Thriving After A Poor Review

Rutgers graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz gets trashed. I loved “Oscar Wao.”

It is late in the evening and you are about to make a mistake that will cause you to toss and turn all night. Sleep will elude you as you see the words dancing in front of your eyes, taunting you with their black and white judgment. There, defiling your Amazon author page, is a one-star review. Blood pounds in your veins as you read. You are naked, revealed to the world as a pretender, a poser, certainly not a writer. Your head drops to your desk, and you slip slowly into madness.

If this hasn’t happened to you yet, then you either haven’t been writing long enough or you lead a charmed existence. The one-star review is a rite of passage. No matter how great the writer, no matter how brilliant the masterpiece, someone will feel that the book was disappointing. Or they will hate it and advise others to skip it.

After much thought I decided to share with you my philosophical and practical approach to thriving after a poor review, or more accurately, one that eviscerates your book.

1. Check the profile of the reviewer. Look at the genres they read, and scan some of their reviews. If they have reviewed hundreds of books in your genre, compare your review to others they have written. Are their reviews typically critical? Are they an expert in the genre? Are they an avid reader of the niche you wish to reach, or did they pick up your book thinking it was a different genre?

2. Separate how much you care about your book from the critical comments. Put your emotion to the side as you sift through the critique. Is any of it true? It may be difficult to acknowledge that the review has merit in one or two aspects. By accepting that you are not perfect, and can learn and improve, you will become a better writer.

3. Be thankful. There are thousands of books that this person could choose to read. They chose your book. And, because they read it they are entitled to their opinion.

4. Do not argue with a reviewer. If the review was abusive, flag it and contact Amazon. Focus on getting more reviews through honest means that will dilute the sting of the one-star. Incidentally, I believe that a mix of ratings confirms to Amazon that you are not using sock puppet reviewers. Furthermore, readers who enjoyed your book may get protective of you when they feel you have been treated unfairly, and they will give you a glowing review to minimize the poor one.

5. There is a time to contact a reviewer, and that would be if they say the book had a problem during the download and the formatting is a mess. I was extremely appreciative of a reviewer pointing this out to me. I had the file reloaded to my Kindle and it appears to have been mostly Amazon’s problem. I would never have known about the issue if this nice woman hadn’t informed me.

6. Move on to your next project. Congratulate yourself that you are able to provide entertainment for others. You are a special breed.

The above suggestions are just that — suggestions. No review, no matter how derogatory, is going to make me stop writing. This logical approach is the only way I have figured out to properly absorb the salient points of a critique and make them work for me. That doesn’t mean I am going to change the way I write. It does mean that I will pay attention to areas that readers have especially liked or been confused by.

One of the most famous bad reviews was written about John Keats’ masterpiece Endymion. You can read a wonderful critique of the scathing review here. As this article points out, the review was condescending and had a decidedly personal feel. The critical mistake on the part of the reviewer was to fail to:

1. Say what the book was about.

2. Discuss how the author went about saying what the book was about.

3. Finally, communicate what the reviewer felt about what the author was saying in the      book.

One might say that in attempting to combine vampires, tango, alternative lifestyles, fashion, fine food and interior design in a novella I was cruisin’ for a bruisin’. Perhaps I was naive in thinking that a fun, 124 page romp priced at $.99 would entertain and amuse. I did not expect what I received. What I have learned is this – when one attempts an artistic experiment some people will get it. The opinions will be on opposite ends of the spectrum, and I will have to take my lumps. C’est la vie.

Author: L. A. Lewandowski

Lois Lewandowski graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Political Science and French Literature. A passion for life lived well is reflected in her novels, Born to Die-The Montauk Murders, A Gourmet Demise, and My Gentleman Vampire, giving readers a glimpse into the world of the beau monde. Lois lives in Tampa, Florida. Learn more at her lifestyle blog, and her Amazon author page.

46 thoughts on “Thriving After A Poor Review”

  1. Well said, Lois. I have not yet had the unfortunate luck of a one star review. But I understand the reaction. When I received a three star partly due to an inconsistency – caused by only one incorrect one syllable word – it sent me into a tailspin. She was right. I fretted over it for ages. It drove me to finally learn how to make corrections. So it turned out to be a catalyst for me. Once I verified the correction I simply added a comment to the review that the error had been rectified. Now I can breathe again. Maybe my next book will bring about that undesired ‘rite of passage’. I am not looking forward to it.

