Why authors should never comment on negative reviews of their own books

You’ve written a book. It’s been published. Your agent told you that he/she has never read a book like it. Your publisher has told you that your voice is entirely unique. The quotes from celebrities on the front cover of your book reinforce this sense of untouchable brilliance. The first fifty amazon reviews have flooded in from industry people who are encouraged to display kindness. Traction begins…but all of these opinions are inherently biased.

Then comes the first negative review from Jeremy, from Hounslow. Your brain immediately reacts by telling you that Jeremy must be mentally ill. Then you decide he must be a troll. (Because you’ve convinced yourself that you are so special, that there are people alive who spend their free time attacking your books, hoping you say something, because that’s how you think they think they will get famous. Even though nobody read your last novel.) So you check what else Jeremy the mentally ill troll has read. You read his reviews: a three star review for a dog toy and a four star review of a pop-up book about gardening. Excellent, you think. This supports my ego’s search to reaffirm my wrongly persecuted gloriousness. But then you see Jeremy has given the Grapes of Wrath and On The Road five stars too. Shit. You loved those books. You agree with his views that Steinbeck can make the reader taste dust and Kerouac can make people touch Jazz with their feelings alone. Jeremy must be too old then. Or too young. He’s not your audience. He must have been having a bad day. He’s too stupid. Too unimaginative. Too something or other and anythingative.

I’m afraid the problem isn’t Jeremy. The problem is you. Jeremy isn’t a troll. He has better things to do with his time than hope he gets noticed on Amazon. Jeremy is offering his entirely honest opinion, as is his right. Jeremy is from a place called the real world. He isn’t linked to your publishing company, he isn’t your best friend or even that girl you once dated. Jeremy is a hero. He’s keeping your ego in check, albeit at the expense of your temporary feelings. You should love Jeremy.

However, instead of doing anything else, like squeezing a lemon in the kitchen or seeing how many Krispy Donuts you can eat in a minute…your ego tells your mind to focus on Jeremy. Bloody Jeremy. If he’s so intelligent, why doesn’t Jeremy write a book of his own?

Your ego won’t let you move on. You want to stay in your diluted self-induced coma of glory that’s been oiled by the gears of your own growling economy. You refuse to absorb and possibly learn from the information, and an invisible force stops you from smiling and closing your laptop.

So you hit the “comment on review” button on Goodreads, Amazon or wherever. You begin typing: chubby little fingers. Boiling little eyes. Mission of righteousness. This is a moral crusade to be apologised to by someone you want to control and define because you’ve forgotten that the world isn’t made up of people who have reason to worship the ground you walk on.

Tap, tap, tap go the keys on your keyboard.

This will show Jeremy, you think. This will teach my troll. Jeremy has picked on the wrong writer. My response will likely be picked up by the media. People will love me more than they already do. Other authors will rally around me. I’ll probably become the poster child for authors mobbed by trolls. Because of me one day all books will receive five star reviews. And after this comment I’ll go and make jokes about Jeremy on Twitter, without naming him, to make myself feel better because I’ve not found the time to iron out the flaws in my own character.

CAUTION: what you are actually doing is being a massive egotistical cock wizard. Justify it to yourself as much as you wish. But as soon as you comment on Jeremy’s review, you stop becoming an author of wisdom and purpose, of character and art, and you reveal yourself to be a person with a bigger ego than class.

Don’t do it. Stop yourself. Cry to your agent. Draw a picture of Jeremy being eaten by a giant evil crow. Make his family watch. Then put it in your bin, build a bridge, and get over it.

Your book is not as good as your ego has convinced you it is. Jeremy is entitled to his opinion. Your friends, family, early industry reviewers, publisher and agent are all biased to varying degrees.

Before you comment on negative reviews of your own books, consider the following:

The exposed brittle ego of an author is an embarrassment. A reader is entitled to share their reading experience without having to explain it to the author or anyone else.

Reviews have nothing to do with you. Zip. Nada. You are not invited to the party. You didn’t thank every single five star reviewer with a comment of gratitude, did you? So why cry in public about the negative reviews?

Let your book go before it kills you. I don’t mean if you have a manuscript in your top drawer you best set it on fire before it figures out how to grow opposable thumbs and turn paper cuts into something more serious…I mean: wake up. Live a little. You’ve just spent a year, likely more, masturbating too much, eating too much, drinking too much caffeine and hunched over a PC turning bad ideas into something that can be sold as greatness. That’s amazing. Who cares about the reviews? How can you spend years writing a book, only to then spend the following days complaining to The Internet about people who read your books? Get out of the house. Do anything other than obsess over the opinion of the masses. You wrote the book for you, right? Because you are an artist, right? If that’s the case, fuck the reviews. You’ve slit your throat and bled out over the page: now go see the world. Or at the very least, don’t act like a baby.

You are harming future reviews. Yeah, you narrow minded salmon. Authors commenting on reviews of their books, or publically mocking readers on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter can only lead to readers expressing themselves less in the future. You are engineering a literary world where only five star reviews can exist. Shoot. Me. Now.

If your book is that good, readers will defend it for you. Look at Goodreads or Amazon. You are only a storyteller. If readers want to defend your book from negative reviews, brilliant. If they don’t, brilliant.

Your silence respects the experience of the reader. Your whining voice insults it. So SHH. Everything you need to say is in your book. Everything your publisher needs to say is on the front and back of it.

If you are thinking of commenting on a bad review of one of your books: wait. That’s all you have to do. Time will reveal that your book will not be destroyed. Your book will still be out there; only you won’t have made yourself look like an idiot by publically raging against the reviews.

