Negative Reviews Getting You Down? How to Soar Above and Prove Them Wrong

    “Just ignore the haters.”

    That’s what you’re told when your book gets a negative review.

    You know it’s wise advice, but following it is another matter.

    It’s a bit like being told “don’t think of an elephant.” All you can think of thereafter is Dumbo.

    The more you try to ignore bad reviews, the more they eat away at you.

    My first book got a wave of positive reviews, but when the first bad review came in, it kept me up at night.

    Most of us have a strong negativity bias­­–we let one bad thing ruin a multitude of positives.

    Everyone can access the Internet, so we suffer under the illusion that everyone can and will see that negative review.

    The reality is that anyone considering your book will expect to see negative reviews. In fact, they’ll be suspicious of books that have nothing but glowing endorsements.

    If you’re anything like me, the first poor review you received hurt like hell.

    This is exacerbated by the fact that online reviews are much nastier than those on any other medium. They can become personal, crude, rude and offensive.

    This is due to the online disinhibition effect, which suggests that all of us treat online communication differently.

    Because it is anonymous, because we are invisible, and because we view it like a game, we act in ways we normally would not.

    When to respond to negative book reviews

    You are never really going to change a reader’s mind about your book.

    The most persuasive person in the world cannot make me like the Twilight books; it would be a waste of effort for them to even try.

    There are only three instances in which you should respond to a one-star review:

    #1. If you made an error

    If you misquoted somebody, or made a factual error, or the book was formatted badly, simply admit your mistake.

    #2. If the review is factually incorrect

    If there is a fact in the negative review that can be corrected with a swift reply, do it. If, for example, the reviewer wrongly says you didn’t use the correct citation, be sure to point out their error.

    #3. If the review is unrelated to your book’s content

    I’ve had bad reviews that were actually about the book being shipped late, rather than the book itself.

    I’ve also had reviews where the reviewer admitted they had not actually read the book, but were basing the negative review on something else.

    In these instances, respond not to the reviewer, but to the website hosting the review. Most sites will take down a comment if it is clearly unjustified.

    Beyond this, the only fruitful course of action is to take no action at all.

    It’s hard to ignore negative book reviews, but there are some mindset shifts you can develop to make the process easier. But first…

    Negative reviews tell us about the reviewer, not the book

    Ultimately a negative review is not about you or your book. It is about the person reviewing it.

    Recent research on online reviews by Dr Camilla Vásquez from the University of Florida showed that negative reviews tend to include more personal pronouns, more personal stories, are written more creatively, and tend to reference the reviewer’s level of expertise (“I’m a chef”).

    This suggests that people often use negative reviews as an outlet to express themselves (almost like on a blog), rather than to give other consumers advice.

    Another type of poor review is when the reviewer seems to have missed the point of the book entirely.

    The most frustrating review I ever received was about the number of pages in my book, compared to those in the one the reviewer had read before it.

    The well-known management concept Parkinson’s Law of Triviality states that in debates, a disproportionate amount of time is spent arguing over trivial details.

    In my example above, the reader clearly did not ‘get’ my book, so he chose instead to review it based on something he did understand–how long it took to read; another review that tells us more about the reviewer, than about what’s being reviewed.

    Mindset shifts that help you soar above negative book reviews

    Here are 3 mental shifts that will help you put negative reviews behind you and get on with the good work.

    #1. It’s good to have people hate your work.

    You can’t please everyone, nor should you try to.

    It may not feel like it, but if somebody hates what you’ve written, that’s actually a sign that someone else might love it.

    It’s the books that don’t evoke strong emotions either way that fizzle out.

    Having ‘haters’ can strengthen your brand image.

    Instead of fixating on the bad reviews, focus on the people who enjoy your work, and what you can do to turn them into customers for life.

    #2. If you’re doing something brave, you will get haters.

    The Tall Poppy Syndrome is an incredibly toxic human condition where people feel the need to cut successful people down to size–those that stand out like a tall poppy.

    Often when the anger toward your book seems personal, it goes way beyond simply not liking what you wrote.

    Sometimes, people who leave nasty reviews are in fact jealous. Such negative reviews might be a sign that you’ve done something brave and different–something they haven’t been able to do.

    The top performers in any field invariably get hate mail.

    “Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.” ~ Bertrand Russell

    #3. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire

    The final mindset adjustment is also the most practical.

    It’s hard to ignore negative reviews, but much as you may want to respond to them, know that every response gives that review more momentum.

    If you reply directly online to a negative review, you will actually improve the search engine ranking for that webpage. Your reply will likely get thumbs-up votes from readers, which will feature the poor review more prominently on your books page.

    Even worse would be to respond on social media or online forums. Almost all these media have a timeline format, where every response pushes the conversation to the top of the timeline. Each time you reply to a bad review, more people will see it.

