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Dealing with Rejection and Negative Feedback as an Author

And Using it to Make Yourself a Better Writer

 

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One of the toughest things about being an author is dealing with negative feedback. Mostly, these come in the form of the dreaded one-star reviews, but however they end up in your life, it’s crucial you learn how to deal with them.

And it’s tough. You’ve just bared your soul to the public, and now some anonymous stranger can rip you to shreds in thirty seconds.

The good news is, everyone gets bad reviews. Everyone will get the occasional damning email (I was once accused of being a sociopath by someone I’ve never met – that was a fun day).

So, you’re not alone. Dealing with rejection, negative comments, and bad reviews is an essential skill. At first, you’ll take everything personally. One bad review will negate dozens of great ones. It’ll make you doubt yourself. It might even make you want to give up.

But, like any other skill, dealing with bad reviews, criticism, and negative feedback can be taught and it can be learned. And, eventually, you’ll see how it can actually help you become a better writer.

Today, we’re hearing from Thomas Behr with three actionable tips you can use to arm yourself against that unavoidable downside of being an author.

Enjoy…

Dealing with Rejection and Negative Feedback as a Writer

By Thomas Behr, Ph.D.

Author of The Tao of Sales: The Easy Way to Sell in Tough Tones, Blood Brothers: Courage and Treachery on the Shores of Tripoli, The Life and Times of Miller Bugliari (America’s Most Successful H.S. Soccer Coach), and The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age.

Here’s the good news:

The continuously expanding, evolving market of self-publishing, combined with the emergence of easily-accessible expert resources like “Your First 10,000 Readers,” has dramatically and irrevocably changed the book business.

A world of people who only dreamed of becoming authors can now get published.

What’s the bad news? If you want to become a published author, you’re going to have to learn to live with rejection and negative feedback. And that’s especially true if your goal is to use your writing to launch a profitable, growing, and sustainable business. If you’re selling, rejection comes with the territory.

In this article I’ll share 3 critical skills about how to deal with inevitable rejection and negative feedback.

 

 

Let’s Face It:

Negative feedback and rejection hurts. It’s not “just business.” Criticism is personal. Deeply personal. It’s like someone looks at your kid and says, “Wow! What an ugly, badly-behaved child! It must be terribly embarrassing to take him out in public!”

I ran my own very successful sales, marketing, and leadership consulting practice for 35 years. Our clients included Fortune 500 global corporations and small entrepreneurial companies at all stages of the business enterprise life cycle. That’s decades of pitches and sales calls.

I can’t imagine trying to count up the number of times potential clients said “No thanks” – if they bothered to respond at all.

I’ve published four well-reviewed books to date – two conventionally published, two self-published –am finishing my fifth and planning my sixth. My first book, published in 1997, The Tao of Sales, was rejected by over 30 literary agents before it finally got picked up and sold to Penguin Books. One of the first Amazon reader reviewers gave the book a single star and wrote: “Another variation on the same old theme. Has this man ever spoken to a customer?”

“The rejection slip is very hard to take on an empty stomach and there are times when I would sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying.” Ernest Hemingway

So how do you build the inner strength to need as a published author/entrepreneur?

 

 

1. Don’t run from rejection or pretend you don’t care. Embrace it.

It’s counterintuitive — or just plain weird — to embrace what you fear. It’s also essential. “Fear” is the subconscious mind’s underhanded trick to keep us from exposing ourselves to emotional hurt. It shows up in our conscious minds as “reasonable” excuses to procrastinate, to spend time on safer, non-essential “busy work” (“I’m really busy today; I’ll get back to writing tomorrow”), to defer tough decisions (“I need to think more about this”), and especially, to give up (“Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a writer”).

The best alternative to fear is disciplined work. “OK. I’m feeling a little frustrated and unloved right now. But my job today is to write another 1,000 words.”

When it comes to discipline, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. There are lots of good strategies available on lIne–for example, right here on this blog.

Sometimes, subconscious fear works really hard to keep us from stepping outside our comfort zone. If this is an issue for you, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence still provides the best complex answer for mastering irrational fear. For simpler, easier, and very helpful insights, Cody Smith has a new book coming out shortly, Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness. Look for it when it comes out. For a deeper dive, try The Principle of Onness, by Russell Gibbs.

Bottom line: Writing is like running a marathon. You know before you start that you will run into pain. You will hit the wall. But you keep running anyway.

 

 

2. Never stop working to become a better writer.

The antidote to rejection is approval. But real approval has to be earned. If your writing is amateurishly sloppy, disorganized, self-indulgent, or just plain trivial, people aren’t going to like it. If they comment at all on your writing–if they even read your book — they’ll let you know they don’t like it.

There’s a huge payoff to developing the skills of a good writer: more readers, more sales, accelerated business growth, and increased self-confidence. The self-confidence that comes from becoming a competent writer is your best defense against the fear of rejection.

Becoming the best writer you can be is a lifelong commitment towards a goal you’ll never reach. Writing is both a craft and an art. My favorite resource on writing tips is Donald Maass: http://maassagency.com/books-on-writing/ and also the free tips over at the blog of NY Book Editors.

Also, if you’re writing genre fiction, like Nick does, his approach and guidelines are as good as you’ll ever need. Follow their recommendations. Here are mine:

Learn how to write concise declarative sentences. Write what you know about ( and keep learning so you always have more to write about). Write what you care passionately about. Keep it conversational and simple. Keep it honest: a writer’s job is to communicate his or her truth. Write with a flowing pen; edit with a scalpel.

