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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Barnfather

The Dreaded Bad Review

Updated: Apr 10

This is a hot topic; a pain point extraordinaire! There are many opinions about what to do after you receive a bad review or, more importantly, what not to do. Like a good little blogger, I've researched writers' -- and readers' -- thoughts on the subject with a focus that borders on obsession. First, it's important I define what I think constitutes a "bad review". Why? Because there's contentious debate over the various interpretations of the word "bad". For example, some writers believe any rating less than four stars is "bad". Some believe all criticism on a public forum is "bad". Some believe criticism from friends and family is "bad", but the rest is okay. Some writers won't leave reviews at all -- they believe it's 'over their pay grade' to make their peers' work the subject of authorial analysis.

Due to the complex -- and personal -- nature of the definition, let's keep it simple and go with mine. This is my blog, after all. If you disagree, wonderful! If you agree, wonderful! If you are intrigued by my perspective, but aren't sure how you feel (say it with me)... wonderful!


What is a bad review?

1. Any criticism that's framed as fact. Good critical reviewers know that Art (fiction) is subjective.

2. When the reviewer is clearly not talking about your book because they mention characters or plot points that aren't... in your book.

3. When you -- the author -- are personally criticized, not your story.

4. Extreme generalizations: The Worst Book Ever, The Writer Doesn't Know What They're Doing, Everything This Author Creates is Terrible, Do Not Support This Artist, etc.

What isn't a bad review?

1. Opinions stated as opinions.

2. Preferences stated as preferences.

3. Recommendations to try other books, or comparisons to other authors.

4. A star rating. Any star rating.

Why am I so loosey-goosey about my definition? Because reviewers have the right to say what they want -- the way they want -- just like authors get to write what we want. If we can create, uncensored, critical readers need places to articulate their thoughts about our stories. Review platforms provide that place. Free speech is important -- but getting a bad review can still hurt.

As a performer and producer, I've had my share of bad reviews. I've received criticism that's been fair, unfair, totally valid and helpful -- and comically biased. AND I survived. AND I'm still creating art. So don't stress about the bad reviews. They happen, a lot, and there's a lot you can do after you get one.

Like what?

In some cases, you can ignore them. In some cases, you can ask for a meeting with the reviewer to inquire about specific concerns; calmly, patiently, and with the goal of better understanding their critiques. In some cases you can scream, throw pillows, lock your manuscripts in a closet, and set your books on fire -- privately, or around people who get it.

But never -- NEVER -- attack reviewers. Never publicly humiliate them. Never spread vicious untruths about them. Never call them out by name or role. You have the ability to respond in a manner that is healthy, helpful, and benefits your artistic career. If a reviewer lies* about you or your work -- or tries to cause drama -- report them to the review platform.

*if you are being cyber-harassed and you live in Canada, scroll to the bottom of this blog

Then what?

We receive reviews through a variety of internal filters: Business, Creative, Emotional, and Philosophical. All are valid, and some are stronger than others, but each requires different response mechanisms. Some writers say they love bad reviews, and even thank Unkind Critics** (methinks the author doth fawn too much), but if you bum hard after you get slammed, acknowledge whatever reaction you have -- then try my recommended processing strategies.

**there's a difference between a Critic and an Unkind Critic: Critics are supposed to find things in your work that need improvement -- it's their job to hold creators accountable for their content to improve the quality of our discourse -- but critics who leave a bad review are just kinda cruel

What can you do when you've got the bad review blues?


...a bad review is good -- celebrate! Keep writing! Use the critique to build your brand!


  • a bad review is authentic -- you aren't tricking consumers with purchased product reviews

  • gracefully handling a 'hit' shows you have the capacity to stick around -- and readers like investing in a creator who'll consistently deliver without biting back

  • your marketing strategy works -- you aren't invisible!

...a bad review is bad -- take a deep breath. Review your sales stats. Think about your big-picture plan and realistically assess if changes in your work need to happen.


