What To Do When Someone Hates Your Book

The older I get and the more books I publish, the more I’ve learned that it’s okay if everyone doesn’t love my work. This wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. Believe me, I have my share of critics, and I had to trudge through some difficult times as I struggled to keep quiet when people were letting me know how much my books suck. I even almost quit writing several times because I got to the point where I believed I was a terrible writer. So I get it. I know how hard it is to brush off negative comments and reviews when it comes to your work. It is a lot easier to be objective when you see another author’s work being criticized, but when it’s your book that takes the beating, objectivity tends to fly right out the window.

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So today for those of you who are struggling with this issue, I thought I’d share things that helped me over the years as I’ve had people tell me why my work belongs in the city dump.

The first step is to be objective about criticism.

1. Understand that taste is subjective.

Honestly, you can’t make someone like your book. Trying to explain why you handled a conflict in your story a certain way or why your character did something someone doesn’t like is a fruitless endeavor.

Why? Because people will think whatever they want. Everyone who reads your book will be doing so with their personal bias already in the back of their minds.  Think of a book you hate that was massively popular. This is the book that makes you ask yourself, “Why do so many people love this horrible story?”

I’ve certainly had this question pop up in my mind.  There is a traditionally published book (which I will not name) that I hate. My hatred of this book was so strong that I actually felt like I was going to vomit while I was reading it. It got so bad that I had to stop halfway into it and throw it out. For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is a bestselling book. When I talk to others about this book, an overwhelming majority praise it. They encourage me to finish it. “It is so worth it when you get to the end,” they say. Personally, I don’t care how much they loved it. They aren’t changing my mind. I don’t care what motives the main characters had. To me, one character was stupid and the other character was undeserving of a happy ending.   Nothing could redeem them to my satisfaction.

Does this mean the story truly sucks? No. Of course not. All it means is that I think the book sucked. It’s just one person’s opinion. That’s all.  The same is true for people who don’t like your books.

2. The reason someone hates your book says a lot more about that person than it does about your book.

The book I mentioned above, the one that I hate more than anything else I’ve ever read, reveals my own likes and dislikes. It reveals an aspect of my personality. The hero and heroine have personality traits I absolutely despise. They did things I would never do in a million years.  Those characters represent the antithesis to the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I want to hang around.  So all that book really did was reveal the kind of people I admire and respect.

The very qualities a reader likes or doesn’t like about a book are a window into the reader’s soul. You can gain insight into a person by their praise or criticism of the work. So take that into consideration when you come across the comments people make about your books.

Now, that we took an objective look at criticism, what should we do about it?

1. Ignore it.

The longer I’m in this business, the more convinced I am that ignoring criticism is the best way to handle it. Trying to defend your book is pointless. Instead of answering your critics, the best thing you can do is cater to your fans. They’re the ones you’re writing for anyway. They understand your vision for what you do, and better yet, they are already supporting and encouraging you.  They enjoy your work for a reason.  Why change what you’re doing to please the critics when the fans already love what you’re doing?

2. Choose to think on good things.

Recently, I’ve learned that the more attention I give something, the bigger of an issue it becomes. If I dwell on negativity, after a while, I start getting depressed or angry. I stop being as productive as I want to be. Negativity drains you of your energy. On the other hand, if I focus on positive things, I feel happier and freer. I find it easier to focus on my work. I’m more relaxed. I smile a lot more. I’m pleasant to be around, and believe me, my family is a lot happier when I’m pleasant.  So by focusing on positive things, you’ll probably attract a lot more pleasant people into your world.

To be honest, I used to think there wasn’t a correlation between what I was thinking and how I felt, but the more I’ve experimented with focusing on the positive, the more convinced I am that what we think about definitely impacts how we feel. It’s not easy at first. Breaking the old habit of dwelling on the negative takes time to do. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. Life is short. You have to decide whether you’re going to spend it in misery or whether you’re going to spend it in joy.  The choice is yours.