No matter what kind of book you write, plan it out before you start writing. The sources I’ve listed above lay out ways to do that.

Start with yourself. Before you write each day, edit what you’ve done previously–at least the past two to three day’s work. Every week, I run each manuscript I’m working on through the free version of Grammerly.com. Every two weeks I go back to the beginning with fresh eyes, read word by word, and tighten, tighten, tighten.

Invest money in a good editor. The longer you work on a book, the more blind you will become to its flaws.

Assemble a small team of beta readers. They should be people you trust. Empower them to be explicitly, relentlessly truthful. But wait to engage beta readers until you have written something worth the effort and love you expect from them.

Join and contribute to networks of writers. Your network can include experts in related fields. If you go that route, remember that being a valued member of a community is all about sharing. Give more to the people whose support you seek — that has value to them — than you ask for in return. Always.

 

 

3. Treat feedback as feedback, not personal criticism

Some of us are born and grow up with a strong sense of self-confidence; others with more destructive self-doubt and subconscious fear. Wherever you are is where you start. But confidence is a learnable skill. How do you know you need to get tough with your own lack of self-confidence? When you get angry — or discouraged — about negative feedback. “How can they say that about me?” That’s the wrong question.

Do you have a little voice inside you that whispers, “I want people to like me?” That thought, by itself, is poison to a writer.

Replace it with “I want to create as much value for readers as possible.” Shift the focus from yourself to your readers.

Feedback is a statement by one person about your writing; it’s not a character assessment of you unless you make it that. Use the feedback you think helpful; discard the feedback that isn’t helpful. Key question: not “What did he or she say about my writing?” but “How can I use this insight to make myself a better writer?”

And notice the really cool paradox. The more skill you develop and the better writer you become, the easier it is to ask “What can I change to make this even better writing?”

Some people just won’t respond to what you write. Some people are just “haters.” That’s OK. That’s who they are; not who you are. Remember the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “The people who mind (who you are and what you do) don’t matter. The people who matter don’t mind.”

Tom Behr is the Author of The Tao of Sales: The Easy Way to Sell in Tough Tones, Blood Brothers: Courage and Treachery on the Shores of Tripoli, The Life and Times of Miller Bugliari (America’s Most Successful H.S. Soccer Coach), and The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age. Find out more here.

 

 

 

And now we want to hear from you: Have you ever had to deal with rejection? Do you have any tips for getting past it? Leave a comment!

 

 

68 Comments
  1. Christine Brooks says:

    Great post. In fact, the one I’ve enjoyed most so far. I’m away from my laptop right now, but I’ll be following up on those recommend resources

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Thanks, Christine!

  2. Walt Socha says:

    I got my first “one star” a couple months ago.

    I decided to think that this person did me a great favor. In this one star reveiw, the reader said my book was good, but that she didn’t like the language my ex-military secondary character uses.

    I couldn’t buy this kind of advertising!

    1. Venessa Knizley says:

      I usually only check amazon for reviews, but the other day, I went over to goodreads and found that I had a one star review. It was because I used a swear word in the prologue…or rather, my character did, lol. I understand though. I write Christian fiction and this took her off guard. She said she’d been looking forward to the book but she read books to escape the garbage of the world not to get into it. I completely get that. So, I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that my book was a coming of age book about a girl making it through the 14th century Black Plague in England… lots of “garbage.” Realistically, it may have been too heavy a topic for her anyway. At least she said why she gave it three stars. People who don’t have an issue with it may read it anyway…others may be curious just what kind of profanity a Christian author might work into her book. I guess, I’m ok with this.

    2. Kate Findley says:

      Totally! Many 1-star reviews can actually be reframed as positive reviews.

  3. Chad V. Holtkamp says:

    I don’t reply to reviews, so I just let them go, good or bad. I’ve had some head-scratchers over the years when it comes to one-star reviews. Most were from people who didn’t bother to read the book and only skimmed it. One was so out-there, though, that I wasn’t sure if the review was even about my book. It didn’t make any sense.

    One was particularly cruel, but it was a two-star review. “Continuing to eat like he does will lead to a death at an age similar to his mothers.”

    Really, you had the gall to go there? I thought that crossed the line of decency but I let it go. I dissed him as a keyboard warrior in my next book, but that was about it.

  4. Philippe M says:

    I had my first one star review a month ago. It is saying everything I do, story, style, dialogues, characters is crap. I had a real hard time dealing with this. I managed to get over it, but only because four and five stars reviews are the majority of what I get (so far)… I still hurts when I think of it. 🙁

    1. Charlsie Russell says:

      Now that sounds like what I call a “boiler-plate” review where some review “troll” trashes each writing skill: plot, characterization, pacing, editing, etc. without any explanation to support his/her negative feedback. I’ve had those and it’s so obvious what the individual has done, just by the tactics used in the attack. Why this being does that? Who knows, but I imagine he/she makes a habit of it. Ignore it.

      1. Philippe M says:

        Thanks. You are right, ignore it is the only thing to do. I cannot even make something of it anyway: I wrote action/adventure sci fi and that reader also complained because my main character (a woman) is capable of piloting a spaceship on her own…

  5. Louise says:

    Most people liked the free Christmas Quiz Book I wrote under a pen name. After all, it was – well – free. And Christmasy. And not meant to be taken seriously. One person took it very seriously, and didn’t like it. My first ever one star review. It hurt.

  6. Sophie says:

    I write steamy sci-fi (not the short, quick kind, but the long, fully-developed world kind). I was accused of writing bad “alien porn”. Once I got over the shock, I actually used that phrase, along with a wink, in my advertising, and people loved it!