    When you ignore the comment, it gets forgotten quickly. Starve the comment of oxygen instead of pouring fuel on the fire.

    If you’re doing things right, you will get haters.

    Ignoring negative reviews gets easier with time, because you see how little impact this vocal minority has on your life, and on book sales.

    Each time you start getting worked up over a bad review, choose instead to think about how to wow your existing fan base.

    Focusing on the people who love what you do will keep you on the right track–increasing the number of rave reviews you get.

    How do you deal with negative reviews? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments, please!

    About the author

      Barry Carter

    • P.D. says:

      Unfortunately, as a bipolar sufferer, I was emotionally unable to cope with it, and ultimately had to take my books down in order to remove them from the line of fire. Both were over four stars, but they were becoming endangered. Promo sites won’t even take your money if you slip below four stars. These haters can and will destroy any prospect you had for peddling your wares. I just couldn’t allow them to do that. I wasn’t going to allow anyone but me to destroy my series. I am no longer a writer.

      My negative reviews were attacks against things that happened in some incidental scenes they said were ‘unrealistic’ – when I’d actually taken them from my own life experiences. There seems to be an issue where a reviewer can knock you out of the game simply for describing a concept that isn’t conducive with their own experiences. If it didn’t happen to them, it’s rubbish!

      The rule that you shouldn’t respond to negative reviews is a totalitarian directive. Even hardened killers have the right to confront their accusers. By denying writers this fundamental democratic right, they are being relegated to somewhere lower on the food chain. It turns being a writer into a concept similar to living in the village pillory!

    • Pimion says:

      Thanks for the post!
      It’s always hard to read bad reviews about your books. But you need to learn from that. It can be very useful as it makes you stronger and point at your mistakes.

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    • CJ Heath says:

      After good reviews for my books on Amazon and Goodreads, I received a three star for Her Name is James on Goodreads and it hit me hard. I didn’t mind the star rating as people are entitled to their opinion but the review in its entirety was:

      “This was a really good book and makes the mind wonder but it just missed important issues as well as was really vague in certain areas.”

      I didn’t understand why a “really good book” didn’t merit four stars and would have actually appreciated the two issues being elaborated on :-/

      It took a while but I’ve managed to shrug the review off; it still rankles a little but I’m bigger than that.

    • jone says:

      I had a second book in the same genre published (same publisher). A reader posted an extremely harsh review on Amazon and it really left me feeling defeated; so much so that I stopped writing. The worst part is that the same publisher granted me another contract to write a third book (a really generous publisher, by the way), a follow up to the first one, and I never finished (a blown opportunity to be published once more). I wrote most of the book, just had a few sections to complete but “chickened out,” so to speak. I have since written other works in completely different genres so I haven’t bailed out on writing completelyعلاج ادمان

      • Rachel says:

        Jone: Why did you copy and paste part of my above comment as your own? All the words in English here are mine. Consider sharing your own experience please.

    • zrinka says:

      My debut novel has a mixture of reviews mostly 5 & 4 stars, a few 3’s and couple of 2’s and even one 1 star. The worst review I received wasn’t posted on Amazon or Goodreads, but all the same, the person nit picked about stupid things and it seems that she didn’t really read the book but rather skimmed over pages. In her review she stated that she didn’t get the book at all, as I kept reading her review I kept wondering how could she not get the book? It is fairly straightforward even simpleton can get. She went on to say that word Persian should not be used for carpet but for people of that region. Um, there are no more Persians, that’s an ancient civilization, now they are for the most part Iraqis or Iranians. And I did in fact see many stores selling Persian and Oriental rugs, that is right on their store signs. Thing like this make my blood boil, if they are going to make a statement then better check the facts before making a complete a** of yourselves.

    • Rachel says:

      This is difficult to admit, but I allowed a negative review to affect me deeply enough that I stalled in my writing. Here’s what happened: A few years ago I had a nonfiction book published through a traditional publisher and experienced some mild success, which included a few happy reviews. Eventually, I had a second book in the same genre published (same publisher). A reader posted an extremely harsh review on Amazon and it really left me feeling defeated; so much so that I stopped writing. The worst part is that the same publisher granted me another contract to write a third book (a really generous publisher, by the way), a follow up to the first one, and I never finished (a blown opportunity to be published once more). I wrote most of the book, just had a few sections to complete but “chickened out,” so to speak. I have since written other works in completely different genres so I haven’t bailed out on writing completely, but I’d really feel good about completing that third book. I’m just nervous to do so now.

    • Brian says:

      Appreciated the fact that this article covered the “when” of responding to negative reviews in addition to the “how.” Thanks for sharing.

