An Author’s Perspective on Book Reviews

We all want to be loved. It is human nature. Love takes many forms. For an author, a key sign of love is seeing a reader enthusiastically embracing your stories.

Few things boost an author’s self-confidence and self-worth faster than seeing positive reviews praising your work pop up on Amazon, Goodreads, and other places. The flip side can create a polar opposite effect. Seeing a negative review attached to one of your stories can feel soul-crushing.

Negative reviews come with the territory if you want to be an author. If you expect every reader to sing your praises whenever you publish a story, prepared to be disappointed.

Reviews are for Readers

Working as a print journalist for more than 15 years has taught me firsthand that you will always have critics tearing down your writing, regardless of what you write. You quickly learn to develop thicker skin, learn what you need to learn to improve your craft, and ignore persistent critics for the sake of your mental and emotional health.

That doesn’t mean ignoring negative reviews is an easy thing to do as an author. I noticed a couple of 2-star reviews for Under a Fallen Sun on Goodreads that made me hot under the collar when I checked them out. One, in particular, got under my skin because it featured a laundry list of ridiculous complaints that showed the reviewer did not pay close attention to my novel when they read it. I felt tempted to defend my story and promptly composed a thorough rebuttal to the review in question. Fortunately, I stopped myself before ever posting my response on social media and I’m happy I did.

Book reviews are designed to help readers decide if they should read a book. They are not meant to support an author and build up their ego. That’s an important lesson to remember as an author.

Here’s a dirty little secret: your stories will never be universally praised. No two readers are alike – just like snowflakes. That’s why so many types of stories exist both in fiction and non-fiction. Even if you target a specific audience, some readers in that target audience will respond better to your stories than others. You can’t expect them all to fall in love with your writing and you better prepare yourself for the reality that some people will hate it.

You invite commentary on your art once you introduce it to the world. You can’t control where those opinions go, nor should you try to exercise control. Remember that art is subjective. Another person’s opinion isn’t automatically wrong just because it isn’t what you want to hear or read.

Approaching Reviews as an Author

When you get a negative review on one of your stories as an author, there are only two acceptable actions you should take:

  1. Learn from the criticism.
  2. Ignore the criticism.

That’s it. Attacking a reviewer will just earn you a reputation as a thin-skinned jerk who can’t handle criticism. Other readers will steer clear of your stories and you will end up doing serious damage to your writing career.

Some stories honestly deserve negative reviews. I’ve encountered a few indie authors on social media who publicly complain about one and two-star reviews their books received. When I’ve previewed their stories on the Amazon “Look Inside” feature, I quickly learned those critical reviews were warranted in many cases. These authors who were so desperate for praise had opening chapters littered with atrocious grammar, typos, stilted dialogue, and a rambling narrative crammed with awkward backstory information dumps. Their stories needed to go through at least two or three more drafts before being slush pile worthy and faced a long uphill climb to be publishable.

Authors should be committed to honing their craft and producing high-quality writing. A poorly written and poorly edited story does not deserve to be showered with five-star reviews just so an author can feel good about themselves.

Before going after a reviewer over a negative review, take some time to look in the mirror and examine where you can improve as an author. Your efforts to improve will shine through on the page and you will eventually get the praise you seek – in an organic way rather than an artificial one.