  7. Ken Haedrich says:

    Nice job, Tom, and thanks Nick for posting this. Rejection can come from several directions, from both readers and editors. From within, too. Of course you need solid writing skills; that’s a given. Beyond that, a good editor can often save you from yourself. No matter the source, I always take it personally, for about half a day, then I put on my big boy boxers and try to process the criticism/rejection with an open mind. It’s worked pretty well for the last 30 years, 15 books and hundreds of magazine articles.

  8. Douglas D Kelly says:

    ‘At least some of you have had a review, and that’s better than not having one at all. I’ve had my book on Amazon for more than a year with not one sale and not one review. It’s as if my book was invisible or not there. Wierd. I wonder if I need a new title and cover design. Other than that, I cannot imagine why I’ve had no activity. My book is non-fiction, about marketing. I’ve been deeply involved in marketing for more than 35 years, had my own successful AAAA advertising agency. I know so much about marketing and advertising and sales that I would think my book would be helpful to anyone trying to sell anything. And I’m a good writer. It’s nearly impossible to be in the advertising business without being a good writer of both advertising copy and informational content for white papers and so on. I’m currently revising it hoping to improve it, and I’m renaming it and using a new cover. I’ll see if this will help. If not, I’m completely puzzled.

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Douglas – email me, I’ll see what I can do to help. If nothing else, I’ll lend an objective ear.

      PS – your quest is to find my actual email address. Twitter, FB, and blog comments don’t count. Put the subject line as “nick said this should go to him” just in case you end up in my support queue.

      (PPS – this is what we have to go through to avoid spam, come find me).

      1. Venessa Knizley says:

        That was super kind of you 🙂
        I know it’s part of what you do…but it’s still great to see. God bless you and your business.

  9. Dana Lyons says:

    I’m Dana Lyons, my first romance book did fairly well but there was this one savaging review. It broke my heart. I ended up contacting the reader and actually paid her back for the book. I know. Newbie mistake. She never took down the review, and tried to tell me how to write even though she was unpublished. I learned. I learned you turn your back on those reviews, and you walk away and you write your next book.

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Dana – I actually LOVE that response. Generally, I stick to the rule “don’t reply to reviews”. But there’s a difference between “replying” and “making a difference”. Circumstances play a huge role here, but I love what you did. Good on you.

  10. Barbara says:

    As has been said, rejection is part of being a writer. Not everyone will like what you have written. I was rejected by upwards of ten publishers for various works I had written. They all said the same thing. I love your characters, they are vibrant and interesting but the story isn’t the type we are looking for at this time. Okay. I got it. I’m not a clone of the biker gang stories, or the typical romance novel. My bikers were ordinary people who happened to ride a motorcycle. My romance books actually had a plot other than the romance. Go figure. So I decided to self publish, aware there was an audience out there, but I needed to find them.

    The other problem was being a new author, I still have a lot of learning to do. I looked as one review and realized I needed to improve what I was writing. They had a good point in their review. It wasn’t exciting. One of my main characters wasn’t exactly wonderful at the beginning of the book, etc. So, yes, you can learn from those reviews and improve what you are doing. They only hurt for a while until you put them in perspective and do what you can to make what you are doing better.

  11. Angelina says:

    Thank you for a great article. I’ve had the honour of receiving two one star reviews for my first novel. The first was left by a gentleman who changed his review nearly daily for several months though the one star remained. His words were vicious and it was a thoroughly horrible experience. I became genuinely afraid, wondering who could possibly hate me that much. But when he wrote: “if you liked fifty shades of grey, you’ll love this,” I could have kissed him. Sadly, he continued to change his review, so unfortunately, I lost that gem. The other one star review was from a lady who complained about the fact that the novel was too English. It’s set in London and all the characters are British. I took it as a compliment. The best revenge is to keep on writing and doing it even better. I’d like to add that I use my experience from a previous life as an operatic soprano, and it might be useful to mention here. I learned early on that negative criticism can come from strange places – it might be jealousy, or irritation that your interpretation of an idea doesn’t match theirs, or you may push one of their buttons without intending to or even knowing it. I don’t want to make light of negative criticism because it hurts. But it is a very good idea to divorce yourself from the words used. As long as you focus on doing the best you can and understanding that it’s just one person’s opinion, the criticism doesn’t have to sting too badly. Let’s face it, it is just one person’s opinion, isn’t it?

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Oh man… here’s just a soupcon of my bad reviews: https://www.amazon.com/Wanted-Private-Investigator-Suspense-Thrillers-ebook/product-reviews/B00FYW9VHC/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_1?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar

      Featured: In edits, I was told I should refer to an “oyster card” as a “prepaid tube card” (it’s a card that lets you travel the underground in London). Actual reviews = “why doesn’t he just call it an Oyster Card?”

      Can’t Win.

      Don’t Try.

      Write from your heart 😀

    2. Julie says:

      Angelina. That is very bizarre from your one star reviewer. I wonder what made him stop?

  12. IreAnne says:

    This article is perfect timing for me. I’m getting ready to publish my first book and I have to say I’m a little terrified at what the reviews might show, but at the same time I realize that every author starts somewhere and first book writing improves over time with each new release. Here’s hoping there aren’t too many 1 star reviews. I think I’ve decided I won’t look to intensely on them and I will try REALLY hard not to respond because I know my gut reaction will be to respond.

