Bad Reviews

What’s that? You got a bad review? 

Aww… It’s all right. No, really, I understand. Come on over, pull up a chair. Yeah, that’s right. Get comfortable. Are you comfy? Good. Here’s a tissue. Wipe those tears from your eyes. Yeah, that’s better. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna be just fine. Now listen up, ’cause I’m gonna tell you all you need to know about “bad” reviews.

Don’t take bad reviews personally.

Yeah, I know. Easy for me to say, right? After all, I used to knock on doors selling insurance! Not to mention I’ve been married 3 times! –I mean, what can you possibly write in a review that’s gonna hurt my feelings?

Someone made fun of Saving Rachel for having 36 1-star reviews. I can deal with it. It helps that Rachel is the #1 download on Amazon/Kindle and has been for the past week. Of course, this will change, and I can deal with that, too, ’cause it’s the natural order of things.

I never received a bad review until I hit the top 100!

In your book’s infancy, you’re marketing to friends, contacts you’ve made, and their contacts. Your book attracts readers by word of mouth. They like you, recommend you, and your ratings reflect it. As your book goes “viral” and works it’s way into the top 100 it attracts readers who never heard of you. They buy your book for different reasons: they like the cover. It has lots of great reviews. It’s a best seller. And these readers will love it, hate it, or forget it. If they love it, you’ve got another fan. If they hate it, they blame you and the folks who gave you a good rating. Doesn’t mean your book sucks, and it doesn’t mean they’re petty, hateful people.

It simply means they aren’t part of your target audience. 

Why do they get so angry? They wanted to like your book. They paid money, invested time, and most importantly, wanted to join your party, have fun, hang out with the cool kids, and be part of the group. They see those 50 great reviews and were hoping to “get” it. And now they feel left out. And sometimes they lash out. In the long run, it’s good for you, and good for them. They won’t buy your next book, and that’s one less bad rating you’ll get next time.

You’ll never get a bad review from your target audience.

Never change your writing to accommodate the ones who hate you. Do that, and your core audience will abandon you.

The more books I write, the fewer “bad” reviews I get.

Why? ‘Cause your first few books will attract followers and repel non-followers. After that, you’ll be selling to a higher percentage of folks who already like your work, which means fewer negative reviews. You’ll also get fewer positive reviews, ’cause your core readers have already invested time and effort to give you good reviews in the past. They feel it’s someone else’s turn. Saving Rachel hit the top 100 with 175 reviews. Follow the Stone did it with 6! This week, A Girl Like You hit the top 100 with only 2! Today it’s #29 with 3 reviews! As Girl attracts people who shouldn’t be reading it, I’ll get a high percentage of bad reviews unless my core audience steps up and fights for me by posting some positive reviews  (Yeah, Chachi, that’s a hint! Step up to the bullies and defend my honor, will ya?)

The reason some people hate your book is the same reason your target audience loves it!

You better HOPE a lot of people hate your writing! ‘Cause if they don’t, you’re not very original. And if you’re not original, you’re not gonna stand out. And if you don’t stand out, you’re not gonna sell.

One last comment…

I like bourbon, my wife likes beer. My kids are too young to drink. You can pour the finest single-barrel bourbon in the world into a tumbler and set it on the counter of my bar, and it’s only going to be right for one out of the four people in my house. Are you gonna sit there and try to tell me that whoever created that fine Kentucky bourbon sucks at what he does because 3 out of 4 people give it a thumbs down?


About John Locke

The New York Times Best Selling Author Amazon Kindle Million Club Author John Locke has sold more than 1,000,000 eBooks by word of mouth! As an international best-selling author of ten books, every novel John Locke has written has made the Amazon/Kindle Best Seller’s List. Every seven seconds, twenty-four hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world. Donovan Creed Series: Lethal People Lethal Experiment Saving Rachel Now & Then Wish List A Girl Like You Vegas Moon Emmett Love Westerns: Follow the Stone Don't Poke the Bear! How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!
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37 Responses to Bad Reviews

  1. Sven Davison says:

    Love the attitude, John.