3. Be thankful for what you have.

A spirit of gratitude has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. When something bad happens, I take a step back and start to list out things that are good in my life. If nothing else, the fact that I have food on the table, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back are huge. The fact that I can walk to the car or type on the computer or that I even know how to read are huge. Sure, I have problems. We all do. But no matter how grim a situation is, there is always something you can be thankful for.  Or, to put it another way, there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.  So taking into consideration your blessings when problems start to pop up can help buffer you from the negativity when it rears its ugly head.

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In conclusion

If you reach a wide enough readership, you will have your share of critics. When this happens, do not engage with them. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary. There’s no need to try to defend your book to someone who hates it. Your time and energy will be better spent focusing on your fans.

29 Comments

  1. A wonderful article/post! I am printing up and framing it – no kidding! Thank You! 🙂

    1. What a huge compliment. Thank you! 😀

  2. While I agree you shouldn’t dwell on the negativity, I disagree that you should ignore criticism entirely. A commenter saying “I hated the main character, she sucked” isn’t helpful at all, but something like “I didn’t like the main character because I thought she was underdeveloped and her motivations didn’t make sense to me” is a critique that should give a writer pause for thought. It doesn’t mean that their opinion is TRUE (as you pointed out taste is subjective). Nonetheless, listening to critiques can help you become more conscientious of certain things when writing. I’ve seen too many writers fall into the trap of listening only to their fans and surrounding themselves with people who stroke their egos and don’t point out what doesn’t make sense. It can be a humbling experience when readers are critical, however, I’ve found that criticism can be helpful if applied the right way. That doesn’t mean you should strive to please everyone (because you’re not going to), but shutting it out entirely isn’t helpful either. If you ignore every dissenting view, you could be damaging your chances of growing as a writer.

    I DO agree with you on not responding to criticism, however. At least not directly. Many people see that as combative and that’s when writers really get in trouble.

    I also agree that you should be thankful for what you have. Thinking on the positive side never hurt anyone. Especially writers!

    1. In my opinion, critique and criticism are two different things. I’m talking about criticism in this post, not critiques.

      You made valid points. Critiques are extremely important, but I think they should be done before a book is published. Some authors publish their books and use their reviews to offer a critique of their work. To me, this is a huge mistake. You don’t want to throw out your unfinished product for the world to read. You want to present your very best product before opening it up to a wide audience. Sadly, some authors don’t want to take the time or money to get a good editing team together. The best sources of critiques are editors and beta readers, but as you rightly pointed out, they should not only be people who are stroking our egos. That will hinder our growth as writers. 🙂 My beta readers are fans of my work who aren’t afraid to tell me when something isn’t working. Most of the time, I’ll modify things based on their advice.

      But once the book is fully polished up and done, it’s done. Early on in my writing life, I made the mistake of rewriting a couple of books in a series to please my critics, and I got a emails from my fans who were very upset that I had changed those books because they preferred them the other way. I ended up going back to the original versions, and I haven’t ever changed my work post-publication since. My primary duty is to my fans, not my critics.

      I enjoyed your comment a lot, by the way. I hadn’t been thinking of things from the angle of critiques. I might have to do a post on this topic because more authors should be using this tool to their advantage. 🙂

      1. I just read the comment below by Ron Fritsch, and he made a convincing case to when something should be modified in a book that is already published. If there is feedback (which I don’t take as criticism) suggesting something like a list characters to go with the story, then I can see adding that in.

  3. Ron Fritsch says:

    I agree with you, Ruth Ann. Authors who attempt to figure out negative reviews are wasting their time. Fretting over them is pointless. Moving on and writing in one’s own voice is the only answer.

    Some authors claim they don’t read reviews of their books. This might be a legitimate way to go, but I enjoy reading all of them, good or bad. And sometimes reviewers have helpful things to say. The first reviewer of my first novel praised it but also said it was a shame, in view of the number of named characters in it, I hadn’t provided a list of characters. I immediately added a list of characters to that novel (oh, the advantage of POD and eBooks), and I’ve included one upfront for every other novel I’ve published since then.