    1. Venessa Knizley says:

      I thought for a second about responding to my one star review on Goodreads, but there was this little message bubble at the bottom that said, we really, really (really!) advice against responding to these reviews. Then it gave me advice how to handle it. It made me laugh and helped me to rethink that one second urge to respond and apologize for offending that one person. I guess, it’s a no-no! I hope your book rocks!

  13. Douglas Phillips says:

    1-star. Dumbest article I’ve ever read. This guy knows nothing about writing.
    (just kidding!!)
    In reality, you provide exactly the pep talk I need. Thanks. I’m about to self-publish my second book. The first was happily successful, and 20K readers later I feel like I have an audience. But the second book terrifies me. Those readers now have expectations – gads! How does anyone meet them? I’m doomed.

  14. Kate Findley says:

    I’d be lying if I said bad reviews didn’t sting, but one 1-star review said essentially the same thing that a 5-star review said, describing my book as “very strange”–which was my intention all along! It just goes to show, different strokes for different folks. I do tailor the book description to fans of “unconventional horror,” but I should probably take it a step farther and say “NOT for fans of conventional horror.” In the end, I’d rather polarize people than have a bunch of lukewarm reviews.

  15. W. M. Raebeck says:

    Thanks for this. I really like blogs that address any type of writer hurdle. I’ve got 4 books out now, with 43 x 5-star reviews and 2 x 4-star reviews. That’s all, and sounds okay I guess, though not many reviews for 4 books…. But I think back to when I was starting out and how elated I would’ve been to get good ratings. However, I’ve also heard that Amazon is suspicious of only high-star reviews (did you pay someone?), and also that when strangers review your books, you’re generally going to get lower marks. In other words, your friends are good friends. On Goodreads, I have a 3-star from a stranger, so there you go.
    I did post a response regarding my recent (long) 4-star review, pointing out something the reader apparently misunderstood. Probably shouldn’t have responded, hope it doesn’t look like sour grapes, but he seemed to miss the point that the character redeemed herself with time.
    Anyway, supposedly it’s bad to look too good. So treasure those miserable reviews.

  16. Laura says:

    Thanks for the advice, Tom. This article was exactly what I needed right now. I was almost like Douglas: book available for almost five months and only 5 copies sold, but when I changed the book price to free I saw some results. Anyway, before that I gave away some samples of my book and yesterday one of the readers who got my book from this giveaway sent me an email saying that my book was full of typos and that she will give it a bad review. That would be my first review and a bad one! I ran my book through Grammarly twice and send t to an editor and it’s full of typos? I was heartbroken, thinking that the editor took advantage of me and immediately removed the book from Amazon and the other retailers. I don’t want something like that around the web with my name on it. Anyway. In the meantime I emailed this reader to thank her for her help, or I would never find out about my book problems. You need to understand that English is not my native language, and after seeing the results I was having in five months, I’ve been looking for everything that could turn readers off. This reader made me think that I had finally found the problem. Well, she answered my email with a few suggestions where she thinks the book has typos. She edited the first scene for me. Turns out she has a problem with my voice. She actually found two typos. That’s right. But most of her suggestions where about how I write, and that’s not something I think I can change.

  17. Linda says:

    I’m about to self-publish. I’ve held back for a specific reason, partly to do with ‘friendly reviews’ – the ones where you invite people to comment, because you’re a total newbie and are worrying your writing isn’t ‘good enough’….

    I have a series of 3 books about a gentleman in Uganda and the ‘work’ he does for children. His comment – ‘it’s as if you’ve known me for years and been at my side’.

    Review – your character isn’t believable; no-one could do what you say he’s done.
    Review – the story line isn’t realistic. Someone would stand in and help. There are organisations that help children like these.

    Hmmm….so probably won’t sell!

    The other reason I’ve not published yet..I’m talking with Hollywood film producers. We’ll see what they have to say. They invited me to pitch to them……

  18. Helen Wilkie says:

    Here’s a comment from the other side of the picture. I recently read a novel in a well-loved series by an author who died a couple of years ago. This one was finished by a well established author who writes great books under her own name. But this one was terrible. I hated it, hated the way she treated the characters I loved, hated that she got the voice wrong, didn’t even like the story. I was so tempted to write a scathing one-star review, but then I put on my author’s hat and thought about how I would feel reading this. So I simply wrote it on paper to get it out of my system and then destroyed it without posting. I think many of those unkind reviews are just rants that people put up without thinking. Thanks for these tips on how to deal with them.

    1. Kate Findley says:

      Helen–Yes, I’ve done the same thing! Scathing reviews can be fun to write, but then I ask myself, who do they benefit besides me? Sure, I guess these reviews save readers time and money by telling them to stay away from that book, but there’s no need to be mean-spirited about it.

  19. Keith D Guernsey says:

    Would love your opinion on this;

    Thanks, Keith

  20. Corinne Asch says:

    I write non-fiction occupational books. One of my books is on microblading the eyebrows, which is a form of permanent makeup.
    One reviewer told me I was disgusting for writing a book where a hands-on class was necessary. She told me I was irresponsible and disgusting.
    I responded by saying that according to her logic, we should eliminate all medical books.

  21. Buddy Thornton says:

    A very successful sales friend of mine once told me, “No is the beginning of every successful sales call. You are selling to those who say ‘No’ and delivering to the low-lying fruit that bought instantly.” His advice was to enjoy the low-lying easy targets but not think of them as work.
    Writing is the same thing. You write to accomplish the target task and to give value where there was none before. Some people won’t embrace your vision, so absorb the reason why and adapt or move on. Either way, you keep moving.

