You’ve done it. You’ve given birth, essentially, to a two-pound, emotion-ridden, baby book. It took years from start to finish to create this little guy; years of blood, sweat, and tears.

So many tears.

From the ground up, you built a world, breathed life into it, filled it with characters, laughter, death, adventure, and love. From the depths of your soul and your heart and your mind, you created something.

And now, in their free time, after spending an hour or two with it, someone rips it to shreds.

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How to Handle a Bad Book Review

Being a writer is tough enough, and then you add in access to Wifi. Gulp. Just like anyone with a little know-how can self-publish their writings, anyone with an Amazon or Goodreads account can take you down (emotionally speaking) with some thoughtless review.

What do you do when you wake up one morning, innocently login to your book dashboard, and see a review that makes your eyes watery, your heart drop, and sends your entire week to hell in a hand basket?

Well, get ready to learn, because my dear, sweet chicken, it will happen to you.

After all, you wrote a book: you are a real author. So here is how to handle a bad book review like real a real author.

What Not to Do

First of all, while your emotions are your own (and so is your reaction), there are some things that your fellow authors would tell you to please not do (for everyone’s sake). These include, but are not limited to:

  • Writing back. Do not use your writing abilities and talent to publicly and figuratively crucify your critic. Sure, it’s what comes easily to writers – that knack for drawing blood with our pens – but it will only make you look cruel, angry, and like you’re not only taking, but bulldozing, the low road. Take the high road. Don’t throw your critic to the wolves of your social media friends.
  • Getting involved. Do not fire back personally at the critic, unless it’s to offer a pithy wink and a smile. We know it’s tempting. You want to defend yourself, especially if their hatred of you and your book baby is unfounded. Walk away.
  • Getting hurt. Do not let the reviewer hurt you too much. It’s not the end of the world, even though your hot tears and your hurt heart belie this. If their critique is bringing you to the point of quitting your dream, take stock. Who is this person? Who are they to you? Does their opinion mean more than your loved ones?
  • Bribing. Do not desperately reach out to the reviewer to change his/her mind. Sending free books, offering compensation for changing their review, or threatening them in anger, are all things that A.) likely won’t work, and B.) will give you a bad reputation.

What to Do

You are going to get them, those nasty reviews. Whether they are an accurate reflection of your writing or not, here are ways to cope:

  • Snoop around. Take a peek at other books they’ve reviewed. They may have been forced to read your book by their hated teacher when all they really want to read is cat mysteries. If your historical saga is a slow burn in the romance department and all they’re accustomed to reading is free Kindle downloads of erotica, you may feel strangely liberated and able to laugh it off. Did they give a one-star rating to To Kill A Mockingbird, and five-stars to My Zombie Werewolves’ Concubine, Part IV?  Then you’re in good company.
  • Let it go. Sing the song if you have to.
  • Learn from it. Take note of their main complaint. Is it a common theme in your reviews? If it’s out of the blue, odd, and borders on the bizarre (i.e. I was expecting more character development in the robot army), you’ll be able to sigh and brush it off. If, however, it’s the tenth review that mentions grammatical errors, you have no right to be – the words of my daughter – booty tickled. Fix your errors.
  • Stop reading reviews. Seriously. Just stop. Or if you have to, limit your review look-ups to a certain day of the month. Get it over with, wallow if there’s a need to, then go read something uplifting.

When to Break Those Rules

There are some rare occasions when you can and maybe even should break these bad-review rules.

If you’re being bullied and targeted by a group or an individual, it’s time to fight back and not meekly accept their abuse. Some authors have been unfairly ganged up on, due to leaving a bad review of their own, getting on someone’s nerve, or just enjoying a little bit of limelight.

If you suspect someone(s) is trying to take you down by leaving multiple scathing reviews, talking poorly about you on their social media platforms, or trying to intimidate you in any other ways, report them and push back.

Cowardly trolls will always back down when approached by calm, professional, lucid individuals. Pinky promise.

When All Else Fails, Look to the Masters

If you have received a bad review and know it is nonsense, but you still have difficulty getting over the rejection, scroll through some of these honest-to-goodness, real life, hilariously inaccurate (or maybe not) reviews of some of the world’s best-loved literature …

Bad Book Review: For Whom The Bell Tolls

At a conservative estimate, one million dollars will be spent by American readers for this book. They will get for their money 34 pages of permanent value. These 34 pages tell of a massacre happening in a little Spanish town in the early days of the Civil War…Mr. Hemingway: please publish the massacre scene separately, and then forget For Whom the Bell Tolls; please leave stories of the Spanish Civil War to Malraux…”

Commonweal, 1940, on For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Bad Book Review: Absalom, Absalom!

The final blow-up of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.

The New Yorker, 1936, on Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Bad Book Review: Leaves of Grass

Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog is with mathematics.

The London Critic, 1855, on Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Bad Book Review: Catch-22

It doesn’t even seem to be written. Instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted on to paper.

– The New Yorker, 1961, on Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Bad Book Review: Ulysses

…appears written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine… Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit…

-The columnist “Aramis”, writing in The Sporting Times, 1922, on Ulysses, by James Joyce

Bad Book Review: Brave New World

Mr. Huxley has the jitters… …a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.

Margaret Cheney Dawson, writing in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, 1932,on Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Bad Book Review: Lolita

Lolita, then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive…

-Orville Prescott writing in The New York Times, 1958, on Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov

Bad Book Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles

An unpleasant novel told in a very unpleasant way.

-The Saturday Review, 1891, on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

Bad Book Review: Anna Karenina

Sentimental rubbish. . . . Show me one page that contains an idea.

-The Odessa Courier, 1877, on Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Bad Book Review: Wuthering Heights

“Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.”

-James Lorimer, writing in the North British Review, 1847, on Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

And if those don’t fail to bring a smile to your tear-stained face, or soothe the savage beast within, just remember this:

Hans Christian Anderson once received a terrible review and was found, lying facedown in the mud, crying, in front of Charles Dickens house, where he had basically been squatting for weeks, annoying the heck out of Chuck.

So, really, chicken, you’re doing just fine.


How to handle negative reviews of your book