    Reviewers can be quirky, too. One reviewer of my most recent novel makes some scathing remarks about it and gives it four stars. Another reviewer has nothing but good things to say about it and gives it four stars. In both cases, of course, I’m grateful for those four stars.

    Thank you for this post, Ruth Ann. You seem to deal with the issues that concern a lot of writers, including me, the most.

    1. You made an excellent case of when it is a good idea to go back and modify something in a book that is already published. I had stated, in the previous comment, that there’s no reason to go back and change your book once it’s out there. But then I read your reply, and I have to admit there is a time when it’s helpful to change something. So thank you for bringing that up. 🙂

      I don’t make it a habit of reading reviews often. A couple of years ago, I never looked at them. But now I’ve developed thick skin, I will go in and check some of them out. I check out the positives to see what is working in my books. That way I know what is pleasing my fanbase so I can keep doing it. With the negative reviews, most of the time those are so vague that I can’t do anything with it. Sometimes the reason the person hated my book is the very reason my fans liked it. So that, again, isn’t useful. The only thing that I’ve been able to take something useful from is the attention to historical detail that some people enjoy. I take that input and try to do a better job with historical authenticity in my future books. I have not come across a situation like the one you did that talked about having a list of characters. That is useful advice from the reviewer.

      1. Ron Fritsch says:

        I agree with you, Ruth Ann, I wouldn’t ordinarily change a book after I’ve published it, no matter what reviewers and others might say about it. I believe as you do that the time for editing and critiqueing a book is prior to publication. Adding that list of characters to my first book is the only change I’ve ever made to any of my books. Thanks again for this post and the comments it has encouraged.

  4. gippyhenry7 says:

    Ruth Ann, this couldn’t come at a better time! My first novel seemed to be loved by everyone who read it–yes, some are family and friends, but also many strangers. Then I received a review of one line about needing some work, but author has promise. I just wanted to find out what she meant by ‘needs work’ and mentioned it in a comment on a website where people read others’ books. I was thinking, how come all of these other people who read my book didn’t point that out to me? A woman on there took the heat that I would even question that person (if I could) and said that I don’t have that right when someone leaves a review. I have to accept whatever they say about the book. She kept putting things on that feed about me and my book and my ‘supposed’ attitude etc and then proceeded to write a really bad, nasty, angry review for my book the next day. I’m sure she did not read the whole book, but also commented about using cliches, which I didn’t think I did. So I put my book on a program online that totally assesses one’s writing. It’s an amazing wonderful program–AutoCrit. It’s been re-done to a really professional site now. I was surprised that in the cliche department it said I had none, but redundant words, using he/she and proper names in the beginning of sentences, and a few other things that jump out at me now on the first few pages even actually made me feel better about her bad review because now I am doing something about it. I’m making changes AutoCrit suggests and have the inside of the book re-printed because I’m told the story is good, fast reading, suspenseful, etc. I’m going to trust that’s true because I’ve been working on a sequel my readers asked for. So, you, Ruth Ann, have just confirmed for me I’m doing the right think instead of complaining or obsessing. Thank you so much! I really look forward to your blogs. Have a great day!

    1. I’m glad I could be helpful!

      It’s unfortunate that the woman you mentioned didn’t understand that you were looking at what you could do to make your book better. It’s clear to me you weren’t trying to trash the reviewer. Your comment is so clear and well written that I can tell your motivation was to get an idea of how you can improve as a writer.

      I haven’t heard of AutoCrit. I’ll check it out.

      Regarding the whole thing with cliches, I had to chuckle. I’ve gotten some “needs editing” comments in some of my reviews. I had the fortune of talking to one of my fans who had made that comment, so I asked her what she meant by that because it was something that was troubling me. I go through editors and have a grammar book that I often refer to. So she gave me some examples of what she meant, and these had to do with comma usage. It turned out she didn’t understand the proper use of commas. So it was her misunderstanding of the rules that made her think I was using my commas wrong. This makes me wonder if the person who mentioned your cliches understands what a cliche is. Given that AutoCrit didn’t pick up any, I suspect that’s the case.