  22. Nichelle Rae says:

    I got a 2 star review from a woman who went on a rant about my cliffhanger ending of the 2nd book in my series. That was literally her issue. I got a whole paragraph about it. At first it stung, until a thought occurred to me, which was, “Well…I must have done SOMETHING right to get her to read to the end of my SECOND book.” 🙂 So that helped a lot in getting over it. And the first book in that series is a fat one. 🙂

  23. David P Perlmutter says:

    I received a fantastic 1* for my book to movie BESTSELLER #WrongPlaceWrongTime about my nightmare trip to #Marbella, it read…
    “I was expecting a Hemingway travel log and what I got was Austin Powers on holiday.”

  24. Keith D Guernsey says:

    I feel very fortunate to have never had less than a 4 star review.
    Keith
    https://amzn.com/153338763X

  25. Tracy Krauss says:

    I got a couple of one star reviews for a novella that said they liked the book but it was too short. DUH! It said right in the product description it was a novella!

  26. Jennie Kew says:

    I’ve had a few 1 star ratings with no review attached, which at times bugs me more than a bad review because… WHY? Then I shrug and imagine how lonely it must be, being a keyboard warrior imprisoned in their mother’s basement with nothing to amuse them but trolling Goodreads.
    But I did get a 2 star review on Amazon for one of my erotic short stories:
    “No charter development. Sketchy sex scene. No plot or even a conflict. There could have been a good story in there but it was all summarized and glazed over. Very short.”
    Yeah, okay “Amazon Customer”. I’ll take that under advisement.

  27. Ann Albers says:

    Rejection just means you stirred up some strong emotion and someone discovered that you are not for them. I evaluate it to see if it is useful and if not I bless it and release it.

    My all time worse review was in response to a blog article. I had written about life and death which included a paragraph about how, in spite of my attempts at intervention, my dog at a bird. An angry reader wrote to tell me, that I “allowed the poor bird to die in torment because I was too cowardly to kill myself,” and suggested various therapies for me after strong admonishing me I had no right to be teaching.”

    I prayed for her. My angels told me it was her childhood abuse that necessitated her lashing out like this. When people dump their anger on you with such vitriol, it is almost certain that the anger started brewing way before you wrote your work.

    My all tie best worst review was one that started out telling me that the reader “had no idea why he was reading about a spoiled, disgruntled woman,” but then went on to say that as he got into the book he realized I was “showing readers the way out of a life that doesn’t seem to fit and feels without purpose.” I liked that one!

  28. Whit McClendon says:

    I’ve gotten two one-star reviews, one of which complained about the occasional sound effects I described in the book. That one ended the review by saying that the story was decent and it was _almost_ well-written, so I guess I had that going for me. My favorite was the guy who said that my first book ‘hurts to read’ and that it was ‘like dragging my mind through broken glass.’ That’s become my favorite comment, actually, just because it’s so over-the-top! It hurt at first, but I went to check out the most critical reviews received by my favorite authors, and found that they all had similar, incredibly negative and potentially hurtful comments. After seeing that, I pumped my fist and said, “YES! I’ve joined the club!” You can never please everyone, so just write what you write, clean it up as best you possibly can with an editor, and understand that trolls are out there. They’re bored, mean, and apparently enjoy trashing the hard work of authors everywhere. Reviews like that say far more about the reviewer than the book they reviewed, IMHO, so I’ll just keep on writing.

  29. Brandy Miller says:

    My first one-star review was for my book, How to Write an eBook in 40 Days (or less). I’d specifically targeted beginning writers. The reviewer told me there was “nothing new” in my book. At first, I was astonished. Of course there was nothing new here! It was targeted for beginners. Then I thought about it and decided that maybe what she was telling me was that there was not enough step-by-step for our beginning writer and I went back and am in the process of writing the best book for beginners ever written, stuff that I’ve tested on people who don’t know me and have gotten rave reviews for. I have to thank her for her review because if she hadn’t left it, I never would have gone down the path I have now.

  30. Charlene A. Wilson says:

    I’ve had a few, but one by far stands out. It was the most thorough review I’ve had, on any star level. She praised my writing, but she hated the charactrs. She proceeded to tell in detail why. It was as if she were talking about real people and what they did that pissed her off. Of course at the time the sting to my heart over her beating up my beloved cast hit me hard. I laughed about it, because it was so obvious she’d read every word and gave me that one star for great writing, but I read and reread that review to see where I could improve the story. She had won a contest for the book, and I had announced her as the winner on my blog. A month later, she contacted me asking to take her name down or to use an alias for her. She had fled an abusive husband and was trying to hide anything that would lead him to her from the web. I took it down, with a new view of her. True or not, she needed an outlet. She read my book–the good and the bad (which from her perspective was very bad since it triggered a lot of hurt-it’s a dark Fantasy Romance)–from cover to cover, vented her thoughts and feelings about it on Goodreads, and escaped for a while. I’m proud of that review.

  31. Lisa Shiroff says:

    On the same day, 2 of my books received a one-star review by the same reviewer on Amazon, who took enough time out of his/her life to write: “Not worthy of my time.” Perhaps I’m a bit masochistic, because I clicked on that reviewer’s profile to see what he/she finds worthy. I still don’t know what that is, because the only other review that was there was identical to mine, done on the same day as mine, and for a book by an author who writes in the same genre as I do. Does that sound like trolling to anyone else? On both books, I have fewer than 10 reviews, so those one-star ones really hurt my averages. While I appreciate the advice in this article on how to deal with the rejection, I’d love some on dealing with trolls like this.

