ban myself from reading my reviews. *cough*yeah,right*cough*

  9. I got a "meh" sort of review from a blogger I asked to review my recent book. She wanted more of the sort of information that other people thought made the book a little too slow in the beginning. (Can't win either way on that one.) And she said my protagonist was too puritanical. (I'm not sure if I should worry, since my protagonist is only 16--what do people expect out of girls that age?--or laugh, since Kalyn is based on me when I was that age.)

    1. Isn't your book a historical, Keri??? lol Behavior at 16 years old is pretty subjective! Can't win. :D

    2. No, "Acceptance" is modern. Kalyn gets... um... more adventuresome in the second book, and my beta readers told me to back off on that. So they wanted her to stay innocent longer!

  10. Oh, and have you heard that some people are using bad reviews to attack viewpoints they don't like?

    One man wrote a book on circumcision and the medical studies that found men who are circumcised had a lesser risk for STDs than men who weren't. There are now a huge number of 1-star ratings from people who are blasting him for "perpetuating male genital mutilation" and "repressing our black brothers in Africa."

    They can't attack him on the science--because it's accurate--and they can't say the book is poorly-written (several people admit that it's coherent); they simply don't like what he's saying, so they give him bad reviews. It has affected his Amazon rank and sales figures.

    And the whole sock puppet controversy has exposed that some people write bad reviews to get revenge on their enemies, or to try and lessen "competitors'" ranking so they can gain.

    So some reviews aren't reflective of your book at all, but of someone else's agenda.

  11. I was thinking about this myself, as I'm about to get my ARCs and have (outside of HarperTeen) start reading and reviewing. I'm on Goodreads, and think I have thick enough skin to deal with negative reviews and the sense to ignore nasty reviews. I won't know though until I get a particulalry bad one :) I do wonder though, about all the ratings my book has already recieved from people who haven't even read it.

    Great post.

  12. Reviews can be so scary! I don't have a book out yet, but once I do, I'll remember this advice! Great perspective :)

  13. Up until a few months ago, I'd gotten nothing but rave reviews - from people that know me. I was talking to one of my author friends when I decided to check my Amazon reviews for my zombie book. I'd received my first bad review. The guy was harsh and actually made me cry. After I whined to a few friends and watched some sappy movie I realized something. There are so few people who actually WRITE reviews onto any site. That guy felt so compelled by my writing that he HAD to say something. Granted, it wasn't nice, and I didn't invoke good feelings in him, but what I wrote touched him so strongly that he felt it necessary to vent. I started feeling better after that. Now, while I don't enjoy negative reviews, I try to remember to look at it in that perspective. Great post. :)

  14. That's totally true, Jean! I remember back before I knew anything about authors, I wouldn't even think of leaving a review... it didn't mean anything to me because I didn't know what reviews were to authors. So, to invoke that kind of reaction, even if not a favorable one, you did something right!

  15. This is a wonderful post. I've just launched my debut novel and am quaking about negative reviews. I've had some negative ratings but not reviews as yet. I shall revisit this post when they inevitably come! :-)

  16. I didn't think I would have a problem with negative reviews. I'm a critical reader myself and I've disliked plenty of books, including some that I reviewed. People have individual taste, it's what makes us interesting. But I've been surprised at the nastiness of the tone of some reviews on goodreads. I stopped going there entirely when I realized that it reminded me of nothing so much as the way bullies develop in middle school/high school. Someone says something mean. People laugh, maybe because it seems funny, maybe out of relief that they're not the one getting picked on. The person who got positive feedback for being mean gets meaner the next day. More laughter. Maybe a couple other people chime in, they want to be part of the in group, too. And so the cycle starts and pretty soon you're in an environment in which cruelty is rewarded and unkindness is the norm. Obviously, that's a long way from being everything on goodreads -- plenty of people are using it to write thoughtful reviews of the books they enjoyed and to track their own reading habits. But I decided that the general atmosphere there was unpleasant and that it wasn't a place I wanted to spend my time.

    That said, in general I find reviews, even negative ones, to be mostly fun. It's fascinating to see what people liked, what they took away, what they remember, and so on, and it's really, really fun to see what other books and products they've reviewed. Sometimes there's a definite "OMG, you liked that book and mine? Eeep." And other times, there's a "Oh, well, no wonder you hated my book if that's the kind of thing you like." It's fun. And you'll get random insights that are delightful. I had one recent review that said, "something that I notice is that the author is respectful.. to one and all. I like that in a book, especially one that would be enjoyed by the YA reader." That might seem really trivial (it's not like a comment on my great artistry or anything!) but I was pretty sure I knew what she was acknowledging and I was truly gratified by the comment.

  17. laura - sorry that I was away -- out of town--yesterday and missed the launch of this post! As for reviews, I prefer constructive to condemning, mean-spririted attacks any day. With Dixie, I try not to look anymore. The key is to believe in yourself, your work, and to know that you did everything in your power to make the book as best as it can be.

    Anyone can write a review, not everyone can write a book.

    xx, Lauren

  18. When I write a review I always try to remember my remarks might hurt someone. Still some books are simply too bad not to be criticized. A great entry!

    Anyone can write a review, not everyone can write a book.

    I beg to differ here. Not anyone can write a review, especially a good one.

  19. Not everyone can write a review. That is simply not true. There seems to be this anti-reviewer, anti-blogger sentiment going around that is very disheartening to me.

    In response to the original blog post, I don't think calling a group of reviewers that get together to discuss a book--whether it be a critical discussion or not--a mob. That is not a word choice I would have used.

    To put it simply, I write my reviews for readers. If an author happens to get a sale out of it, that is awesome, but that is not why I write them. No one is forcing the author to read negative reviews of their book. If they can't handle them, I would not suggest reading them.

    And in response to one of the commenters, what goes on at Goodreads is not bullying, by any means. And with a website existing right now that targets reviewers who write critical reviews (and calls them author bullying), I think that was the wrong choice of word to use.

  20. I think this was taken out of context. There are bullies of all sorts on the web. What Nikki was referring to, and some of the commentors, is the people on GR that think it's funny to make fun of a particular book. It happens, but like you said, authors don't have to read the review. I also don't think she meant anyone can write a review in the sense you might be taking it. Everyone can RATE a book. I know I can't write a great book review, so there you go! The internet can make clear communication tricky, but the main idea here is for authors to not read negative reviews, but to stay positive!

  21. Professional reviewers aside, Laura is right, there are bullies on a power trip on Amazon and GR. It's hard to stay positive when a review is so unfair and there's no right of reply. If I don't like a book I stop reading it and I don't review it. I never feel the need to trash a book in a review, maybe because I know the work that's gone into it. Not the author's fault if it doesn't appeal to me. It's subjective.

  22. Thanks for this post! As I get ready to release my debut YA book, my stress has shot through the roof. The main reason? Reviews. I love my book, so I'm going to follow my husband's advice and not read the reviews LOL. I've seen some comments from reviewers that often make me wonder why they picked a particular title if that wasn't their cup of tea.


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