    1. Yvonne, I hope it never happens to you. My first inclination was to be defensive. But this is silly. I wrote the book the way I did for a reason, and I can’t expect everyone to like it. Tastes vary. Onward and upward.
      Thank you for your comment.

    1. Thank you, Al.
      Reviewing is your bailiwick, but I felt I needed to share my thoughts on this potentially devastating issue. I have read many of your reviews and they are thoughtful and positive critiques. A writer needs to appreciate that it is a gift for a reader to take the time to post a review. You get what you can from it, and then you move on.

  2. Excellent advice! Even (especially) in the case of a 1-star in which a quick look at the reviewer shows they don’t ordinarily give such low reviews, there are things to learn.

    1. Hi Melinda,
      You are right – learning every day, working hard to find the most beautiful words arranged so our characters and scenes burst from the page – this is what we need to focus on. Knowing a little about the person who gave a poor review is easy. They have a profile on Amazon. It is good to know where the critique is coming from.
      I am in this for the long haul. 🙂
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. It’s a coincidence that just an hour ago I was looking at the reviews of John le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama, looking for something specific. I noticed that of the book’s 71 reviews, 14 were one-star and 10 were two-star. I was surprised, but I suppose it happens to all writers. Anyway, thanks for an excellent post, Lois. Good advice.

    1. Hi Helen,
      One of the IU writers, Ed McNally did a series of posts on famous masterpieces and their one-star reviews. A reaction to a book is a matter of taste and opinion.
      After receiving my first one-star I spent time on Amazon scanning the reviews of other authors I know and some of my favorites. That made me feel a lot better. Books I love received one-star reviews, and books I thought were bland received five-stars. It was fascinating research.
      Sometimes, a book inspires a response from the reader. If they hate it, or are insulted by it, they will tell you. I suppose that it is better to inspire an emotion in the reader than to have them say, “tango dancing vampires? I don’t remember reading that.” 🙂
      Thank you for your comment.

  4. I got a three-star review from a woman who had obviously never read my book. Amongst other mistakes, she placed the story setting, in garbled fashion, in Japan instead of Shanghai. I never did anything about it, but wonder whether I should have alerted Amazon. I suspected the reviewer was an incredibly known-to-be-abusive writers club member who had recently threatened to write a lousy review about my book, just for spite. Any suggestions?

    1. I’ve had three one-star reviews from angry people who weren’t able to download my books successfully. Thousands of others had during free periods for Kindle, so I knew the trouble had to be with their Kindles or with Amazon. I contacted every division of Amazon I could find, but all refused to take down the reviews, even though they were clearly against their review guidelines. I’m afraid it’s a waste of time to try to get anything done.

      1. Hi Ester,
        I’m not sure that Amazon would take down a review because the city was incorrect. I believe their policy is if a review is abusive. I saw a review where the reviewer called the book “disgusting.” That is definitely abusive, and should be removed. I would encourage a few people who enjoyed your book to post reviews to off-set the lower star.
        Helen, I had the same thing happen recently on a giveaway. If the review was on Goodreads you can send a private message to the reader, if you wish, and let them know what happened. It is in their power to change a star rating at any time. I don’t know if people understand that. Perhaps, if they realize you wish them to have your book in its clean form they will change the one-star. You can gift them another copy if they seem reasonable.
        That said, let’s all just write another book. 🙂

        1. Thanks for your comment Lois. Actually, I had 24 five-star reviews, so I thought it was a good thing someone gave it three stars because it would encourage people to take a “look inside” and they would very soon realize the truth. So, not all bad reviews can result in harm.

      2. A serial reviewer called [NAME REDACTED] hit out at one of my titles. It was so clearly fake that Amazon removed it. He put it back in but under a different name. He choose my pen name!!! Amazon would not then remove it. I played Amazon at their own game and started posting comments under Jeff Bezos. I haven’t heard from [NAME REDACTED] since and neither have any other writer that he had been stalking.

        1. Hi Matt,
          That is a little freaky that someone would go to such a length to post a review. The Jeff Bezos tactic was very creative.
          You should write a short story about crazy reviewers. It sounds like you have a natural starting point.
          Thanks for your comments. 🙂

  5. I’m with you, Lois.

    I would add that on resellers websites, like Amazon, there are NO reviews. Those are feedbacks from readers. If your book is well written, already vetted by professionals, and sells, too, what can a “I didn’t like – one star” really do to you?

