When the Bad Reviews Come {And They Will}


bad book reviews

“She needs to have more respect for the process . . . trying to claim that everyone should heal like her.”

The words pierced my heart.

Until then, I had enjoyed a couple good months of positive feedback, those heartwarming days after the release of my debut nonfiction book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases charts and then walked the Amazon {paid} bestseller list {in its genre} for a couple weeks in the top five. It also won some literary awards. But more importantly, my words were reaching the hearts of readers as comments like “inspiring,” “introspective,” “encouraging,” and even “life-changing” peppered online reviews.

That sort of feedback overwhelms a girl with God’s goodness, giving value to this shy writer’s words. To think He had somehow exchanged these primitive ramblings of one who simply longed to spread hope and had used them as encouragement for others, that’s humbling.

I’d finally felt the freedom to say it above a whisper: I am an author.

But then that two-star review hit my screen, attacking my sense of worth. It shouldn’t have, I know. Mentors warned me it was coming; they’d suggested I not even read it.

I didn’t listen.

I determined to mentally counter the negativity and then quickly return to my illusory sense of fulfillment. After all, I welcomed reviews—good or bad. Perpetual student that I am, I’m known to {relentlessly} solicit constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn. And here it sat, this chance for free education, this two-star review therapy.

But in a review-driven culture where we allow others to determine what we read, watch, eat, and even where we spend the night, how can we not be impacted when someone misunderstands our heart?

The judgement sliced soul deep, challenging insecurities I’d long ago buried.

This is the sort of vulnerability we open ourselves up to when we cast our words, our heart, into a public arena that holds potential for not just admiration and esteem but also misunderstanding.

You see, there’s nothing I’m more compassionate about than reaching the heart of a wounded woman and leading her to the restoring, redemptive feet of Jesus. But this particular reader didn’t know that, didn’t know me.

So how do we filter through these words when they come?

  1. We anchor. It’s crucial to anchor any negativity with perspective. We can’t allow disapproval to overtake our thoughts. For the one poor criticism, I had 49 positive reviews from folks who had been uplifted by my words. I worked hard to focus on those. {Very hard.}
  2. Bounce back. To feel defensive at first is natural, but if you find yourself wanting to respond negatively {as in hunt the person down on social media to blast them back}, walk away from the screen and refocus. Immediately.
  3. Consider truth. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Is the criticism valid? Did I somehow fall short?” If so, use this information in a positive manner and seek to write with excellence. However, if the negatives aren’t well-rounded and constructive, the point baseless, you simply have to let it go.

As word-weavers, this should become our default: in the face of bad reviews, let’s practice our ABCs to rebuild our confidence. Anchor. Bounce. Consider.

Okay, I’m curious now: How do you handle criticism?

23 Replies to “When the Bad Reviews Come {And They Will}”

  1. I dread this but since I’m yet to be published, but in a sick sort of way I crave it because that means someone is reading my work. I know, like when I get my first rejection from a publisher, that it will happen and that all the blood will run from my face. I agree – you are best to not react at all. Sometimes, the book just isn’t for them! Chin up 🙂

    1. Chin up, my friend. Chin up. Great perspective. I have a friend who says this: “Love me. Hate me. Just don’t ignore me.” If we’re getting a response, at least we know they are reading, right? 🙂

  2. My first novel is coming out in a few months. Reading posts like this really do help. I’m sure I will get negative reviews too. so thank you for posting this.

    1. Terri,
      I pray your novel is wildly successful, and that when those reviews come, good or bad, that you will remember your ABCs. Wink.
      Congrats on that debut book, too!

  3. GREAT post and way to bring things back into perspective. Sometimes I think it’s really easy for Satan to use our instant-gratification of social media to bring us down as authors. I do think with each book we get out, the better we’re able to handle bad reviews…but that doesn’t take away that initial heart-dropping sting when we read them. And I generally find that most 1-2 star reviews aren’t very balanced–they’re more like a gut feeling from a reader who isn’t usually your reader demographic anyway. Thanks for this post and reminder today!

  4. How do I handle criticism? Not always well.

    Most of the time I can simply let it go. My writing focuses a lot on God’s heart of redemption for His children who have experienced divorce or who are trapped in an abusive marriage. My views are not shared by everyone…I knew this before I started writing…in fact I started writing specifically because I saw a need for people to hear more of God’s grace in this area.

    So, most of the time, I expect a relatively high percentage of people to disagree with my position. If they disagree in such a manner as to indicate they’d like to better understand my perspective, I oblige them. However, if they come across as argumentative or corrective, then I simply don’t respond and don’t dwell on it.

    The difficult ones, though, are the criticisms from people I know and respect…people I consider friends and allies…people who I though understood where I was coming from and why, even if they don’t see things exactly the same as me. When one of these people I trust publicly slams something I’ve written…that hurts…and takes a little longer for me to get past. It hasn’t happened often…and I’ve managed to put it behind me each time…but it’s not easy.

    What keeps me going? The people who let me know my words have blessed and helped them.

