A Tip for Authors Dealing with Critical Book Reviews

I’ve written before about the kindness of critical book reviews, discussing how both positive and negative reviews are necessary in arts and entertainment and how more than just positive reviews benefit authors. Still, negative reviews can sting, and not all authors—especially newer ones—know exactly how to deal with them.

I’ll not be going into all the different ways of handling discouraging, frustrating, or baffling reviews. Rather, I’m getting to one tip for authors that I don’t hear as often as other tips.

See, many times when authors mention a negative review a reader posted about one of their books, the authors say something like, “I just got a terrible review,” or “A reader gave me one star because of such-and-such they didn’t like.”

The thing is, Author Joe, no—YOU didn’t just get a terrible review, and Author Sue, that reader didn’t give YOU one star. You the person are not what’s up for review, here. Readers are expressing their opinions about something they read, and we know how opinions vary depending on the individual.

One star from a reader doesn’t necessarily mean or prove that your book is horrible, and five stars from a reader doesn’t necessarily mean or prove that your book is excellent. Readers tend to review books based on their individual standards, thoughts, and feelings, and how a person experiences a book ultimately comes down to the person doing the experiencing. How people feel is up to them, whether the products they review are subjectively good or bad.

I know it can be difficult for authors not to take criticism of their works too hard or personally, especially considering that writing is such soul-deep work for many authors. But no matter how soul-deep the work of book writing is, book reviewing is still a subjective activity, and what someone thinks about a book they read doesn’t necessarily determine or prove anything about the person who wrote it.

So my little piece of advice to authors who want to handle book reviews better? Don’t say a reader “gave YOU” a rating or a review. Don’t word it so personally that you condition yourself to feel as though you are under assessment, as if whether or not someone likes your product affects your value. Instead, say something like, “A reader picked a two-star rating for my book because of such-and such,” or “One reviewer didn’t care for my book because of x-y-z.”

While you, figuratively speaking, may put a lot of yourself into your writing, you are not the books you sell. So don’t speak in a way that indicates you’re the product.

Hey. Some folks may think the issue of one’s language about reviews is an insignificant matter of semantics. But don’t writers know about the remarkable power of language? Being selective in your language about reviews of your books can help you to develop a thicker skin, to consider criticism from a professional perspective, and to maintain the right motivation as an author.


4 thoughts on “A Tip for Authors Dealing with Critical Book Reviews

  1. Jean A Williams says:

    Oh, wow, this is so helpful! My first book received a weird, convoluted, mixed message review from another author. I scratched my head and went, huh? I loved her books but I don’t like the way she reviews. It’s almost like she was reviewing an entirely different story and not mine. So, my experience from other reviewers has been helpful and I’ve learned much from those reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Yes, I think part of what can make publishing and reviews scary for many to most authors is the lack of control over readers.

      Authors can’t control what readers will think or feel about the books or whether or not readers will see, appreciate, or understand what the authors mean to portray. Sometimes it is indeed as if a reader is reading an entirely different book from the one the author wrote—but that’s always the case to some extent.

      Sarah writes a book as herself, Sarah. But April and John aren’t going to read that book as Sarah; they’re going to read the book as April and John. Their individual opinions, life experiences, perspectives, attitudes, emotions, etc. are going to affect what they see in the book, and it could turn out being rather different from what Sarah sees.

      As Edmund Wilson wrote, “In a sense, one can never read the book that the author originally wrote, and one can never read the same book twice.” So, yes, sometimes reviews can be baffling for authors, like, “WHAT book did the reviewer read, here?” 😀

      It’s a part of why authors shouldn’t take reviews too personally, even when we glean what we can from them. We learn to accept that what we write won’t be exactly what every reader reads, and that’s okay. 🙂

      I’m glad the post is helpful, Jean! ❤


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