    Especially after you’ve collected many more reviews, it’s a drop, providing no more value to anyone as any other human walking on Earth saying “I liked it”.

    And, those are just a reader’s feedback that can come after reading only 10 pages: “I didn’t like it – One star”. Do you really want to assign anything more than that “I didn’t like it”. Next to that one stars there are 10 others 5-stars saying “I loved it.” Move on, nothing to see, the book was not for THAT particular reader. There’s no other message, really.

    “’Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem to be confidences or sides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profound thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.”

    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

  6. Hi Massimo,
    I agree 100 % with you. We have very different taste when it comes to our reading choices. That is why I joined a book club years ago. We each suggested books and then we voted on which ones to read. I was “forced” to read a book called, “The Angle of Repose”, a book that I hated until about half way through. The peer pressure forced me to expand my horizons. That book club has disbanded, and now I am reading mostly business and marketing books. Oh, and a Sidney Sheldon for fun.
    Thank you for the beautiful quote, and for your comments. 🙂

  7. I have had the one star experience, and I really felt like defending myself because the person was casting aspersions on my knowledge, basically saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. I did a little imaginary exercise: tracking him down and demonstrating my knowledge upon his person, and then I moved on. I think that everyone here knows the feeling, Lois, whether they’ve had a one or two star rating or not from someone who wants to exercise their few seconds of power.

    Excellent post, Lois, and as Al said 5 star.

  8. Lois, you’ve got the best attitude. It’s a hard lesson to learn that not everyone will be thrilled with your work. That being said, I really like TD’s mental exercise 🙂

    1. Hi DV,
      I like TD’s mental exercise, too. That’s why I call him “The Asset.”
      It took a bit of time for me to realize that this was a learning opportunity. And, I appreciate a particular reviewer giving my book a chance. He was looking for something different. I hope he will read my next book and see that my work is worth his time, because it is. 🙂

  9. Excellent advice, Lois. I’ve not had a one star but was devastated when someone gave my novel a two-star rating and proceeded to lambast me, saying the aim of ever scene was to show how backward and dirty Afghan people are. It was a horrible review to read and my first instinct was to respond but I didn’t (though I had several imaginary conversations with the reviewer!). I was delighted when another reader commented on my behalf and two years later someone else, who posted a wonderful review, left a comment on the two-star review telling the reviewer how wrong they were.
    At least Amazon can be assured there’s no sock-puppetry going on!

    1. Hi Mary,
      It is good that you didn’t respond. We never know who we are dealing with and what their motivation is. It hurts to read a negative response to a project we have nurtured. Dale Carnegie says to write a long letter ripping the person to shreds, and then not mail it.
      And look what happened – another reader came to your defense. The controversy is good. Others will want to check out what the fuss is about. That’s all good marketing.
      Good luck with your projects, and thanks for your comments. 🙂

  10. I think we’ve all had them. Mine was so whacked out that I didn’t even worry about it. And, like you say, at least others will know you’re not getting sock puppet reviews.

    Thanks for sharing tips on how to handle them 🙂

    1. Hi Jim,
      I have seen a couple of reviews that were downright mean. It isn’t worth the energy to debate an opinion that doesn’t come from a good place. I think we all need to get the hurt and anger out of our system, à la TD’s Method, and move on to a fulfilling project.
      A mix of ratings should indicate to Amazon that we are not rigging the system.
      Thanks for your comments. 🙂

    1. Hi Emma,
      I might sleep better, but would I become a better writer? 🙂
      There were valid points in a variety of my reviews. Learning what my readers liked, wanted more of, disliked or found confusing is important. Also, there are book advertising sites that have been recommended to me that will only accept books with 25 reviews and an average 4 star rating. So, I do have to monitor what is going on with Amazon. Fortunately and unfortunately.
      Having this information to sift through is helpful. In the end, however, we need to follow our own instincts and write what comes from our heart.
      Thanks for your comments.