You’ll also be free from writing something solely for the purpose of gathering good reviews, because you’ll understand bad reviews won’t kill you. This will make you a better author. Give me an author who says fuck reviews over an author who plays to the crowd any day. You might not have heard of them, they might not be household names, but they have soul. They have purpose and drive. Give me those books. Let me read those authors.

Write those books: true art transcends reviews.

Read your reviews for fun if you have to, but don’t review the reviews.

You just aren’t that important.


52 thoughts on “Why authors should never comment on negative reviews of their own books

  1. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    The author of *my* negative review clearly doesn’t like the genre. I guess the best I can hope for is that other people who also don’t like the genre will read that review and say, “Yeah! I hate that genre too!” and move on to read someone else’s book.

    Also, I think maybe having at least one bad review in there makes the book look more genuine. Like it’s a real product because even people who aren’t secretly in love with the author are reading it, too.

    Anyway, you’re absolutely right, and I’m not going to comment on that review. But I will mark it “unhelpful” because if that damn troll Jeremy had just read the fucking blurb he would have known he wasn’t going to like the book.

  2. Hola! I’ve been following your weblog for a long time now and finally got
    the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Tx!

    Just wanted to tell you keep up the good work!

  3. I always recommend going back and reading the rave reviews again. Those should put your broken ego back together.

    Have I commented on a negative reviews before? I am ashamed to admit that I have. Now, I try VERY hard not to read them at all. I even ask book bloggers not to send me a link to their honest review, and just post it on the blog. Otherwise, I am tempted to look at it.

    Write another book and keep yourself too busy to be bothered to read ANY reviews.

    Just my two cents…

  4. Thanks for the reminder to step away from the computer and get some perspective instead of responding to a bad review. I especially liked your statement that “Your silence respects the experience of the reader” because that’s exactly what it’s all about: respecting the reader.

  5. As I tell people in our writers support and critique group, no honest opinion can be wrong. It is what that reader got from that piece. As the author your job is to see if there is anything you agree with 0r can learn from in the feedback and move on.

  6. Another reason why writers should belong to critique groups. Long before you see publication, you’ll be familiar with some facts of life:
    1. You can’t please everyone.
    2. Some readers are incurably clueless, or at least clueless about this one thing you’ve written.
    3. Some other readers are eminently clueful, but just have tastes different from yours (see #1)

  7. Reblogged this on Going Past and commented:
    Very apropos in the wake of Mark Griffiths’ shock that people didn’t agree with what he claimed about Shakespeare. He’s most upset. He called us sub-Tolkienian trolls.

  8. Very true. The only time I ever write back to a negative reviewer is when I note and can truly say “you didn’t read the book, did you?”

    1. Nope, meant diluted. (from earlier explanation) “I imagine a diluted coma of glory – to me I get in my head a beige coloured, mild coma. It’s not a serious coma, it’s near the surface: awakening is a moment away. A deluded coma, would be a coma that doesn’t exist – but this coma is real, it’s just that its powers are weak.”

  9. I’m not sure that I agree with the fact that every author is an artist as you state. I think people who attempt to sell fiction books are without a doubt artists– and their constant persistence to penetrate an already saturated market is nothing short of admirable. However what about the other half of the masses? Those who write non-fiction. Take Mark Bowden and Black Hawk Down, for example. Bowden has commented on multiple objections to his book and has even made changes based on these comments.

    I think those who write non-fiction should always be able to respond to their readers. It betters the conversation. However, I do agree with your qualms with fiction writers.

    Good, thought-provoking post.

    1. Good point on non-fiction. I think I’d limit any such replies to factual things that can “help” the reader with whatever the problem is they had, point them in the right direction, etc.

  10. This article is one big ego stroke.
    1) It’s been said before
    2) The smugness is unbearable
    3) Egotists call others egotists to make themselves feel more humble (thus feeding the ego)

    I’m an egotist. I think we’re caught in a loop.

  11. Amusing but you need an editor.
    “You want to stay in your diluted self-induced coma of glory…”

    1. Nope, I meant diluted. Or I would have said deluded. I can imagine a diluted coma of glory – to me I get in my head a beige coloured, mild coma. It’s not a serious coma, it’s near the surface: awakening is a moment away. A deluded coma, would be a coma that doesn’t exist – but this coma is real, it’s just that its powers are weak.

      That said, an editor for a blog? Way too serious. A blog (in my opinion) is greater for the flaws. I mean, look at this blog, it looks like shit! ha, but it’s part of its kooky charm. A published book, would be different.

    1. I see what you did there. Sly.

      I enjoyed this post, for what it was. It seemed like half of the post was directed at himself, like he was telling himself ‘Don’t do it, Craig. DON’T. DO. IT.’ It’s a sound suggestion from someone who’s been there.

      1. Ha, yeah. I’m speaking from personal experience. I think all writers/people likely react with a similar thought process when they read a negative review, so in that light, by sharing my mind’s instinctive response I’m talking about other people too.

  12. Sweet, as John said “cock wizard” was worth the price of admission by itself. Good advice and while my friend wasn’t as funny about it, it did get me to understand that as a human being and Citizen I need to be tested regularly and part of that is accepting that your baby just might suck somehow. Truth hurts, but it helps us change for the better…hopefully. 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

  13. My review of this blog post: 1 star (waiting to see what happens…)

    Haha, just kidding. Great post. Now I have to follow your blog, in case you write anything else as good. Hat tip to Lindy Moone for the reblog.

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