8 Rules to Help You Handle Bad Reviews

I remember it like it was yesterday, sometimes I still have nightmares. I was a fresh faced indie author. My shiny new book hit stores and I was THRILLED. It felt like this major accomplishment, I was up all night refreshing just waiting to see if people would love it as much as I did because that’s what reviews were for right? For people to be like this is the best regency romance in the entire universe and you should probably quit your job and do this full time.

My stomach dropped when I saw the first one star come in.

This person didnt just say they hated the book, because that would have been fine, people love things, they hate things, they move on.

NO this person wrote an entire essay on every single thing that was wrong with my writing, my characters, they compared my intelligence to that of a seven year old and even mocked the characters names in the story, after all who names their character Sai (to be fair it was a horrible name, but I was twenty-two give me a break!)?

I cried. Hard.

And then more one stars poured in along with mixed reviews of fours and fives.

But the average reader for the most part had spoken.

And they basically said, dont quit your day job honey, just..don’t.

I cried. I cried for hours. I raged around the house until finally my husband was like, what is this accomplishing? Use it to make you better. And then he asked the pivotal question that authors hate getting asked when it comes to bad reviews. “Is any of it true?”

My answer. “Yes.”

This is why its important to take every review with a grain of salt. And this is how I try to look at reviews now. Everyone is welcome to their opinion and by putting a book out there we knowingly are allowing our work to be judged by people who dont know us, who maybe dont fully understand how much of our heart and soul we put into our books.

A bad review on a book feels personal. Even if it’s not.

A reviewer nine times out of ten, reviews based on the product.

But to an author, the book isn’t a product, it’s a child. It’s blood, sweat, tears, countless hours of work. Its ignoring family, ordering pizza, not going out for happy hour with your friends, it’s the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate risk for small potential for a reward. It’s our soul. So when we get a bad review it feels crushing even if you know that’s part of the business.

So how do you handle them? Especially when the story is personal?

Well you can rage, you can fight back, you can even go as far as to stalk said reviewer (yes there was an article years ago about an author who did in fact stalk a reviewer to their home), I don’t recommend doing any of those things though.

I know it’s tempting to want to fight back, to defend your sanity, your characters, your intelligence–don’t. It won’t solve anything and in the end just makes you look a bit crazy (aren’t we all though?) and makes you a target for the reviewer.

So here are a few ways or rules to turn bad reviews around:

Rule #1:

Don’t engage. I don’t care how right you are, how wrong they are, how mean the review is. Trust me, I’ve been told that drinking acid would be more preferable than reading one more word. I get it. Engaging will not change their mind. If they are that offended over your words, you trying to talk them out of it just makes it worse.

Rule #2:

Expect it. That’s right, expect it to happen. The great thing about reading is everyone has an opinion, I may not like a book you love, but guess what? Eventually you will find your audience, your niche, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Rule #3:

Dissect. Is there any truth to the review? Were you rushed when you wrote the book? Were you not feeling it? Were you forced to add things you didn’t want to? Was your character flat? I always try to find one thing I can work on no matter how negative the review may be, and then use it as fuel for my next book.

Rule #4:

Pat yourself on the back: A publisher once said (and I know most readers will agree with his) that all five star ratings do not sell books. If I see that many five stars I’m like okay…are they a street team? Reader group? Book club? Are these real people? The internet makes us question everything, so when you have bad reviews with average reviews sprinkled in I suddenly go, wow okay so a wide range of people read this book and this is what they thought.

Rule #5:

Stop being offended (this is an important one)! A one star review doesn’t necessarily mean someone really does want to drink acid instead of reading more of your words. Some one star reviews are extremely very well written. And two star reviews don’t mean the end of the world either. And please, for the love, stop getting upset over a three star review. Three stars automatically means good, not great. Hey I’d rather be good than horrible. Three stars happen.

Rule #6:

Celebrate. You wrote a book! This is a huge accomplishment, whats important is that you are proud of the product you put out. Don’t gauge your career on every single persons opinion of you. If we all did  that, none of us would find success in life. Be confident, and keep working on your craft.

Rule #7:

Make fun of yourself. Honestly one of my favorite ways to get over bad reviews is to read them via Facebook live, something about saying things out loud and discussing with readers and making fun of yourself like oh yeah that was a horrible character what was I thinking? Kind of takes the sting away from some of the really personal one stars where someone clearly was just having a bad day and took it out on you. Having a sense of humor is important no matter what career you’re in.

Rule #8:

Write another book. So one book had more one stars than others? Write more. Revise. Write again. Revise. Make it your goal to get at three star from that one star next time. I recently read a review on GoodReads (yesterday, so this is good timing) and the reviewer was so sweet, she started off with. “I’ve been able to get into two RVD books total.”

Now, that would be awesome…ahem, if I only had two books. But my backlist is over 70 books long, so, eh 2 out of 70 is not the greatest odds with this reviewer, but then she went on to say she liked this one and, no joke, I did a little dance. I HAVE WON HER OVER! It may have taken five years and a lot of therapy, but I DID IT!

That’s why we keep writing, guys, and honestly, not only did the review make me smile, it made me feel accomplished. It’s all in how you look at it.

So next time you get a bad review, I hope you realize you are more than your stars. And that you can change your focus from failure to success by just changing your mindset, and if you ever get really down in the dumps please feel free to go check out some of my horrible reviews, at least they’ll make you laugh 😉


About Rachel Van Dyken

Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of Regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor. 
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers! 
Want to be kept up to date on new releases? Text MAFIA to 66866! 

You can connect with her on Facebook www.facebook.com/rachelvandyken or join her fan group Rachel‘s New Rockin Readers. Her website is www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.