5 Ways to Handle Bad Reviews

By Erin Entrada Kelly, Book Publicist, Smith Publicity

Writing is a solitary business. Publishing isn’t. Once your book is in the world, you have little control over how the public responds to it. At Smith Publicity, we know you want good reviews. But if you want your work to reach as many readers as possible, you’re destined to suffer the sting of a bad review. For many writers, it’s more than a blow to the ego—it’s a personal heartache. Writers have a professional, emotional, and mental vestment in their work, and when it doesn’t hit every mark, it hits like a sledgehammer. But it doesn't have to derail your book publicity plans.

What to do?

Don't Respond

First of all, you shouldn’t respond to bad reviews, either directly to the reviewer or indirectly (by complaining on social media). Resist the urge to reply to the one-stars on GoodReads. You don’t need to explain your intention, position, or word choice. There’s no need to defend your character’s motivations or the ideals you outlined in chapter ten. Your job is to write the best book you can. Readers take from it what they will.

You’ll only look like a sore loser—and that won’t endear you to current or potential readers.

You’ve got to have thick skin. Let the positive book reviews speak for you. If you start responding to every bad review, things can get out of control quickly.

Keep it in perspective

Presumably, you want people to read your book—right? If you’re getting reviews, it means people are reading you, for better or worse. Remember: no well-read author is immune to bad reviews. The Great Gatsby is considered one of the greatest American novels, and it got bad reviews. Same for The Catcher in the Rye, and heavy-hitting memoirs like Eat Pray Love.

Learn from it

As a writer, you’ll get swarmed with mountains of feedback. Some of it will be viable. Some won’t. Once the initial sting goes away, consider what the book reviewer is saying. Can you learn something from it? If not, so be it. But once you’re able to approach a less-than-stellar review with objectivity, you may find something constructive that will help with your next project.

Bask in positivity

It’s easy for us to focus on the bad reviews and shirk off the good ones. We tend to languish far longer in negative feedback than we do basking in the positive. For every negative review you get, re-read the positive, and shift your focus on those.

You can’t please everyone

Once your book is out there, it can be easy to forget why you wrote it in the first place.

Remember why you write.

When you looked at those final manuscript pages, what were you thinking? You probably weren’t thinking: This is certain to get five-star reviews from everyone! It’s also important to remember that you can’t please every reader—nor should you.


Erin Entrada Kelly is a book publicist for Smith Publicity and an author with HarperCollins. Find her online at

1 Response

  1. I enjoyed this post, Erin. I already knew about not responding to bad reviews, but I never considered focusing on the good reviews. It makes sense.