  32. Heather says:

    My worst review appeared on Goodreads and sat there for almost a month before I discovered it (I try not to check reviews very often). What I found was not really a book review, but a scathing personal attack on my character. I’m still at a loss to understand how she came to some of her conclusions as they could not be further from reality.

    After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I collapsed in a pool of hurt and self-doubt. What if other people thought of me like that? What if the way I write gives people the totally wrong impression of me? Maybe I should just stop work on my next book right now!

    It took about a week to get over it. Every time I thought about what she had said I went through it all over again. And the urge to write a scathing response was strong in me. My soul had been wounded. But every time, I remembered the 5 most valuable words I’ve ever learned – DON’T RESPOND TO CRITICS – EVER!

    Despite the emotional tear-down, this young woman actually gave me a 3-star review. Apparently she liked my writing; she just didn’t like me. Now, I find that hilarious – and gratifying. My writing inspired her to respond so graphically. Plus, she may have done me a favour by encouraging others to find out what all the fuss was about since sales spiked right after her “review”.

  33. Tom Icon says:

    I got nailed by some- keep it simple critics- at Lousy Covers site for according to them, my book cover was too complex…Really! Dumb them down huh…izzofzia.com Tom Icon

  34. Sharon says:

    Thank you for this post! It came at a very good time as I received my one star review a couple of weeks ago. It hurt and it really didn’t match my book, as my novel is not a ‘bodice ripper’ novel. Miles from it. But reading the comment really hurt. Your article helped me see it in a new light and my second book has a 4.5 star rating, so I have improved. I wonder if I should go back and rewrite the first book as it can be improved but I have new books in the series that need to be written. Any thoughts?

  35. Emma Calin says:

    OOH I”m gonna have a field day! I have a favorite 1 star review… I say ‘favorite’ because this same review is posted on 13 of my books in Amazon USA – across steamy romance, short stories, a cookery book for heaven’s sake and all 3 of my kids books. To add insult to injury it’s also been copied to the same 13 books in the UK …. and the same again on several of the books in France and Germany. Yes this reviewer was on a real hate mission…. she apparently read and reviewed all my books on one day, along with 50 other books by other authors. If she dislikes an author she writes a damning 1 star review and then slams every book they have with the same review. She gets through about 80 books a day. Mostly her reviews are on unverified purchases. I complained to Amazon that you cannot really use the same review on books across different genres/titles but they said they have looked into it and will not accept any further discussion on the matter. I lose genuine verified reviews all the time but this one is just stuck like the stickiest brown stuff that she claims are the content of my stories. Here’s the review so you can judge her eloquent use of the English language:

    “Don’t know if it’s kindle unlimited or not and not bothering to look it up nor anything else she’s written, got this somehow as an ARC and have no idea why and wished had never read it; wordy and unnecessary sexual and violent situations, too much going on, just a mish mash of ideas that definitely did not rise to ‘book’. Giving it a 2 is ‘kind’ and not going in to further detail is even kinder, in several ways, but truthful is 1. Don’t even care when book has sexual situations or ‘language’ if it has decent plot, decent characters, and makes decent sense and reasoning to put those in to story. This did not”

    So there you have it. I was devastated when I first saw it – a 1 star early after book launch is so disheartening. Then when I saw it copied to all my books I was just dumbfounded. I still cannot work out what agenda she’s on. Even more so cannot understand why Amazon allow this sort of scammy behaviour. Luckily it’s been buried below lots of kinder reviews now….

    1. Julie says:

      Emma that is strange and over the top and yes annoying Amazon won’t remove

  36. Kenneth R. McClelland says:

    My first book was The Pandemic Preparedness Guide, a prepper book in which my first review was 5 stars, and from a Doctor who teaches medicine in college. I was truly blessed by that, and then I went on to get more 5 star reviews from others in the medical field as well as people who teach survival or prepping. It was going great until a couple of knot-heads gave my book a 1 star and a 3 star review, because one couldn’t get it to download properly from amazon.com onto his kindle, and the other said that it would not work on his kindle… neither reviewer had actually gotten to read the book, yet they each took the time to blemish my writing due to faulty kindles or issues with amazon.com’s download format.
    ————————————————————————————————
    For my first novel: The Slave’s Diary, a work of historical fiction, I was excited because I’d received 14 reviews that were all 5 star reviews… and then suddenly the bubble-buster came with amazon review #15, when I got this one which was only 1 star out of 5. Apparently the reader expected a documentary instead of historical fiction.
    ————————————————————-
    1.0 out of 5 stars: “Some parts of the book were interesting and historically accurate, other parts gave in to negative stereotypical narratives about african americans. i didn’t not like the book for that reason.”

    .

  37. Peter Darley says:

    The worst review experience I ever had was actually rather disturbing. It was a one star review – from another author. Her contentions were concerned with the ‘unrealistic’ aspects of the book that had been virtually transcribed verbatim – from my own life! Additionally, she also admitted in said review to only having read the first 14 chapters. As an author, she would’ve known how damaging to future promotion prospects a one star review is, but that didn’t stop her from posting the review on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk., AND Goodreads. It became some kind of hate campaign from someone I didn’t even know, and I retaliated with an evidence-laden rebuttal to the review. Goodreads, in grand democratic style, then removed my rebuttal statements. To add insult to injury, this author then released a book about what fun it is to write book reviews. To this day, I have no idea what a woman who writes about salsa dancing for the over-50s thinks she’s doing trying to annihilate my action thriller. All in all, it did seem rather sinister.