      But honestly, writers and editors read books differently than your average reader does. We are trained to find the things that are wrong in a book. We agonize over the details to the point where it can be difficult to enjoy the book. Your general readers are looking more at the story, and if they enjoy it, they don’t care if there’s a cliche or if a sentence starts with a proper name or he/she. When I hear from people who don’t write or edit book, the feedback is so different. All they want is to be entertained, and if they’re entertained, they’re happy. Writers and editors are a lot harder to satisfy. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work on polishing up our writing skills. That’s important, but readers aren’t looking those details. If you get a review mentioning anything about edits or a character that is two-dimensional or some other “writer/editor comment”, I would say that particular reviewer is reading the book as a writer/editor. They aren’t reading it as a general reader would. As you so well pointed out, a general reader cares most about whether a story is “good, fast reading, suspenseful, etc”.

  5. MishaBurnett says:

    I would add to this: “If possible, learn from it.” Every novel that I have published so far has had problems, and every one has had reviews that pointed out those problems. I’ve taken the complaints that readers have had about my books and used them to make my next one better.

    1. Yes, that is a great point! Taking the complaints from a book and making your next book better is a good idea. In that way, you can use that to grow as a writer. I’ve done the same thing as long as they have a valid point that I can use to any of my books.

  6. P. C. Zick says:

    Thank you – I needed this after receiving a poor review on one of my most beloved novels. All the reviews thus far had been outstanding so it only follows that I would receive this one. I’m ignoring and moving forward. Only way to go because as you point out, it comes with the territory. We put ourselves out there each time we publish, and the more we publish and the higher our recognition factor rises, the more likely it will be to receive the negative review. Glad you reminded us all not to take ourselves too seriously.

    1. The fact that you have reviewers who love your book tells me that your book is good. If you were getting all 1 or 2-star reviews, then there would be a reason to worry. 🙂 But that’s not the case with your book. You have people who enjoy it. It could very well be that the reason those people loved your book is the reason why this particular person didn’t. It is hard when you find out someone doesn’t like your book. It does get easier the more you write and publish books, but I remember how hard it was to get over the hurdle the first few times it happened. Hang in there. It will get better. 🙂

      1. P. C. Zick says:

        I would like to add that there have been times when constructive criticism has been given in a review, and I’ve really analyzed what I can do to improve my writing. Those are the best reviews even if the “star” rating isn’t the highest. But they are rare. Most folks who write a bad review don’t give the feedback to help the author improve.

        1. I agree. They are the best reviews because they leave you with something you can work with. A blanket statement from someone saying, “This book was the worst. The characters were awful. Don’t waste your money.” That does nothing to help either the author or potential readers. I much prefer it if the reviewer gives specifics on “why” the book didn’t work for them. (It’s even better if they can be kind while giving their criticism.) 😀

          1. P. C. Zick says:

            If they aren’t kind, it says more about them than it does about the author or the book!

  7. dorothypaula says:

    Dear Ruth, thank you for this uplifting article. I can relate to it 100%. I suspect the book you’re referring to that you hated is the same one I wouldn’t buy or read for free. The bits excerpted in the reviews and plot summaries were enough to turn my stomach. As far as bad reviews of my books, I’ve had my share. But the good reviews, even those with constructive criticism that I can use to better my writing, are greatly appreciated. Thank you, Ruth, as always, for inspiring your fans and fellow writers not to give up on our hopes and dreams. ❤ 🙂

    1. Hi Paula! Given what you write, I don’t think you would like the book, either. It is pretty much the opposite of the uplifting messages you give your readers. I honestly can’t understand why so many people love that particular book. Maybe it’s the shock factor.

      I’m not a big proponent of going back and rewriting books to satisfy the critics. I do, however, see the value is taking valid points someone makes about our work and doing better for the next book. But I would see these more as critiques than criticisms. Someone mentioning something broad enough that it can apply to everything we write is definitely useful information. 🙂

  8. Ruth, this post came just in time. I just received a one-star review of one of my books that until now had no bad reviews. And I didn’t even bother to read the review. I was checking on my books on Amazon and noticed this new one-star review and just ignored it.