    The way I see it, you can walk into a room and right off the bat, somebody is not going to like you. However, there are others who will love you just by the way you walk. The rest are ambivalent until you meet them. It’s human nature.

    Art is subjective, that’s the beauty of it.

    I won’t lie and say that a bad review doesn’t hurt because I’ve poured so much of my heart, soul, and time into writing. But I agree that the bad reviews I’ve gotten are from folks who should not have picked my book in the first place (I have much to learn in attracting my target audience).

    I don’t read self-help books because I find them unintentionally humorous. I probably just insulted half the population of America by saying that, but it’s how my brain works. I respect folks who read them as we’re all looking for the answers to life. I especially respect those who write them. It takes balls to put yourself out there. So I simply abstain. Then again, if somebody handed me a self-help book by an author I loved… I’d probably read it.

  2. Vivi Anna says:

    Great anology. Great post.



  3. CK Webb says:

    LOL!!! I love this post and it makes me not cringe so deeply at the thought of those bad reviews that are sure to come. Hopefully the good will outweigh the bad and we will ‘chin up’ the situation as you have. As always John, you rock!!!

  4. You are so right on- and let me know when you need a little defense. I love your books 🙂

  5. Steve says:

    Excellent post, John, reflects a lot of what you spoke about with Konrath the other day. Being a self-employed author can be rough, especially for a new one, when a bad review hits. I know I’d take it personally. But you’re spot-on with saying a target audience will not give a bad review (disclaimer – unless your book really sucks…in which case you’ve got bigger problems).

    Ling live the indie publisher, love seeing this market turned on its head, and being able to pick up a handful of books – instantly – for less than the cost of lunch.

    Just downloaded Saving Rachel…

    Steve Umstead

    Author of Gabriel’s Redemption, debut science fiction novel, available on Amazon

  6. Renee Miller says:

    I love this post. Great advice. I want people to hate my books for this very reason. Hate is still a reaction and that should be a writer’s goal. I’d hate to leave people feeling indifferent.

  7. Kendall Swan says:

    In the long run, it’s good for you, and good for them. They won’t buy your next book, and that’s one less bad rating you’ll get next time.

    Dude, you are the most zen person I’ve ever ‘met’. Such a great attitude.

    Okay…3x – whoa!

    I absolutely agree with you about originality. It’s easy to forget that Amazon is such a huge marketplace and originality is key to getting noticed, even if it offends.

    And come on now, your kids should totally be able tell fine bourbon when they taste it. [joke!!]

    Sexy Stories Kindle Blog

  8. Excellent post, John. You’ve got a way of putting into perspective.

    I’m a new YA Fantasy author. Less than a week! Woot! I’m bracing myself for that first bad review. But actually, I’m just bracing myself for my first review. HA!

  9. hey! love your writing what a cool pleasant refreshing read! yay! 🙂 always a pleasure to tweet chat with u too! thx

  10. hey fabulous writing and what refreshing read thx!
    always a pleasure to read your words and tweet chat 🙂

  11. Hope Collier says:

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. Thanks for that 🙂

  12. “Never change your writing to accommodate the ones who hate you. Do that, and your core audience will abandon you.”

    That right there was worth the price of admission, even if nothing else you said made sense. But it did, so this whole post was full of awesome. Excellent advice. If having haters will man I’m in the Kindle top 100 someday, then I suppose I hope I have haters someday! 🙂


  13. JM Array says:

    Awesome advise! I think that is definitely one of the hardest things to deal with as an author. Bad reviews. Makes you think that people will not buy your book because of it, and it can get really depressing.

    Thanks for the enlightenment!

  14. A.E. Tyree says:

    Great post John.