  38. Dolly Kyle says:

    My latest published book was a political memoir, so I wasn’t surprised to be attacked with one-star reviews from the opposing side. I looked for constructive criticism, but found none. Nevertheless, the experience of reading over 1200 reviews (80% five-stars; 10% four-stars) made me realize that my writing MOVED people to DO something whether good or bad, and that’s an incredible feeling. I’m looking forward to publishing the six novels in my repertoire… and hoping to MOVE people again. What a kick!

  39. Roger E. Bruner says:

    The Devil and Pastor Gus has received two one-star reviews, although out of fifty-two reviews, it’s managed to maintain a 4.1 star rating. Here’s the worst one I’ve ever seen about anything. Believe it or not, I had to laugh at it because my book describes a similar reaction from the pulpit of ministers about Pastor Gus’s novel. Okay.Here goes…

    Follow me closely as I take you through this plot: Pastor Gus Gospello is going through a mid-life crisis and worried about his legacy. He’s only ever pastored a tiny church and has no kids. Gus longs to make a difference for God and so sets out to craft a novel so rich in spiritual symbolism and truth that even the Devil takes notes. (It’s important to note here that in this novel, Satan goes by the name B.L. ZeBubb.)

    Mr. ZeBubb is indeed enamored with Gus’s novel, and even offers to serve as an informant. It’s through this process we learn that Gus and Satan have a history: Gus had signed his soul over to Satan in exchange for a son. Gus backed out at the last minute and ever since, Satan has been intent on dragging Gus to hell.

    The novel is about…well, why tell you all this when it doesn’t actually ever feature highly in the story?…suffice it to say that things don’t go ZeBubb’s way and he plots his revenge on Gus, seeking to destroy him and everything he holds dear. There are twists and complications and even a mistress of Satan who becomes Gus’s associate pastor and is very popular that gets thrown into the mix. I don’t know. I tried to understand it. I just couldn’t.

    Simply put, this novel’s a mess from cover to cover and everything in between. I get that it tries to be a satire, and that’s its only saving grace. But it’s attempt at satire is too pushy, too overt, and too sloppy to even work as a Christian knockoff of an SNL sketch. I’m not even quite sure what it’s trying to satirize. It’s at its best when it satirizes the church for growing and been swayed by an associate pastor who’s really Satan’s mistress, and if that’s its best….yeah.

    The book has no idea what type of tone it should take, swinging from the ridiculously lighthearted (Heaven’s gatekeeper Simon Peter not knowing who Satan is) to incredibly dark (associate pastor Donna accusing Gus of raping her while Gus’s pregnant wife lay dying in the next room). Seriously. It also has no sense of how to show rather than tell. Gus’s magnum opus? We never so much as read a sentence from it. It jumps from topic to topic so quickly that I’m never quite sure what’s going on and what Bruner writes as satire, I see as borderline offensive and stereotypical.

    I try to find the good in novels, even ones I don’t like. When I write a critical review, I try to be fair and honest and balanced. I’ve never come across a book that I couldn’t say at least one thing good about until now. The Devil and Pastor Gus is a terrible book. It shouldn’t have been written. It shouldn’t have been published. It shouldn’t have been endorsed. I’ll not just be avoiding this author, I’ll avoiding this publisher from now on.

  40. JT says:

    I wrote a historical fiction set in Ancient Sumer. One reviewer spent four paragraphs complaining that the book had “many words that are not of the language (English) the book is written in”; that there were too many characters for him to keep up with; and that he had never seen a glossary in a work of fiction before.

    I wanted to advise him to definitely stay away from Tolkien, but I bit my tongue instead…

  41. Reed Blitzerman says:

    I had a reviewer say my work “read like a first draft”
    Even though I had revised each chapter 7-8 times. I stopped writing for two weeks after that and then gradually picked back up. I don’t read much of the reviews now when I’m creating. I pay more attention to how many versus what they say. I did re-read them when I went back to do a new revision. I was able to significantly improve the manuscript that next time through. It took me one month instead of the initial seven. It’s given me new respect to anyone who creates. What took an artist a year to build, an audience consumes in a weekend. I keep writing, knowing that I’m getting better with each manuscript; and so do you. Keep going.

  42. Julie says:

    My first book is on potty training and it’s first one star review said ‘meh, a waste’. I didn’t even have to look it up as it is etched into my brain. However I do have some amazingly awesome 4 and 5 star reviews so the rational side of me knows the one star makes the book look more legitimate.

  43. Jacqueline Varlotta says:

    Reviewers can tear you to sherds and make you feel as if you do not want to write anymore. But then I think, why should I let one person stop me from doing what I love to do just because she thought my book was too long. Though she loved the characters and the plot as a whole.. A book she won in a giveaway no less…A book that specifically told how many pages it was…Then why did you enter the giveaway if you did not want to read such a ‘long novel’ – I try to learn from the reviews I get. I think it helps me become a better writer. But too long a book?. Then don’t pick it up to read it or enter the giveaway….

  44. Patrick says:

    One should probably write a compilation of 1* reviews and that would make great and fun reading, but it’s true that it hurts, always. I don’t know if it ever goes away. I have had the honor of writing the worst book one of my commentators had ever read. Ever. I don’t know if I should cry or laugh. I think there may be some pride to take in writing a book that surpasses all others in the eyes of one individual. But I still find it hard to believe it was anything but spite for a first novel that has garnered as many accolades and successes mine had, a first self-published novel that is now published by a French publisher due to its sales success. While some negative comments may be truthful, and sometimes useful, I believe the most outlandish ones are only motivated by spite and jealousy. A badge of honor, in effect. After a while and several novels published, one skips over the bad reviews, they are not worth your time. Ever.

