Success Part 2: Why Critical Reviews Are A Good Thing

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Author, Author Advice, Publishing, Writing | 8 comments

If you’re paying close attention, you’ll see I said “Critical” as opposed to “Bad.” Why you ask? Because there is a difference.

Getting a 1 or 2 star review on something you’ve worked hard on sucks, but it’s inevitable. Since you’ve done your research (right?) you know we all get bad reviews and there is no way around it. The key is deciphering that which is bad from that which is critical.

A bad review tears apart your book, you as the author, and maybe even the editor (or lack there of). It can be one or any combination of those things. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, the fact of the matter is any person is allowed their point of view. They’re expressing their opinion and that’s to be respected. A bad review however, does nobody justice and therefore, it does not matter. What matters is the customer. Writing a bad review for the “next potential victim customer” who might be interested in a book or product doesn’t help them. Writing a critical review on the other hand…that has value.

The critical review is usually a 3 star or lower rating. Of course there can be critical points in any review, whether it is 4 stars or even 5, but in general, you’ll see them more regularly in the 3 and lower categories. There’s two things that are great about these. First, they help the consumer. I don’t care if your book is glowing with 5 star or covered in the shadows of 1 star reviews. The critical review is the most helpful. Second, they help you as the author.

Don’t think this makes sense? I’ll give you a personal example.

I’ve been lucky. If you haven’t checked out Amazon or Goodreads to see the reviews on Exiled, you may not realize this, but both Exiled and Shift have received incredible reviews. Shift’s rating is a little higher, but that’s because a) It hasn’t been out for as long as Exiled and therefore has less reviews and b) because most of the people reading it are people who liked Exiled enough to give the sequel a chance. For argument sake I’m using Exiled as an example.

In the past, I have personally been told by MANY readers, that they wouldn’t read my books. Not because they’re mine, or because my dashing good looks intimidate them, but because Exiled had so many 5 star reviews. A lot of readers aren’t interested in any book with nothing but rave reviews, and in my opinion, that’s a perfectly reasonable approach. Since then, I’ve also put a few scathing reviews under my belt. Some telling me I’m an idiot, I slept through basic English class, and I’m exactly the type of writer that gives all self-published authors a bad name. Those are not exact quotes, but they’re accurate. The point is, they don’t matter. At least not in my opinion. I don’t think those reviews  help anybody who is trying to decide if they should read my book or not. Sure, if someone is on the fence and sees all these 5 star reviews and only a few 1 stars with nothing in between, they very well might decide to follow the 1 star review, but is it really helpful? What if they missed out? What if they would’ve loved this series but the review just wasn’t there to help them decide? The opposite is true if they decide to go solely on all the 5 star reviews. What if they just wasted their money due to a lack of information?

Enter the critical review to save the day.

Once upon a time I’d say all 5 star reviews is what you want, but now I see variety is where it’s at. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a 3 star review instead of a 5 star, but for a while, there was an audience of readers I was missing because of a lack of critical reviews. When I get one now, I see that it’s a GOOD thing. Some people like the book but have issues with *insert their personal reasoning here* while others dislike the book for *insert their personal reasoning here.* These are good for me because I’m getting variety. These are the reviews that are going to help someone who might let my book slide on by because they couldn’t find the useful feedback they wanted. 5 stars doesn’t sell everybody on a product just as 1 stars do not necessarily deter people from your product. I know you think that if you have some bad reviews your book will stop selling but it won’t. You need bad reviews, you need amazing reviews, and you need critical reviews. They’re all going to help your book in different ways.

You wrote your book for readers to enjoy and as much as you want that next sale, it’s not as important as having your book in the right reader’s hands. No matter what happens, you cannot, and will not, appeal to everyone. That’s a fact. You need people from all sides of the fence talking about your book; why they loved it, why they hated it, what they were “just okay” with. This isn’t just for sales, this is for you too.

I always recommend you have a “Do Not Read” policy when it comes to reviews. The good will never be good enough, and if it is, it won’t lasts long enough. The bad will hurt and tear at your insides for longer than it should, and you’ll doubt everything you’ve worked for so far. However, if you are going to read your reviews, keep an open mind. Be able to discern the bad from the critical, because inside those critical reviews is an endless fountain of knowledge. It’s a personal account of your story from someone telling you why they liked or didn’t like it. As long as you remember that you don’t have to take every piece of advice given, this WILL make you a better writer. You take what you can away from it and you move on. You can’t just add romance into a book because a handful of readers expected it but didn’t get it. You can however, add romance in because you realize you want it to be a part of your book. Maybe you thought you had it but you just missed the mark. These reviews will help you figure that out.