  5. Hi Jo Ann from another JoAnn! I must confess that reviews are like the proverbial Pandora’s Box to me. I can’t NOT read them. One of my former publishers always said to be prepared for the inevitable less-than-glowing reviews because it simply meant my work was getting to “the masses.” When that publisher turned over the rights to my fictional book series to me, I learned how to effective my work effectively and, most importantly, where to advertise for the most impact. As a result, I’ve gained many more reviews, not all of them so glowing. That’s to be expected, but yes, it still hurts. I’m generally a positive person but for some reason, when it comes to reviews, I tend to focus on the negative. Someone didn’t love my characters or their story? Gasp! I’m fully invested in them because they ARE me in many respects. Just yesterday, I received a scathing review for one of my most popular books which hit #1 on Amazon a couple of weeks ago (originally released in 2011). However, this reviewer said little or nothing about the actual content of the story (in contrast to the 49 five-star reviews or the seven four stars and even the one three-star…not that I keep count, LOL). The reviewer focused on what she perceived as all the many grammatical and writing flaws in the book (some of which are outright ridiculous). The story itself is a very emotional journey and one in which women have told me has changed their outlook on marriage. Sorry this is so long, but your blog has “hit” me where I live today, and your advice to anchor, bounce and consider is solid. Thank you for that advice! I AM better today and tomorrow I will be even better. And I’m remembering the fact that I recently “retired” from my full-time job to indulge my passion for writing because enough readers DO like and appreciate my books. Many blessings and wishing you continued success!

    1. And please forgive my typos in that above post! I should have said how to MARKET my books effectively. Goodness… I assure you, it’s not indicative of my books! 🙂

  6. I absolutely love your honesty here. As authors, we have thought it… but have not always understood how to process it. Your point about weighing all the positive reviews you received in light of the one negative speaks volumes to me. Not only is this a lesson concerning how we should handle reviews as authors, but it an outlook on how we should view life… and the negativity that comes with it. Thank you for sharing your heart here. I needed to read this today.

    1. Theresa, I’m so glad you stopped by. And yes, oh that we would use this same perspective as we walk the hard days of life sometimes as well!

  7. Jo Ann, that comment sounded to me like someone who was still hurting and seeing others move forward was making that hurt more profound. A review like that I can handle. I also know that I can’t expect everyone to see things my way, but still, the dissenters hurt. I’ve always hated being misunderstood. So my way of coping is, I never read reviews. I have a novel which I could publish, but I know that certain factions will massacre me for it, so it will probably never be published. I will give it to a select view if I choose, and that’s it. I got a lot out of writing it and for me, that is enough. I am not one to do anything, in any area of my life which would start a word war, so I won’t do it with books either. There is enough strife in my world as it is.

    1. Cate,

      I, too, wondered if there wasn’t some lingering pain in the reviewer’s words. But yes, as an encourager I couldn’t help but feel I had disappointed her. Yes, our words aren’t for everyone for certain, and we have to remember that as we choose to share.

      Praying blessings over your words, whether shared with an audience of one or from a large platform. Thanks for sharing with us today.

  8. Wise words, Jo Ann. I think learning to handle criticism is one of life’s biggest challenges. And you’re right: we have to ask ourselves, “Is this criticism true? What can I learn from this criticism?”

    It’s easier for me to reject a criticism that’s coming from someone who I sense is giving it in the right spirit, over someone who appears to making it in order to look superior.

    When it comes to critical reviews, I have to question why someone would take the time to share their negativity with others about my book. Are they really trying to help warn people about this book? Why do they care so much? Are they jealous they aren’t published? Surely, this hit a soft spot with them. Maybe even a spiritual one.

    Truly, it’s difficult not to take criticism personally when it could personally hurt book sales. I was especially hurt when I received a criticism of my gift book, because I had hired a publicist to help promote the book, and my worst review came from one of her paid reviewers. Nothing like paying for bad press and having it cost you twice.

    Great topic and timely advice with my soon-coming release, Rush of Heaven. Hopefully, I’ll get a rush of great reviews. But if not, I’m a little more prepared now. Thanks!

    1. Oh sweet Cheryl, your book sits within hand’s reach in my office. I love your encouraging heart and cannot wait for Rush of Heaven.

      And yes, to pay for a bad review? That just stinks. 🙂

  9. Thanks for making this easy to remember: ABC. Anchor. Bounce. Consider. I will do my ABCs with every new release, and continue to move forward, rather than run and hide when those bad reviews show up, as they always do. Thanks, Jo Ann!

  10. Thanks for addressing this topic. I got a one-star review on my book earlier this year, and it made my heart sink — not just the one star, but what the review said. It helped when I reminded myself that the person writing it probably wasn’t thinking that the author of the book would be reading the review. If you aren’t a writer yourself, sometimes it can be easy to forget that there is an actual human being behind the book, one who winces at your words.

    And it is easy to overlook all the positive reviews and fixate on the one negative. Why do we do that? I don’t know.

    But it helps to have what a colleague of mine once called a “fuzzy file” — the file of nice notes and emails people have written about your work. There is one email in particular that a young mom sent me that really touched me; it showed me that my book was doing what I had hoped it would do, at least for some readers out there. And we need that affirmation. It’s also a good reminder to send positive feedback to authors whose work has touched us.

  11. As my first book is getting published soon, I know there will be scenarios like you painted here. I talked to author Anne Elisabeth Stengl about it once, when I gave her a link to my review. She told me she NEVER reads any reviews at all. It is too hard on her to keep it all balanced. Temptation to swell up or spiral down is too strong. I found this interesting and have been pondering whether or not to take such a stance when the time comes. I see the wisdom in it!

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