    I think developing a thick skin should be required for any artist. From publisher rejections to bad reviews, it hurts to have your work panned. And yet how many times as a consumer have I seen a movie or read a book or stood in front of a painting and thought ‘what crap’ just because it didn’t resonate with me. It wasn’t personal, it just didn’t do it for me.

    Now if you could come up with an easy way for us to develop that thick skin, I’d buy it by the truckload. 🙂

  15. Great post and perspective on reviews! It truly is not personal. I have not liked books of people I personally like, and it has nothing to do with THEM. Their writing style or plot was just not for me. I am a believer that my “trash” may be someone else’s treasure. Love the point about target audience. I get review requests for things that I specifically state I do not review. I do this because I KNOW me, and I personally do not review short stories or novellas because I always have the same complaint. Those complaints are the things that are the point of a SHORT story and novella. haha That’s not personal to the writer, it’s me. So seeking reviews from those that do read your genre is key. There seems to have been several incidents lately where reviewers and writers go at each other over a review. But your post sums up what all of us should remember. I know your post is for the writers out there, but as a reviewer I appreciate you sharing your perspective. Just like writers, reviewers have different styles. Some are like Howard Stern and others are like Larry King. Keep that in mind. 😉

  16. Gary Ponzo says:

    All valid points John. A couple of weeks ago I received my first 1-Star review. I hadn’t even received a 2 star or a 3 star. The guy used all capital letters and said it was the worst book he’d ever read. I just wish I could’ve hacked the review and changed it to “Wurst book I’ve ever red.”

  17. Brenda Wallace says:

    You’ve done a lot of thinking on this and came up with some brilliant conclusions. Thank you for saving me the brain cells. I’m still polishing, so haven’t uploaded a couple of ebooks yet, but these two novels have been through contests and have yet to receive a lukewarm reception. Either the judges love the entry or hate it and they are consistent about it from that first page onward, so I will definitely be encouraging readers to do that free sample. You’ve helped me prepare me for the whole review process. I enjoyed this post so much that I shared it with my critique partner. Also, I’m going to try one of your novels. Thanks again.

  18. Barbara says:

    Great thoughts on bad reviews. I won’t lie and say I enjoy reading bad reviews of my books, but I do believe you’re spot on. They are definitely a sign of further success, of moving up in sales, and of finally being noticed by more people than the extended relatives in Arkansas or so and so’s best friend in Jersey.
    The writer evolution: grow thicker skin with each bad review, or die a quick death as you sit before your keyboard afraid to write for fear someone won’t like it.

  19. Well said!!! For every book there is a different audience. I am not looking forward to the bad reviews. I’m sure they will come not everyone loves the same books. When in doubt click on a book by a famous author and check out their bad reviews. Everyone gets them; yes even J.K Rowling’s. Great Post!!

  20. Tim Frost says:

    A nice positive post on a touchy subject.

    I received the following appraisal of ‘The Abigail Affair’:

    “I deleted this book after about 60 pages …. might have enjoyed it 70 years ago but I’m glad I didn’t have to. Give it one star for lasting so long before I binned it.”

    I added the phrase ‘might have enjoyed it 70 years ago’ to my review highlights section, and the book (not particularly aimed at a young audience) is now #20 in Teen Thrillers. Plus I got another review (5 star) headlined “Well I’m over sixty and I loved it!”

    (Incidentally, several of my 1-star reviewers have expressed disappointment that they were unable to award a zero. I wonder if these people are related to each other?)

  21. This post is wonderful! It deals with a tough subject…let’s face it, negative reviews do sting. But, you’re right, not everyone will enjoy your book, because they are not your target market. As a blogger, not everyone will enjoy my posts, but my followers do. I love your analogy. You perfectly illustrate your point.

