Why Getting Some Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

My latest book, Rebellious Heart released on September 15th. Like most authors, I can't resist taking a peek at my reviews from time to time to see how the book is being received by readers. I snapped a picture of a recent total (above). Yes, I have a couple of two star reviews.

Obviously most writers would prefer to wow the socks off our readers with each book we put out there. I don't know a single author who likes negative reviews. In fact, most authors I know would prefer to get five stars all the time. Some authors even get mildly irritated at four star reviews and have been known to question a friend or family member for leaving anything less than five stars.

However, over the past few years of having five books published, I've realized it's completely unrealistic to expect to always get five star reviews. I've realized authors only set themselves up for disappointment if they expect mostly positives. I can't tell you how many authors I've heard lament (mostly privately) about a the hurt a low-rated review has caused them.

And as tough as those reviews can be, I'm learning to let them roll off my back.

In fact, I've even come to the conclusion that getting some negative reviews can be a positive thing. Here are three reasons why authors can benefit from having a mixture of reviews:


1. A mixture of positives & negatives makes the reviews more reliable.

Readers will be more trusting of reviews that contain both positives and negatives versus a whole slew of five-star. When readers see mostly five-stars, they may begin to wonder if the author somehow "stacked the deck."

The negatives keep the reviews real and more reliable in the readers' eyes. They rationalize, "If readers can be honest about the negative, then they're honest with the positive too." Thus, the negative adds credibility to all the reviews.

2. A mixture of reviews can stir curiosity in the reader. 

For example, one of my recent reviews for Rebellious Heart gave the book two stars and said: "RATED R: Violent/Disturbing Images." A couple other reviews marked down the book because it had too much romance. One reviewer said: "This was the worst type of historical romance fiction as it had way more romance than I like in any other historical fiction I have read."

Another reviewer who gave me three stars on Goodreads said: "I will say, that for a romance, I liked it. It was quite well-written, and fast-paced, with danger and smuggling and the turmoil of a country on the edge of a revolution. It’s not my favorite genre ever, so that’s probably why I didn’t enjoy Rebellious Heart so much, but I am sure that if you like romances, you’ll love this one."

It's precisely those kinds of statements that can spark curiosity. Someone else reading the review might say, "Hmmm, I like romance. So if that reader thinks it has too much, then it might just be the kind of book I like."

What one person dislikes might be exactly what another person loves in a story.

3. A mixture of reviews pushes the author to keep improving. 

As much as I'd like to write a perfect book, I haven't accomplished that yet! Negative reviews keep us from becoming complacent. They remind us that we still have room for improvement, that we still need to keep learning and honing my skills. And sometimes those reviews even contain morsels of feedback that we can take away and apply to our next novel.

Negative reviews also keep us from taking ourselves so seriously. If we can chuckle to ourselves about our book being rated R rather than getting angry, then we ease the stress and keep from becoming overly discouraged.

So dear writers, next time you get a negative review, keep it in perspective. Accept it. Don't wish it away. And realize even the negatives have a place in the writer's life too.

If you were to get a scathing review (or have already gotten one) how do you think it would make you feel? How would you handle it? 


  1. My first bad review hurt. No matter how much I knew that there is no way to please everyone, the first bad review came from another author, who accused my reviews of being fake.

    The person was someone I'd encountered online in writing groups, so it felt like a personal attack - so it's hard to say if my first bad review would have stung as badly if it had been a stranger. (And if I hadn't been attacked personally in the review.)

    Since then, the book has received a poor review here and there, but I've learned to not let that get to me. The more of your books that are out there, the higher the chances that someone who doesn't like what you wrote will have a copy. It's just math.

    I do make it a point NOT to read reviews on days when I am already feeling down and/or frustrated. And while I don't read EVERY review, I do try to take negative feedback and learn something from it.

    1. Very good point NOT to read reviews on down days! I hadn't thought of that! But that's very good advice! :-)

  2. Hi Jody! :)

    Once again, a timely post for me as far as your book," Rebellious Heart" is concerned.
    I was only thinking about it yesterday and wondered if it had released in the States yet, so thank you for that info...a few more months of waiting until it hits our stores, I suspect.

    As far as my opinion on r/v's, depends on how they are aired! I'm sure reviews of your book WILL BE mostly very good and very helpful!! As far as the scathing review is concerned, I would be MOST unhappy and extremely disappointed, to receive such a pathetic r/v (such as you've received,) If you do get any r/vs that you don't care for, treat them for what they're worth ..Zero! There is a difference between a snide comment and a negative one...the latter may have some points for your consideration and the good ones will send you soaring to great heights!

    No untoward comments from me Jody..all good..:)

    Take care..Looking forward to some great reading!LOL

    1. Hi Rosie,

      Thank you for being a light of encouragement to so many authors! We need those positives even more to balance out the negatives. Why is it that one negative can weigh us down a hundred feet and we fixate on that more than one positive? :-) And I agree, there are differences between constructive reviews and just plain bashing.