    1. Patrick says:

      And let’s not forget that bad critics may have their use to us writers, like the slave who rode behind the Roman emperor during his triumph, whispering in his ear that he was nothing but a mere human.

  45. Tim Vicary says:

    Some reviewers are just confused. I have a one star review from an Australian reader who just wrote ‘Great Book.’ I think he thought 1 was good and 5 was bad. And today I got a three star review with the helpful comment ‘Haven’t read it yet.’

  46. Steve Trower says:

    It just happens that I received my first 1 star review a few days ago – because ‘i don’t like giant wabbits’. My favourite one though was a review of The Ballad of Matthew Smith which apparently was about the wrong Matthew Smith. Ho hum.

  47. Teagan Kearney says:

    Thanks for such an encouraging post – it always helps to be reminded that lots of writers, self-published or not – receive these kind of reviews. My oddest one (1 star) was where a reviewer stated in her review of my urban fantasy novella (demons etc.,) that I should not dare to tell her it was fiction either, because “It is not.” Yeah, though this one’s on me as I’d sent her the wrong book – I should have sent her the sci-fi YA book – it might have gone down better! Two lessons learned that time.

  48. Deb McEwan says:

    Thanks for this article, I loved it. I had a horrible one-star review that was personally insulting. After some comments as to why she didn’t like the book she finished with: “…But McEwan, herself a former soldier, is apparently unaware of love for monarch, flag or country and marches on regardless.” I was fuming but decided not to respond as negative people usually get their kicks from winding up others. Having read it again, I think she’s a hater and now realise the review is more about her life experiences than it is about my book.

  49. Melanie Robertson-King says:

    My first 1-star rating came on Goodreads four years ago for my debut novel, A Shadow in the Past. Once I got past the stinging, I said “I’ve arrived. I got my first 1-star”. After that, they’re not so much fun.

    I recently got another one for my latest novel, YESTERDAY TODAY ALWAYS, from a reader who got it free (yes, I said free) in a LibraryThing giveaway. The first line of her review was “full of graphic scenes, swear words and too much drinking”. Then she went on to totally rip the book to shreds. This shattered my self-confidence as a writer.

    The book’s description includes the disclaimer “Contains adult content, violence, and strong language. 18+ recommended.”

  50. Amy Corwin says:

    I’ve been writing and being rejected/receiving bad reviews for a long time now, and thought I’d learned to deal with it. I used what I could to improve my writing and tried to ignore the bad.
    Until recently. Someone decided to write a full length book report (or dare I say, dissertation?) on my best-selling book, which is the first book in a series. Okay. I dealt with that, again by looking for any points I can use to improve. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the review that dealt me the death-blow, but everyone piling on and marking it as helpful. It got so many likes/helpful marks that it is now the top review and basically the only review anyone sees. On the first book in the series. You can imagine the results. The sad thing is that I’ve tried writing other series, tried to continue, but… After 20 years, well, what can I say? I don’t mind bad reviews–I just mind when they become the major review that anyone sees. Some hurdles just seem a little too high to scramble over, sometimes, particularly when you’re just hitting your stride, making progress, and wham… I haven’t stopped, and I haven’t stopped trying to improve, yet. Guess we’ll see.

  51. Terry Atkinson says:

    Hi Amy,
    I’d love to get a copy of your first book in the series. If it was your best-selling book, there are obviously lots of readers who enjoyed it. I am happy to read it and give it an honest and helpful review, time permitting.
    That reviewer who attempted to tear it apart is probably just jealous. Critics are usually not successful writers. Not every book is to ever reader’s taste.
    Keep on writing and sharing your ideas and work with readers. Don’t let some mean-minded person and a bunch of mean-minded sheep following with their 1-click “likes” and “helpful” of a clearly destructive review, discourage you.
    Write for the readers who enjoy your books and promote to those readers – and above all, enjoy your writing.
    Wave a cheery farewell to that silly reviewer, and don’t spend any more of your time even wasting your thoughts on that person.
    All the best,
    Terry

  52. Lillith Black says:

    Just got my first 2* review! The reader ran into a love scene and that was a stopping point for her (even though it’s an urban fantasy romance and there are no explicit words, parts or actions in it). She also assumed that I will have f-words in there (which I don’t) just cause my characters said “Shit” a few times. I guess she is not my reader… *Shrug* 🙂

  53. Hev Ward says:

    I had about 3,4 and 5 star reviews from strangers in the US and the UK, which I was more than happy with but then I got a 1 star and a one word review ‘Boring’. That was frustrating – why was it boring? – if you’re going to leave a review like that at least give a little more feedback. Wally! I then had another 30 good reviews and then one from the US ‘Enjoyed the book there are a lot of typos or spelling mistakes but the author is from Whales’. Gave me and my mates a laugh that one back here in Wales. 😀

  54. Wendy says:

    My VERY first review of my VERY first book (a weaving book specifically for looper weaving on potholder looms) was a two-star review from someone looking for bias-weaving instruction and actually returned my book for not covering bias weave. Potholder looms are the one type of small frame loom that are unsuitable for bias-weaving–though I’ve recently found a YouTube video with a hack to use them that way. (That’s sort of like complaining that a book about driving go-carts doesn’t cover double-clutch shifting.)

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