To be fair, and hopefully cover all my bases, don’t forget there are also a huge amount of customers who don’t ever read the reviews. They check out the product, read the description, and they go from there. What anybody else thought about the product doesn’t matter, they’ll decide for themselves without any assistance.

As a writer, or creator of any product you plan to deliver to the masses, you need to be aware that reviews, whether good or bad, are only contributing factors on your journey. They do not define you, brand you, or destroy you in one single swoop. They are a small piece of the puzzle that is your future success. Don’t believe me? Go and check out some of your favorite books. You’ll see they have ratings across the board from people who love them, hate them, or couldn’t care less. You know, or at least you should, that when you get into this business, you’re up for critique. If you put yourself in the public eye, you will be judged. What you do with that judgement however, is up to you.


  1. Great post! I agree completely… I find new books by reading reviews and the more contrasting opinions and variety in the rating the more I am intrigued by it.

    Also as a side note, bad reviews sometimes have the reverse effect. I bet you the hard-core haters of books like Twilight sold just as many copies as the glowing “this is the best thing ever” reviews. Twilight is a good example because people who hate it, HATE IT, and never stop talking about it…

    I have chosen to read books because a scathing 1 star review piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know what the author did to make this person so very angry.

  2. It's interesting how bad reviews can be good for a book. It's like the bad reviews give the good ones a bit of credibility because too many good reviews and people start to wonder if those reviews are just family and friends being nice. Usually, I never read reviews before I buy a book. The cover and blurb are enough for me

  3. Great post Matt! Personally when I read reviews, I go for the 2,3,4 stars. The 1 and 5 stars are TOO passionate. Everything is wrong, or everything is perfect – either are rarely, very rarely for me, the case with books. I need to know what the middle ones are saying. What they liked and didn't in a non passionate way, so usually more level headed way. Not saying the 5 star raving reviews aren't fine to read, but I won't usually based my decisions on those. I have my favorites and I've raved, but except for maybe Hunger Games, that passion is rarely shared the “majority”.

    Also, I know there's been some talk about the 3-star reviews. To me, a 3-star is still good and falls under the “good” along with 4 and 5, not with the 1s and 2s. Just, you know, putting it out there that a LOT of reviewers will rate 3-stars as: I enjoyed it. It just didn't wow us. That's why a LOT of (especially bloggers) rating averages are around 4.5, where mine and the stricker star giver is lower than 3.8. For someone who usually only gives 4-5s, a 3 star is not as good. But for someone who rarely gives 5s and 4s means it was super awesome (like me), a 3 is given quite commonly so it's not “bad”. Whatever, I'm babbling aren't I?

    OK bye bye.

    • I completely agree. I didn't mean to come across as though a 3 star review was bad. In fact, I find the 2 and 3 to be the most valuable, from both a reader's and a writer's perspective.

      And I happen to like your babbling!

  4. Matt, you are so right. Your outlook on the subject of negative reviews is one that I wished more authors would share. I think there is a lot to be learned from critical reviews. But let's be honest. Most people (myself included) have a tough time reading critical reviews of something they have worked on and not getting upset. I still think its worth the effort to try and get the word out there though. Because I think the way you look at things is a much more positive approach to life and dealing with people. I bet you are a much happier person because of this.

    • I really am. Maybe it's something that just comes with time? I know when I get a negative review now (and they come much more regularly now), I can brush it aside somewhat with ease. Well, most of the time. I'm by no means a pro at taking a hit, but I do my best.

      I try not to read reviews much anymore, but when I do, sometimes it just takes a day or two of letting it settle. That way you can take your emotion out of the equation and sift the gold from the sand.

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone. Just like so many things in our lives, taste is subjective, so naturally people approach reviews differently,how the write them and respond to them (as both a reader and a writer) and we all enjoy books that others hate, and vice versa.

    It's so great to see that other people, with completely different approaches to buying, reading, and writing books, can agree on this!

  6. YES YES YES! I tried explaining all this to someone not long ago and they weren't getting it. I want to see a variety of reviews on a book. If its all rave reviews I get suspicious or I just wonder what is in the book that I might not like. If someone gets more critical and says the character development was lacking and the characters never grew then I might wait a bit or check out more reviews. If someone says the world building was great but they weren't able to overlook the lack of romance I know that might be one I would enjoy because romance isn't a must- have in my books. Not great exambles, but hopefully you get the idea.
    Absolutely fantastic post!

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