    • Very true, Barry. My latest anthology The Cunning Man has gained entirely 4 or 5-star reviews at Amazon. But one reviewer, who otherwise loved it, felt compelled to shoot me down on trivia eg. my use of single rather than double quotation marks for dialogue and hyphens rather than em marks. I lusted to comment that this is correct British usage. Moreover, my narrator is a 16thc Englishman and American style conventions would have seemed very odd in the London of Queen Elizabeth I! Alas, Amazon.com wouldn’t let me leave a comment because I have never bought anything at Amazon’s US site. Exit, grinding teeth..

    • Hi Barry,

      Where your attention and energy goes, grows!

      If you give positive reviewers virtually all of your attention and energy you’ll get more and more positive reviews and the negative reviews you’re getting won’t bother you as much.

      On the flip side, if you give much thought to negative reviews, you’ll feel more devestated, angry and upset over these unclear folks.

      Here’s the deal authors; I too used to get really, really fired up over negative eBook reviews of my Blogging from Paradise series, and still do fire up at times, yet, some like vanilla ice cream, others, chocolate ice cream. No big deal.

      People who are unclear on their love of vanilla ice cream will do everything possible to slam chocolate ice cream, and people who love chocolate ice cream. This is nothing but one person’s lack of clarity and belief.

      Since most of us are KINDA attached to our eBooks we take their preference personally.

      No need to do so, though, and the more we follow your helpful tips, we’ll detach from our books a bit, and then, negative reviews will have less power over us.

      I focus heavily on my raving fans, and in truth, when you have enough glowing support, I’ve experienced first hand that more loving, supportive fans will show up, buy your book and write positive reviews.

      Most who don’t like your post will steer clear, because they are clear on not liking it, because you are clear on focusing on your loving, supportive audience.

      If a few negative nellies show up, it’s all about them and nothing about you. No need to sweat their lack of clarity and belief in themselves and their opinion. Just embrace any anger, or hurt, or annoyance for a few moments, then manually turn your focus back to all of the positive, loving reviews you’ve received.

      If you like chocolate ice cream, hang out with the folks who love chocolate ice cream, and if some vanilla ice cream fans show up, learn to laugh them off….and when somebody who truly supports you, has criticisms, it’ll be loving feedback, and you’ll feel great about it. These are the only critics to give your time to.

      Barry, thanks for the inspired read!

      Tweeting now 😉


    • Neil says:

      Negative reviews for shipment and other such things are very common. It gets really irritating when your book gets negatively voted for something that has nothing to do with the book. The etailers should provide seperate rating systems for the product and delivery related issues. That would make it easier to judge a book by the ratings.

      – Neil

    • isaac says:

      I was extremely happy when Amazon published my first book about the social worker and his role in the rehabilitation of patients and I was happiest when I sold than more 400 copies

    • Marni Scofidio says:

      What a FANTASTIC post! One to print out and save – thank you.

      I had years of good reviews for my short stories print-published in books and magazines in four countries. When I collected that work and published it on Smashwords, for the first time, I got a few haters.

      What finally helped me put it in perspective was a one-star review on Barnes & Noble that read: ‘I’ve just downloaded this book, haven’t read it yet, hope it’s good.’ Honestly!

      I do my best to write well and package it professionally. Let people say what they like. Other people read my reviews and I just keep on writing. Best wishes to all my fellow scribblers.

      • That’s another one star review I would consider reporting to Barnes & Noble as it is clearly not about the product. I think they would remove it.

    • Fiona L. Woods says:

      I love this post. It’s so full of good insight.

      When my first short story collection went on Amazon. I was feeling pretty good as I quickly got 9 reviews: 8 were 5 star and 1 was a 4 star. Then it hit. Number 10 was a 1 star! I got up the courage to read the review and nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

      The reviewer gave the book 1 star because she didn’t like short story collections! I didn’t bother to ask her why she bought my short story collection then. I just let other people read the review and make their own decision about her judgement.

      • Oh wow that sucks to get such a needless one star review, I’d almost consider reporting that to Amazon. That’s like me buying a lawnmower and giving it a one star review because I don’t have a garden.

    • Whenever I have to write a bad review (and it’s not something I particularly enjoy doing–I want to love everything and everyone!), I try to make it about the content as much as possible. I also try to put it in the perspective of “It’s just not my cup of tea”. Few books are so unbearably bad as to not suit the tastes of at least a few people. It’s just finding those people that can be challenging.

    • PJ Reece says:

      I hated this article. Jeez, man, there were extra spaces all over place. Who edited this? I could’ve done a hugely better job.

    • Perfect timing, Barry. My novel is still unpublished, though I’ve dealt with this with angry unsubscribers and nasty comments. It does NO GOOD to respond to haters. I appreciate how you pointed out in doing so (and the likes your comment would receive) just gives their negative comment more power.

      Forget them and move on (not easy, but better than giving them more power). Thanks for helping me reframe this.

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