    1. Since you had good reviews up to now, I would say your book is good because you’ve pleased some people. In my opinion, the best time to worry about changing a book is during the editing stage. Once the book is done and you’re happy with it, it’s time to put it rest and let it go out into the world. I have yet to come across a book that everyone loved. Sooner or later, someone will come along who hates it. I would focus on pleasing my fans because they’re the ones who’ll buy our future books. Good for you not letting this get you down. 🙂

  9. It took me awhile to learn to accept bad reviews. Some of my bad reviews are mean spirited, and those kind aren’t constructive at all. I’ve had some reviewers that even lied about some things in my books. So I just kind of laugh about them now. When I choose a book to buy, I usually read the sample and the blurb and ignore most of the reviews. I don’t trust them anymore.

    I will add that a bad review that’s thoughtfully written and gives good information can really help an author see where there can be improvement.

    1. The review that I think of the most in relation to your book went something like, “Buy a soda instead of this book.” There is nothing valuable in that kind of review at all. It’s similar to the person who said they hated one of my books so much they were ready to throw the Kindle at the wall (but didn’t because they loved their Kindle too much). This is the kind of “Your book sucked” criticism I’m really talking about in this post.

      The only reason I check reviews on a book I want to read is because I want to know if there’s a sad ending or a cliffhanger. If either applies, I don’t get the book. Otherwise, I go by the description and will buy it. Only if I’m on the fence about the book will I check out the sample.

  10. Very well put, Ruth. Everyone has their own opinion, their likes and dislikes. Ignoring bad comments/reviews about your book is the best way, otherwise, it’s just self-harm really. Mentally! ^_^

    1. Yes, exactly! And it makes you second guess what made the book so wonderful to you when you were writing it. I think the reason we have our fans is because we’re writing something that works for them. If we worry about why someone doesn’t like our book, it could cause us to change the way we see our work, which, in turn, could end up disappointing our fans. (I made this mistake by changing four books a couple years ago to please people who didn’t like my books, and my fans were not happy with the new versions. I ended up going back to the originals.)

  11. Barb says:

    Wait a minute, Ruth Ann….holy cow. One of my books received the same exact review, using the same exact words…”I hated this book so much I wanted to throw my Kindle at the wall, but I didn’t because I love my Kindle too much.”

    No kidding. Exact phrasing. If this would’ve been the first review I’d ever received I would’ve been devastated, but I’d received a 100+ great reviews on the book before that, so I was able to laugh about it…and as you say…figured it was the reader’s personal preference, not the writing.

    But now you’re making me think it was something different. Your exact experience tells me there are trolls who simply get a kick out of leaving horrendous reviews. That’s rather sad.

    Here’s a little trick I use, maybe others will find it helpful. I usually DO NOT look at my own reviews, particularly when I’m buried deep in the writing stage of a book. A fellow writer and I trade “Review Reading.” We read each other’s reviews and let each other know what readers are enjoying and criticizing, so we can improve our writing without letting the words of a caustic critique eat up personal brain time and creative energy.

    I don’t think anyone can get be in the business of writing without getting a butt-kicking and a bucket of icy criticism every now and then, but isn’t that the universal truth about any creative effort? Some folks will like it, others hate it, and a few will rant just because they’re unhappy in life and need to vent on someone.

    Great supportive post, Ruth Ann, but then, that’s who you are…a writer’s friend.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who don’t like self-published books who go around leaving the same kind of review on all the ones they can find.

      Excellent point on having someone else look over the reviews for us! I have my husband look at them for me, and I’ll tell him if there are any specifics the review mentions that might be helpful (such as not getting something right about a certain time period or if I rambled on too much at a specific point in the story) that I can use to improve my writing. I also ask him if there’s anything that keeps popping up in the positive reviews so I can keep doing what works.

      What you said is exactly right. There will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do when you’re in the creative arts. Taste is just too subjective to please everyone, and there are people who will be downright mean when they say why they hate a book. I see no reason to resort to some of the nasty comments I’ve seen. Objective and fair are much more effective.

      Thank you!

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