My Writing Journal

Harmful Book Reviews and Personal Attacks

On July 28th, 2014, I wrote about negative book reviews. My simple advice to my newly published author friends: use any constructive criticism and ignore the insults from their bad reviews, the hurtful words, which inflicted such emotional pain. One of them abandoned her penname and switched genres.

But almost two years later I’m back on the same topic.


Why rehash something already covered?

Because it’s important. Because it’s not only about bad book reviews, although this post will focus on them.

No, the issue is not negative reviews; it is how some reviewers write them without caring how it’ll affect the author. It’s about how people treat other people. How we interact with each other. And how reviewers hide behind their screens and feel justified to attack a person or their work.

Authors need reviews; they’re crucial for their publishing careers.

However some reviewers sling insult upon insult as though authors are not human beings, as if they don’t have any feelings. And it is immensely, utterly wrong.

Yes, WRONG! (My editor would kill me for the shouty caps, but I want to shout.) It isn’t showing respect for one another. Don’t you agree?

Many authors read every single review.

They really love the positive ones: where the reader identifies with a character, where the reader cries over a scene, where the book touches them. When readers say that the book changed them, then it’s a home run.

They dislike the negative reviews, however they understand that not everyone will like their books, but the harmful ones, well, they rip a new author apart. It can even dissuade an author from continuing to write. They may never write another word again, even if they may have better books already forming in their heads. Writers will only become great authors by writing. Just pick up the first book of an author you like and see how much they’ve grown, how you love their newest work more than their first.

The lack of sensitivity can wound the soul of any person, but more so for the vulnerable writers who share pieces of themselves in every book they write.

It’s not that a reviewer doesn’t have every right to state that they didn’t like the book and why, but they do not have the right to throw insulting words like they’re confetti at a ticker tape parade.

Because words, my friends, are powerful. They can lift a person up or push them down to the bottom of a dark, slushy pit, which is impossible to climb out of without the help of friends.

Words can build or destroy a person’s self-esteem; they can inspire or dishearten a person.

And authors spend enough time self-doubting themselves, wondering if others will enjoy that one book after slaving thousands of hours, they don’t need any help. Yes, authors spend so many hours plotting, writing, thinking, editing, re-editing, one book. And they probably spend an equal number of hours worrying about whether anyone will like it, they don’t need to read horrible words in a review. They’ve already beaten themselves up enough.

These books become their babies and when someone bashes one or them, well it creates deep rips in the authors’ hearts. When a reviewer lashes out against a book, the author’s pain is like the one a parent feels when their child is bullied.

It’d be fantastic if book reviewers remembered to focus on the book, because behind books are authors, who just exposed a part of themselves to the world. Everyone is vulnerable to negative words, especially new authors without a fan base encouraging them to continue.

A negative review won’t harm the author, if the reviewer states that the book wasn’t for them or they couldn’t connect with the main character or even that they didn’t like any of the characters. It might saddened authors that someone didn’t like their baby, but it’s much better than calling a book dumb, stating that it’s the worst book ever written, that the characters are idiots, stupid, or that the author should never write another book.

Do reviewers realize how their words affect authors?

Most likely not.

But since honest reviews are necessary for a book’s success, reviewers can use kinder, gentler words when expressing why they disliked the book. And perhaps reviewers should mention one redeeming feature, even if it’s that they loved the cover the author chose; it may just help an author not to fall apart or worse quit.

And if you’re sending a text or an email, please stop and think if your words will be hurtful or uplifting. Show your love to others by using intentional words to inspire greatness, to motivate them, even when pointing out negative issues.

Let’s love one another… always!



14 thoughts on “Harmful Book Reviews and Personal Attacks

  1. I’m pretty sure that reviews are meant for readers, not for authors. A lot of writers advise not to ever, ever, ever read reviews.

    Of course, I don’t follow that advise myself, and I have been negatively impacted because of it. On the whole, though, my writing has gotten better because I have listened to what readers have said.

