Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Negative Reviews

Recently, I received my first negative review of Survival Colony 9. Not negative as in, “Reading this book will induce vomiting.” But negative as in, “This book isn’t very good.” The best you could say about the review is that the reviewer got my name right.

If you’re going to write books, you’re going to get negative reviews. Take a look at the online reviews for any book you love. Any book that’s a bestseller. A Newbery medalist. An acknowledged classic. It’s a sure thing someone out there hated it. Usually lots of someones.

So the question isn’t, “Will I get negative reviews?” The question is, “How will I respond when I do?”

There are lots of options, ranging from despair to disregard. Some writers send nasty letters to their reviewers. Those writers, in my opinion, need to get a grip.

I've learned to live with negative reviews. When I was writing academic books in years past, I got plenty of them. (And academic reviews can be really nasty and personal--no cuss words, but lots of snide innuendo and invective.) If you’re fearful of receiving a negative review or struggling because you did receive one, here’s what I’d tell you:

  • First, remember that all reviews help spread the word about your book. In my case, the review I’m referring to appeared in a journal widely read by teachers, librarians, and others. Some of them might be turned off by the review. Others, however, will decide that my book sounds interesting and seek it out. It’s far better to be reviewed negatively than not at all.
  • Second, remember that all reviews reflect individual opinions, regardless of where they’re published. Sure, if a less-than-glowing review appears in the New York Times, you might feel as if the entire journalistic establishment hates your book. But in reality, that’s only a single reader, the same as the single reader on Goodreads who loves your book. (And if you apply point #1 above, you should be ecstatic that the Times is reviewing you, no matter what the review says!)
  • Third and by far most important, remember why you became a writer in the first place. Did you do so because you wanted to be universally adored? Because you wanted to make millions? If you did, I can’t help you. But if, like most of us, you became a writer because you love writing, because you want to connect with individual readers, because you dream of holding a book in your hands that you yourself wrote—well, then, a negative review doesn’t take any of that away. Not one bit. A negative review can hurt you as a writer only if you lose sight of why you’re a writer. And if you lose sight of that, you probably shouldn’t be writing anymore.

So to all my future negative reviewers, I have this to say: thank you for reading my book. Thank you for sharing your honest opinion.

And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to get back to writing.

Joshua David Bellin's debut, the YA science fiction adventure SURVIVAL COLONY 9, comes out September 23, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). You can connect with Josh via Twitter @TheYAGuy, on Facebook, or via his website. His launch party's already planned, so if you're going to be in the Pittsburgh area on September 23, please drop by! Though his writing gets reviewed negatively from time to time, most people who meet him give him a thumbs up as a person.


  1. Sorry about your negative review, Josh, but I think you have a great attitude about it. I recently received a harsh review from Publishers Weekly in the Amazon contest (they had some good things to say, but the negative was hard to read), but like you say, even if it comes from an important source such as this one, it's still one person's opinion. And just as this person didn't like some things about the novel, there's been others in the industry who have loved it. So I guess we have to train ourselves to focus on the positive, right?

    Thank you so much for those three tips. I'll admit I was happy the review wasn't made public but I see your point now. I'm bookmarking this article to remember this when I get another one of those!