David Kubicek

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Don’t Waste Time Dwelling on Bad Reviews


It is never pleasant to get a bad review. In fact, reading a review that savagely eviscerates the novel you’ve spent months nurturing is one of the most unpleasant experiences a writer can have.

This might help: Getting a bad review often means that you have missed your audience.

Even if you haven’t thought about writing to an audience, one exists for your book. If you’re successful at finding your readers—and assuming your book is well written—most of your reviews should range from 3 to 5 stars, which is where you want to be.

But every author who has collected lots of reviews has picked up some bad ones—even the most popular books by the most popular writers.

Try this experiment. Search Amazon for your favorite books. If they have enough total reviews, I guarantee that some reviewers will rip them apart. Most of the reviews may be 3, 4 or 5 stars, but there will be the inevitable handful of readers who rate the books as forgettable, a waste of time.

The bottom line is: You can’t please everyone. This also is true of “professional” reviewers,” those folks who get paid to review books and movies.

For example, one criticism of The Hunger Games is that the novel is not original, that a screwed up future world and a reality TV show where the contestants kill each other has been done before—the novel to which it usually is compared is Stephen King’s The Running Man.

Technically, everything has been done before. A fellow named Georges Polti analyzed lots and lots of literature and concluded that every story that has ever been written or will ever be written can fit into one of 36 dramatic situations, or plots. What makes each story fresh and different is what the author brings to the telling. Although The Hunger Games and The Running Man use the same basic plot elements, they are vastly different novels.

Does any of this make you feel better about getting bad reviews? Maybe the following chart will help. I’ve listed five popular novels and the reviews they’ve gotten on Amazon (as of 4:30 p.m. Central Time on July 22, 2012):

1-star 2-star 5-star Total Reviews
11/22/63 by Stephen King 88 80 1,268 1,871
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 96 76 787 1,505
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 247 193 6,156 8,220
The Help by Kathryn Stockett 182 123 4,450 5,639
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain 17 19 256 455

Remember two things:

  • Don’t give much weight to ratings without reviews telling why the readers didn’t like your book.
  • Don’t give any weight to mean-spirited reviews in which readers seem more interested in attacking you and your book than in giving constructive reasons why they didn’t like it.

A review is just someone’s opinion, and as long as you’re getting mostly positive comments, don’t waste time dwelling on the bad ones.

This article was originally published April 16, 2012, as a guest post on Wise Words. I’ve updated the information in the table.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Waste Time Dwelling on Bad Reviews

  1. Excellent post!

    Another thing to consider is “troll reviews” – people who leave a nasty review for a reason other than they actually did not like your book. A good way to spot these is that they are usually non specific and say things like “poor editing” and/or especially attack that the book is self published. Bizarrely, I have one of these on my second book claiming that he was reviewing an excerpt. However, when pressed (not by me, actually, someone else commented) he claimed I had posted an excerpt on a third party site and asked people to leave book reviews based on it (!?!?! – like anyone would do that!) but looking at his other reviews showed he has left the identical review on several indy books. But I have spoken to other authors who have gotten these reviews and been devastated for days – believing that the reviewer(s) had actually read an excerpt somewhere when I highly doubt that they have.

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  2. Thanks for your comments, Jo. I probably didn’t think of that when writing this post because so far I have been fortunate enough not to get any nasty reviews (knock on wood). But I know that “troll reviews” are a problem and are usually directed unfairly toward self-published books. I lump people who write nasty reviews into the same category as people who create computer viruses–they have too much time on their hands.

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