    • I deleted the explanation that while reviews are for the readers, many authors still read them.

      I agree that there are some reviewers, who provide constructive criticism, which an author can learn from.
      But there are those reviewers who step over the line.
      My first blog on reviews was written so I can reread it when my first negative reviews comes in; because of course I’ll ignore the advice not to read the reviews and follow the footsteps of so many authors. 😉

      • I’ve got too small a sample size to say anything definitive, but out of around 40 reviews total, I haven’t deemed any out of line. Granted, some of them weren’t nice, but I think they were justified. These readers plopped down $5 for my book and didn’t enjoy the experience. They have every right to complain about what they didn’t like. And I’m glad they did because I won’t be making those mistakes again. Instead, I’ll make other mistakes 🙂

  2. If I may offer a gentle critique of one more aspect of your post:

    “Authors need reviews; they’re crucial for their publishing careers.”

    I’m not all that experienced, but I do communicate with a lot of people over on kboards who are experienced. I’ve never found one successful indie writer who said, “Reviews are crucial!”

    There is a theory that reviews lend some kind of social proof to readers and just the presence of reviews can lead to a purchasing decision. The (admittedly anecdotal) experiences of writers don’t seem to back up that view.

    The only place where reviews seem to actually matter is that a lot of promotion sites require a certain number and rating for your book to be considered. That is an important consideration, but I’m not sure it’s “crucial.”

    • I understand your point and perhaps I should join these kboards to learn how these indies are becoming best sellers without placing an emphasis on reviews.
      Is it word of month and therefore reviews aren’t as crucial?
      If that’s the case sign me up, because I’m learning all I can about obtaining reviews before I publish.
      BTW: I love your gentle critique!

      • Audrey, I’m glad I could be of help. Once you’re ready to start thinking about the business side of indie publishing, I cannot emphasize enough how important reading the kboards writers’ cafe is. Before someone told me about that site, I was a babe in the woods. I still don’t feel like I know exactly what I’m doing, but I at least have some idea.

  3. It would be extremely helpful if, as an author, I didn’t care what anyone else thought about my books. Unfortunately, I do. In fact, that positive feedback from fans is what keeps me writing late in the night… I know my fans are waiting for the next book. I agree with your post that some reviewers write attacks in their reviews, and that probably happens more often because they are anonymous. Some even use offensive language and name-calling. Unfortunately, they have the “right” to do that. I simply don’t understand it because I would never purposefully hurt someone. I wish everyone felt the same and could express their opinions in a respectful, non-hurtful manner.
    I’ve heard it said that, “Reviews are for readers, not for authors,” and I’ve heard that reviews don’t make a difference in a book’s success. However, I’ve found a direct correlation between a large number of positive reviews and the sales of the book. In fact, Amazon let’s you search by average customer review. And, if two books have the same average and one has 5 reviews while the other has 100, I’m more likely to purchase the book with 100 reviews. I follow this same pattern with anything else I purchase on Amazon, so why would I believe readers are any different.
    I’ve also heard that if your skin is too thin to handle it, you shouldn’t publish a book and open yourself up to that kind of criticism. I’m afraid that’s true. And some days, I really think I might never publish another word…

  4. One more thought… I find the most angry and cutting reviews come from people who received the book free of charge during a promotion. Isn’t that interesting? Especially in light of the fact that I invested months and months of time and effort, along with a considerable amount of money, and offered the book at no cost, the reader is somehow offended that I wasted their time when he or she chose to download the book. That’s what makes me feel like giving up.

    • Ironic isn’t it. You decide to offer it for free and you have reviewers complaining. They could simply say “It wasn’t for me,” instead adding harmful comments.

      But you shouldn’t listen to the few voices, you need to focus on the majority of the readers, the ones that enjoy your stories and your writing.

      You’re not the only one who has experiencedIt’s one of the reasons I don’t think I’ll ever give a way my books. Perhaps for those who join my newsletter, but maybe not even then.

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