      Thanks as always for stopping by!!



  3. Yup, as a reader I prefer to read the 3-4 star reviews because they point usually are good at listing the pros and cons in a legible manner. Lower ones are usually too negative and untrustworthy.

    Now as a one-day author, nothing but 5's would be totally acceptable. ;)

    1. LOL! As a reader I can appreciate those "other" reviews too. But you're right, as a writer, I'd much rather have the 5's. :-)

  4. Recently I got a two star review (on Smashwords) for a short-short story I wrote for Joe Konrath's recent eight-hour challenge (he dared people to write, edit, make a cover, format, and upload a piece a piece of work in just eight hours). Given the fact that my eight hours including figuring out how to upload it to Amazon, I just laughed at the two was probably better than it actually deserved.

    1. Sounds like it was an interesting experiment! Wow! I'm curious to know the purpose behind doing it?

  5. I get negative reviews all the time. The readers posting the reviews just didn't care for my book. It's not a big deal. I can't say I loved every book I ever read, either. I've learned a few things from those bad and so-so reviews, as well.

  6. I definitely don't like negative reviews, but I do appreciate their importance. You want those reviews to be legitimate and trustworthy. And odds are good that the negative reviews will go into detail about elements of your writing that other potential readers actually enjoy in a book, and help find you more dedicated followers.

  7. As a reader I'm only influenced by negative reviews if they are the majority or they mention the book contains a pet peeve of mine, so having a few bad reviews doesn't usually concern me as a reader. I only hope I can be this calm about it when the reviews are of my own work ;p

  8. What a great, balanced post, Jody! After many positive reviews I was pretty bummed to receive a negaitive one. When I analyzed it, I realized it was a non-believer who got offended at my mention of Jesus, which isn't a bad thing, really. And my publisher said the same thing you did--that the low ones proved my reviews were real!
    Thanks for your wisdom,

  9. Love this post. I have actually chosen to read books after I've read negative reviews, simply because--like you said--I knew that I'd like what that person didn't. Besides, readers don't just focus on the negative reviews; they look at the positive ones as well. Especially if there are more positive rather than negative. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. In the beginning of my writing career, negative reviews would sink deep into my soul and destroy me from the inside out. Nowadays, I've actually come to embrace them for all the reasons you listed above. To be honest, I had a 2-star review come from someone who obviously didn't understand my book for what it was, and instead of letting the hurt of the low review fester, I kindly asked her to make sure she posted that review on Amazon to give my book more authentic reviews.

  11. All the advice I have seen is to ignore a scathing/negative review. Trying to "win over" those people, or worse, argue with them, only makes people dislike you. Take your lumps, and keep on writing.

  12. This is a great piece Jody. The first negative review I got, was, in hindsight, pretty neutral - it outlined some positives and some shortcomings, in a pretty fair way - but at the time I felt devastated by it and interpreted it as a panning. One review, which really was a panning, I was so upset by that I contemplated creating a fake email address & having a go at the reviewer 'anonymously' - what a mistake that would have been! I felt much more able to accept bad reviews with my 2nd book and have thankfully only received one bad one. I know you can never please everyone so I am philosophical about it. Some of my all-time favourite books have scathing take-downs on sites like Goodreads so it happens to the best writers too. I really like your thoughts on the positives of negative reviews - a great way of looking at things.

    1. Thank you, Annabel! You're right. Some of the best books have scathing reviews that would probably make me cry! :-) It's actually rather a relief to know that even the best books get bad reviews and just means we shouldn't take them so personally and think we're a terrible writer when we get one.

  13. About 80 percent of my reviews have been 4 and 5 stars, and either one is fine with me. If you have only glowing reviews, people will disbelieve you. After a string of great reviews, someone gave me 1 star, saying I must have lots of friends and relatives (I don't). Sometimes I will tell potential buyers that a small percentage of readers don't like my work but that those are a minority. People usually respond that of course not everyone likes a particular author. What I've noticed is that the harshest comments usually criticize nothing specific. If you get them, try to shrug them off.

  14. First book (self-published) and proud as a peacock...until I paid for a review by a well-known, snarky company. It was so bad, I was crestfallen since the book took four years to write and considerable cash to put it all together. But I soldiered on and watched very good reviews come in from Amazon and Goodreads. And, thankfully, a few stinkers to make the review process real. Ready to publish my second book with a much better attitude about reviews. Bring 'em on!

  15. Ugh i just got my first 2 star review and it was from someone who was expecting something completely different from my story. I admit, it stung quite a bit at first. But as you've pointed out, after a few days all these reasons for not taking it to heart have surfaced. This bad review has reminded me that i won't please everyone, and that I should be prepared for some to object to the content.
    And it means I'm really out in the pub world. Finally!! :)


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