  22. Maryruth Barksdale says:

    John, you make some very good points. Among which is your “Target Audience” needs to give those Reviews for your books, not just the first one or the latest; but all. I am a proud OOU Fan of yours; so off to do more Reviews I go.
    But first, can you tell me your opinion of why people that get good reviews know the Reviewer gets it and is right. But if you get a bad review; you think the Reviewer doesn’t get it? Or if the Referee makes a call against the Opponent, it’s a good call. If it’s on the Home team, they don’t know what they are doing…….. Okay, I will now go back to the Attic 🙂

  23. Seth Godin says:

    I stopped reading Amazon reviews four years ago.

    It’s better that way. I have never learned anything from a review. Have you?

  24. Teresa says:

    As usual I like the way you think. Just keep one thiing in mind. A bad review (depending upon how it is written) does NOT always mean the person doesn’t like your book. A review to me is being ask my opinion. I may see the potential for greatness in you but could feel that an improvement in a certain area could help you achieve that greatness. So take any review of your work for just what it is. An opinion!. They are like an a**. everyone has one.

  25. John Jackson says:

    Reviews: Good friend, musician singer-songwriter, told me “If I read the good reviews and believe them, I’ve got to read the bad ones and believe THEM.” Think she was saying, “I am what/who I am, doing what I do, the best I can….” That’s a whole lot more than many of us do.
    Keep writing those killer stories. Raise your prices!

  26. Great post John, your analogy of the ‘bad review’ is absolutely spot on. Any art form which is out there for public opinion will sooner or later garner the ‘bad review’.

    Sit back, pour a bourbon, and read them with a smile on our faces.

  27. C.G. Powell says:

    Thank you for your insight and I personally look forward to my first bad review…

  28. Angie says:

    Great post! I hope I remember your last comment.

  29. george says:

    John, I have no clue who you are, but I saw a link on ‘writer’s cafe’ so I read your spiel on bad reviews and was shocked on how bad it was. I mean really, how can you write such nonsense about bad reviews? Are you crazy? I think your diatribe was about the worst reivew of reviews I have ever seen. I’d give your review a one or even a zero if I could.

    Here’s a tissue. Wipe those tears from your eyes.

  30. Gina Penney says:

    I recently received my first one star review. It’s no fun at all getting a bad review but you have to just let it roll off. People are going to form opinions about your work regardless of how much they like you (or, in my case, how much they don’t like you). I love Stephen King but I don’t love every book he’s ever written.

    Bad reviews are okay to get. But your advice here definitely makes them a little more tolerable. Thank you.

  31. What a great way to look at reviews. Never thought of it this way before.

  32. William L.K. says:

    Thank you for this article.
    What a wonderful and refreshing attitude toward bad reviews.
    I’m glad I stopped by! 🙂

  33. Bev Robitai says:

    Great post! I know I’ll be devastated to get my first bad review, but now I have your helpful advice to get me through the pain. Thanks, John!

  34. Jaime says:

    I’ve worked in customer service and have dealt with all sorts of people and all sorts of personalities. I’ve been fortunate to work with many friendly customers but I’ve also had some people yell at me over the most ridiculous reasons. Working in customer service has made me stronger and given me tough skin. It took me awhile to not take things so seriously and to not let it ruin my day.

    I’m an aspiring writer and I’ve definitely learned a lot about working in customer service. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it taught me a lot about how to deal with people. I’ve definitely had that experience of working in the real world and I believe those customer service skills will help me a lot when I get published as a writer.

  35. Thank you, John, for those comforting words of wisdom. I needed them today, and I’ve bookmarked them so I have them to hand next time :o)


  36. Trish Arrowsmith says:

    First off, I love the bourbon and beer situation, you can’t make it any clearer than that.
    I definately think you have the right attitude and it’s great to see someone that recognizes that it’s not a personal hatred of you, it’s mostly the genre.
    In my own experience of just reading reviews of many authors, most of the 1 star reviews just simply state that they hated the book. There are some books that I can honestly say I hated from beginning to end but I would never 1-star them unless I felt it was written by a pre-teen. Even if it’s not my type of book I can at least give the author credit for their work (writing style, ability and creativity).

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