After my first book launched and the reviews started to come in, I was so excited. I read all of my reviews, positive and negative. I really (naively) wanted to know what other people were saying about my story.
But I wasn’t prepared for the strange rants from some readers—the ones that stray from discussing the book and the story itself to criticizing the author as a person. It can feel like a major blow when you read something like that. And your first reaction might be to hit reply and tell that reviewer off. Or you might feel like you need to explain yourself.
DO NOT DO THAT. Even if you plan to reply in a nice tone, don't do it. Don't reply or do a thumbs down or contact the reviewer at all. Just move on. It might take a while until the sting wears off, but it will eventually fade away.
“Negative Reviews Can Help You Grow as a Writer” is Bad Advice
I will repeat the title of this post again: Do not read reviews of your own book if you can help it.
Some people will say, “Oh, you need to read the negative reviews so you can see what needs to be improved. That’s how you grow as a writer.” While well-intentioned, this is absolutely terrible advice.
It's especially unhelpful if you are self-publishing. The average self-published author doesn't have a team of professionals to turn to for support, no experienced editor or agent to provide the valuable advice they need. As a result, they often take reader reviews as advice. But when you do that, what will often happen is, when you start writing your next book, you may find yourself preemptively editing in your head based on what you read from reviewers.
Does this sentence sound too sexist? Are there enough women characters? Is this character too annoying? Will people hate him? Will people hate my book?
Everything you write will be viewed through the lens of a nameless, faceless reader who's taken control of your work before you even have the first draft completed.
Don't let that happen.
This is your book. Write your story the way you want. The first draft is always for you. Subsequent drafts are when you should adjust for reader expectations—and even then, it's better to get feedback from a writer friend or a trusted publishing professional instead of listening to random reader comments (because that's what they are: comments, not professional critiques).
If you are new to self-publishing and don't have a community of writers to bounce ideas around or someone to provide beta reading, it's okay to ask a trusted family member or a close friend to take a look at your work, even if they're not in the publishing industry (sometimes they may end up providing surprising insights). Just make sure they are 100 percent in your corner. Once you've been at it a while, you'll start to meet other like-minded writer folks and grow your inner circle of supporters.
Writing a book is a very personal activity. It's not the same as writing for a corporate client or copywriting for marketing companies. I'm a copywriter by day (now transitioning to ghostwriting), and I could not care less if people rip into my marketing copy (it's never happened, but if it did, I would just nod and smile and promise to give the client what they want—after all, I didn't bleed my heart and soul into that landing page about plumbing services in Walla Walla, Washington).
But writing a book? An author's personality is stitched into every page of every book they've ever written. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the words that come out are a part of you. There is no way to simply detach from your writing, no way to be immune to critics and negative reviews.
If you want to improve and grow as a writer, don’t listen to what random people on the Internet are saying about your book. Listen to a trusted editor or alpha/beta reader who understands the market. Read other books. Watch YouTube videos of experienced writers. Talk to other writers and authors. But do not think that you have to take a stranger’s criticism of your writing to heart. The only opinions that matter are yours and those of your inner circle.
The brand-name authors have thousands of 1-star reviews, and I'm pretty sure they don't read any of it. I don't even think they read their 5-star reviews—because they've got a circle of trusted personal and professional people who provide all the motivation and feedback they need.
Follow the Author's Unwritten Code of Conduct: If You Cannot Handle a Negative Review, Don't Read It
Writing is a profession. It's a job—a job that you pour your entire soul into, but a job nonetheless. And as with any job, there are certain rules of conduct we need to follow.
When it comes to reader reviews, it's best to just stay away. You'll hear a lot of people say that reviews are for the readers, which is true. That's the readers' space. Authors can take a peek if they wish, but should never engage. Do not respond to a review, whether positive or negative. Do not email the reviewer. Do not reach out to them in any way.
After my second book came out, I abstained from reading any reviews (both good and bad). The temptation was there, but I kept away—for my own sanity and mental well-being. I didn’t even read the ARC reviews. So…I have no idea what people are saying about my second novel.
And I’m okay with that. It’s actually so much more freeing!
When you’re stuck on a chapter or going through editing hell, you’re not going to think of the sweet positive reviews you’ve gotten. No—that angry comment from someone on Goodreads will swim through your head instead, making you question your skill and whether or not you should keep writing.
Which is why I will reiterate: Stay away from your own reviews, especially reviews on Goodreads. Don't let this be you.
Instead, focus on writing what you need to write. Think of what you want your book to do for you. Is it to attract clients? Is it for catharsis? Do you simply want to get an idea out to the world?
For me, it’s to share some of my observations and advice through fiction. I enjoy writing my goofy rom-coms and feel happy whenever I sit back at my desk to write another chapter. It doesn't even feel like work to me.
Just write what you need to write and don’t worry about what other people will think (of course, you will need to follow basic genre conventions if you're writing fiction, or a balanced perspective if you're developing a nonfiction or memoir).
No book is perfect, and you can't please everyone, but remember: it’s your book. And there are millions of readers out there. You’ll eventually find your group of loyalists. When you write for yourself first, you will attract the right audience that appreciates your genuine approach.
And one last time: Do not read reviews of your own book! 😀