A Writer’s Guide to Negative Reviews

There are many perks to being a writer.  I’ll give you a hint, though: getting a negative review is not one of them.

Because as writers, we want to think that people like the words we offer them.  We want to encourage, entertain, and inspire.  We want to leave an impression that causes people to think and learn.  We want to give a piece of ourselves in every sentence and word, and we hope – pray, even – that our readers accept us and what we have to offer.

But let’s be realistic here.  Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, there are going to be critics.

Of course, critics come in all sorts of ways.  They can range from kind and generous souls who really want to see you improve in your craft, to rude, obnoxious trolls who are only looking for a fight and fame for themselves.  What we do with the criticisms they give?  Do we take it to heart?  Do we argue back and defend our honor?  Do we simply ignore it and go about our day?

The answer isn’t always so simple, and wisdom is certainly a must-have when dealing with it.  But despite the gray areas and the call to think before you write, there are a few common lessons that all writers can learn when dealing with negative reviews:

Negative reviews happen to everybody.

Go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website and look up some of your favorite books.  Found them?  Now look at the reviews.  Are you surprised to see that there are negative ratings?  That there are criticisms that dare to insult what you consider the greatest story of all time?  Now look up your least favorite books and find the reviews.  Guess what?  There are criticisms there, too.

Good books and bad books have one thing in common: they always will have readers who despise them.  No matter how perfect you write, no matter how many fans you get, there will always be the select few who don’t like your book.  Don’t get mad.  Don’t get upset.  Don’t let it discourage you from ever writing again.  Negative reviews have been given to the greatest authors of all time, and if readers didn’t spare them, chances are they won’t spare you from criticisms, either.

Know when to listen to (and ignore) your critics.

Just like there are bad books and good books, there are also bad critics and good critics.  Bad critics insult without telling you what you did wrong.  Good critics provide constructive feedback that will help improve your writing.  Though it’s often easy to tell the difference between the two, don’t waste your energy treating them the same.  Trolls only seek to fight and discourage.   True critics seek to help and improve.

Though writers all differ on how they respond to critics, I have a general rule of staying silent.  I’ve seen too many writers get into unnecessary (and losing) fights simply because they felt like they had to defend themselves against a person’s insults.  Whether you respond to your critics is up to you – just remember to be wise and knowledgeable of any internet forum rules you may be posting in!

Understand that negative reviews can sometimes help.

I’ve gotten a few negative reviews since first publishing, and the odd thing is my sales and good reviews sometimes go up after that happens.  Why, I’m not sure, but I often wonder if it’s because that negative reviews can sometimes help.

Have you ever read the one or two star reviews of a book?  Chances are, most reviews will say the same thing.  The book is full of grammar errors.  The story isn’t realistic enough.  The characters are too flat and the plot is too long.  But then look at readers.  Some won’t mind grammar errors as long as the story is good.  Some prefer more fantasy to escape the realism of life.  Some enjoy plot over character while others thrive at a long story they can delve deep into.  Just like the old saying goes at garage sales, “One’s trash is another’s treasure,” what may be an awful book to one person may be gold to another.

I’ve heard many readers say this is how they choose what book to read next.  They don’t look at the five star reviews to see if they’re going to enjoy a story.  They look at the one star and two star reviews.  They’re looking to see if the book is really, genuinely bad or if people simply didn’t prefer it.  They’re looking to see if the book they’re looking to read is found in the negative reviews.

Also, having a few negative reviews adds authenticity to your book.  They can prove that you have unbiased readers reading your book (not just fans).  This adds credibility to the reviews you have, which in turns adds credibility to your book.

Though no writer likes to see his or her work criticized, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.  We can choose to ignore or listen, be discouraged or encouraged, falter or strengthen.  Be thankful for good reviews (because they really are awesome and fun to read), but don’t be discouraged or angry if you get a negative review.  Be confident and know who you are.  You’re a human being.  You’re an artist.  You’re a student always learning.

You’re a writer.