  • readers might not purchase your book or next book if there's a low star rating or hyper-critical review on your sales platform (Truth Time: I know LOTS of people who won't buy a book / watch a movie / go to a restaurant / book a hotel if its rating average is 80% or less)

  • it might tank your audience visibility -- you won't be seen by readers who could like your book, if only they knew about it

  • an incorrect -- though well-written -- critique could impact neutral or impartial readers' impressions of your work (and future work) unfavourably


...a bad review is good -- jump with joy! Use the criticism to improve! Be grateful you live in a society that supports conversation to enrich and expand our human experience!


  • bad reviews are wonderful for the reading and writing community -- content discussions are awesome, especially heated debates! Yum yum!

  • at least your book isn't boring -- if a reader has a visceral reaction to your writing they have an opportunity to discover more about their world and their boundaries!

  • the criticism could be valid or constructive -- think about it!

  • if Unkind Critics are noticing you, you're in the Literary Mix -- yay!

...a bad review is bad -- take a giant step back. Create something you'll never seek feedback about. Read a book from your favourite author's canon. Draw. Sing. Dance. Play. Don't let the Unkind Critic's words taint what you love. Come back to writing when you're ready.


  • a bad review sparks the fear that 'this could be the beginning of the end' of your career

  • harsh reviews feed imposter syndrome; that pervasive sense of self-doubt that whispers 'I might legitimately stink'


...a bad review is good -- well, cool. You are a mature, self-actualized, confident adult. Congrats. Go about your business and have a nice day.


  • unlike 90% of Artists, you genuinely don't care what people think about your work -- or you don't worry about long-term consequences -- or you have an overflowing bank account -- or you've built up impressive defence mechanisms that deny-repress-reject -- or you haven't had decades of hurtful and deeply personal public attacks that've impacted your ability to maintain a robust self-esteem *bends over while wheezing into a bag*

...a bad review is bad -- yeah! This makes more sense to me. You fall into the overwhelming majority. Wheeeee! What to do? Feel and Deal. Drink water. Go for a run. Talk to a supportive friend or family member. Vent (privately). Eat healthy calories. Take a nap. HIDE YOUR PHONE. Step away from your computer. Avoid people who talk about your bad reviews. Take a bubble bath. Throw axes. TAKE A LONG BREAK FROM WRITING. Don't read your reviews (some writers never asses public feedback, especially if they're repped or traditionally published). Ignore people who invalidate your feelings (aka 'Get Over It' -- you will get over it, after you've appropriately processed the breadth of your emotional response).


  • bad reviews feed the inner critic ("Oh, look at that -- I am a terrible writer, just like my worries tell me")

  • they cast a shadow over "good" reviews: 'What if the others are wrong? What if readers are lying? What if my friends are lying? What if they only said nice things to manipulate me so I'd like them, or buy their books, or return the favour?' Ick. Spiral-city.

  • you are a human -- humans have feelings -- feelings are deeper and more impactful when they're about things that are important to us -- being upset over a bad review means you care -- and you should care about your writing, otherwise what are you doing?


...a bad review is good -- verrrrrrrrry cool. You understand the ebb and flow of art and opinion. Whip out your Jon Kabat-Zinn to remind yourself why you get it. Ground and chill, then let the world unfold as it will. Enjoy the luxury of getting to express yourself in a meaningful way. Lots of humans struggle with it. Your ability to tell stories is a gift that no bad review can return. Sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster of life. It's the valleys that make peaks worth peaking.


  • art is subjective so reviews are subjective

  • art is subjective so reviews are subjective

  • art is subjective so reviews are subjective -- people's words only matter if you want them to matter

...a bad review is bad -- ummmmm... it shouldn't. Maybe whip out Kabat-Zinn to get a better understanding of his teachings. Throw some Rumi in there, too. Hell, give yourself a hug while you're at it. And find some chocolate.

Thanks for reading! As always, chuck your thoughts in the comments. I won't respond unkindly if you disagree with what I've shared -- I promise.

If you or your loved ones are being threatened by a reviewer or aggressively trolled, keep all evidence of their behaviour and go to the police. In Canada we have cybercrime units that handle harassment, defamation, and stalking claims.

Check these out:

Government of Canada

City of Calgary Harassment Resources

Legal Consequences of Cyberbullying -- defamatory libel is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada and is punishable for up to 5 years in prison

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