  11. I loved your book Lois so I went and had a look at that review. To me, the reasons given don’t even come close to matching a one-star rating, a three maybe but a one? That said, your way of handling the situation is 5 star all the way. 🙂

    1. Thanks AC,
      My first thought was, well they finished it. There are books that I’ve tried to read and simply couldn’t get through. That to me is a one-star.
      I have had crazy reactions from people. I ran into this woman in my town who read it, and she looks at quite seriously and says, “well, did you write the next one yet? What are you waiting for?”
      It is strange to have reactions that are polar opposites. But, it IS an odd story.
      I appreciate your kind words. I couldn’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t love my vamp David. I wish he lived in my basement. We’d hang out all the time. 🙂

  12. Excellent article. I was looking at some of my reviews on GoodReads, and I ran across one that confused and hurt. This article makes me feel much better. Thank you! I have to share the experience. The book under review is a $0.99 novella (75-pages) and the reviewer returned it. Her comment was ” I’ve read darker and more twisted reciepe books than this.” Ok, you gotta give her credit for being creative, but I don’t think she bothered to look at the genre. It’s not posted as urban fantasy. It’s posted as a Women’s Fiction.

    I also think she doesn’t realize just how good her life is if she doesn’t recognize the real darkness in the characters. Everyday humans (not vampires or werewolves) are always the scariest monsters, if you ask me.

    1. Hi Nellie,
      I am glad that you read this before looking at Goodreads.
      I wonder if it occurred to the reviewer how much time you put into a story that you are only selling for $.99. My vamps are over 50K, and I believe a couple of the one-stars got it for free. Lol.
      And, the genre slip-up seems to be a common cause for a one-star.
      You are right that evil doesn’t only exist in the paranormal. That was one of the main points of my book that these reviewers missed. Shouldn’t a vampire be evil? Mine was kind, funny, and fabulous. People who walk in the daylight in our society are far darker than my David.
      Thank you for your comments. Keep writing. 🙂

  13. Excellent article and wonderful advice, Lois… advice I will definitely keep in mind when my first book is published (I am currently working on the third and second drafts of my memoir and first fiction novel, respectively) I have been published in several anthologies, but reviews of those tend to look at the book as a whole, not singling out a specific story, so I have, so far, ‘dodged’ the one-star review bullet.

    I also write reviews of books I have chosen to read. I have never given less than a three-star review. Why no two or one-star reviews? Because if the book was that ‘bad’ for me, I won’t have finished it and I won’t ever write a review of a book I don’t finish. It seems, to me at any rate, a disservice to the author to write a ‘poor’ review of a book if I haven’t finished it. How do I know there wasn’t something incredibly redeeming in the rest of the book?

    No, if I am not getting something out of a book, I put it down and walk away. Why invest more time and energy in something I clearly don’t like… and then write a review? It is immature and cruel to write a negative review of a book you don’t like… what the hell is the point? I get that there are those who ‘get a hard-on’ in trashing others; I do get that, but…

    If you don’t like something… drop it… walk away. Don’t go off on some petty little power trip, fantasizing that your scathing review is going to drive the author to drink or something similarly destructive.

    Those people who write scathing one-star reviews clearly miss the distinction between critiquing and criticizing, which is probably a reflection of the manner in which they were raised.

    I might offer a final piece of advice to writers and authors who are “one-starred” and are, even momentarily, stirred to protest the reviewer’s comments…

    “Never try to match wits with someone who has just stepped out of the shallow end of the gene pool… it just makes you look small and petty. Only another bully likes a bully.”

  14. Hi Veronica,
    Thank you for your thoughts on this sensitive subject.
    This may seem weird but although I was initially hurt by the critical reviews I tried to be logical about it. I, like you, have several more projects on the back burner and a book that will be self-published before the end of the year. I say that with pride!
    Approaching the reviews with logic and a business-like attitude is, I think, key. If I were sitting with one of the gentlemen having a glass of Chianti the conversation would have been different. His review was his reaction and I respect that. We could have discussed it and I’m sure I would have learned even more. But, I also think I could have offered him background that might have made him rethink parts of his critique.
    I have seen some outright mean reviews on other author’s pages. I appreciate your method of providing reviews. It sounds fair.
    Good-luck with your projects and let us know how they progress. 🙂

    1. Thank you, and congratulations on the upcoming publication of your book! I am 99.9% sure that I will go the self-publishing route with my memoir… a thought that is only marginally less terrifying than the thought was of writing it in the first place!

      Best of luck with all your endeavours.

  15. Hey guys, even great authors like Lee Child get one star reviews. Out of 62 reviews on my first novel I finally got a one star and also three, three star reviews. They merely validate the rest of the four and five star reviews.


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