What To Do When You Get a Bad Review

Filed in Author Life — July 2, 2024

It comes for all of us. That first negative review on a book you poured your heart into.

Or, if you’re an established author, it’s that one negative review that for some reason gets under your skin more than all the rest.

Now what?

When I was first starting out, I heard the same bit of advice over and over from established authors:

Develop a thick skin.

It was the “conventional” advice I read on every author blog, in every author interview, at every writer’s conference. Real authors toughened up, and didn’t let things like negative reviews bother them.

Well, 40 books and ten years later, I’m a real author, and I can tell you:

That advice sucks.

I don’t want to develop a thick skin so I feel things less deeply. I don’t want to hunker deep inside of hard shell where things can’t hurt me. I don’t want to become the equivalent of human teflon, where nothing sticks.

Emotions are a part of the human experience; we’re meant to experience them, even the uncomfortable ones.

Here’s my opposing advice:

Whatever that review makes you feel is okay. You don’t have to fight it!

If a bad review hurts your feelings? It’s okay to wallow. Cry if you need to!

If a bad review frustrates you? Grumble a bit!

If a bad review pisses you off because it’s just plain petty? Go ahead and get mad!

You are not weak or amateur if a bad review hurts. You are human. Go through what you need to go through. For as long as you need to. And when you’re ready? Come out on the other side. And move on.

Here are some things I find helpful for moving past the “ick.”

Put together an “I got a 1-Star Review” playlist

Something that helps you get your head right again. Mine includes songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and “You Need to Calm Down,” Carrie Underwood’s “The Champion,” Cast Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kinda Music, and “I’d Rather Be Me” from the Mean Girls soundtrack. Yours might include happy pop songs that make you smile, or maybe you go the other way and just put Taylor Swift’s wonderfully angry Reputation album on repeat. Music can be a powerful motivator and mood shifter!

Remind yourself: It’s not about you

Reviews belong to the readers. Reviews are about how they felt about a book. Don’t resent them for having an opinion, and don’t resent them for sharing it. Whenever I feel myself feeling bummed that someone tagged me in a 2-star review, I now just shrug and remind myself, “I read books I don’t like all the time. That’s just how reading works.”

Treat it like a right of passage

Remind yourself that every single author has gotten a negative review. Your favorite author? Someone hates her. Your favorite book? Someone hates it. So someone hates your book? Congratulations. You’ve made it!

Remember that every 1-star book is another person’s 5-star book

I sometimes hear authors say they read bad reviews because they can learn from them. If that works for you, go for it, but here’s a word of caution: Changing your writing based on what one reader hates might ruin exactly the thing that another reader loved. For example, when I’m considering buying book, I’ll browse reviews to see if it’s a good fit. If I see a 2-star review saying the hero is cold and distant, oh, man, sign me up! I can’t click buy fast enough. But now imagine that the author changes her future books based on that reader feedback; she starts writing heroes who are less cold, less distant. Will she win over that reader who hated her earlier book? Maybe! But she’d sure as hell lose Lauren Layne as a reader. If you start chasing the “lessons” in bad reviews, you’ll spend your entire career running. You can’t please everyone with every book, and that’s actually a good thing. We’re not all meant to like the same books—that would be incredibly boring.

Get Busy

This is my #1 tip, the thing that freed me from reviews altogether: get so busy doing other stuff that you don’t have time to read reviews, much less dwell on them! (and yes, I’m even talking about positive reviews) We all start every day single the opportunity to “fill our tank” with something. We get to choose what that something is. 

You can either fill your tank with:

  • Other people’s opinions

Or, you can fill your tank with:

  • writing another book
  • creating something brand new
  • going on a walk
  • watching your favorite show
  • reading a good book
  • talking with a friend
  • writing in your journal
  • starting that side hustle you’ve been thinking about
  • enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine
  • making a cup of tea and doing some sort of art that you loved as a kid
  • making your favorite comfort food
  • going to the book store
  • organize your closet to be Pinterest worthy

Which fuel do you want to run on?

I’ll leave you with this snippet of lyrics from one of the songs on my above-mentioned playlist:

I don't need their good opinions
I have plenty of opinions
Everybody has opinions but it doesn't make them true
What's true is being me
Share Post