cyber-bullyingI’ve read a couple of articles this week on author bullying, fan culture and negative reviews, and I’ve taken a few days to let the ideas simmer before writing this essay.

As an author, I’m sensitive to the subject. But I’m also a reader, and that allows me to see both sides of the issue.

No, I don’t approve of author bullying—or any kind of bullying, for that matter—and I’ve seen too much about the bullying culture on GoodReads to be happy about what appears to be going on there. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes take place when the sale to Amazon is finalized. I certainly see bullying behavior in Amazon reviews and forums, so I doubt it’ll go away completely.

On the other hand, not all negative reviews are bullying, or even bad. Some authors take negative reviews or one- and two-star ratings too personally. As a reader, I want to point out that I have purchased books based on two-star reviews. When I’m deciding, I read the spectrum, and sometimes reading what someone else didn’t like reassures me that the book contains something I do like.

That’s why the article on romance blogs and the culture of never giving less than three stars bothered me. Not all criticism is bad. If a reviewer never reviews critically, it calls their objectivity into question, and lowers the value of their reviews.

I struggle with this when I review books and apps. Honestly, I rarely finish a book I don’t like, so I’m not likely to write a one- or two-star review of a book. Maybe that’s a flaw with me as a reviewer, but I don’t like wasting my time reading a book I don’t like. So I try to temper the reviews of books I do finish with pointing out at least one thing I don’t like in a book.

Apps are easier. It doesn’t take as long to find the flaws in an app as in a book, and I’ve been pretty critical of apps. (I still remember an email I received from a developer thanking me for the review, but mentioning it wasn’t quite what they were hoping for.)

Let me close by reminding readers that authors spend a lot of time writing their books. If you don’t like a book, fine. But please refrain from personal attacks. Writing a bad book doesn’t make an author a bad person. And one person’s bad book is an “instant classic” to another reader.

And authors, take criticism in stride. Remember that sometimes bad reviews actually sell your books. Even though they hurt, they are often a reflection of the reader more than the author. And if you’re self-published and get enough constructive criticism, you have the freedom to change the book to improve it.


  1. As a reader and as a writer, the only thing that really irritates me is people who say bad things about a book but don’t give a reason. Comments such as “It was full of mistakes” or “I didn’t like it,” are not terribly useful without examples of why you think that. If a reviewer complains about a “mistake” that’s actually just unfamiliar idioms, or their reason for not liking the book is because it doesn’t have a happy ending, then I (and other readers) know how much weight to give to that complaint. Even positive reviews are much for useful for all concerned when they’re specific. Show your work, as my math teacher used to say!

  2. I think Joanna is wrong about not reviewing books that made you drop them, as long as the reviewer says why the book was dropped. The information is just as important as a reader saying she couldn’t put the book down–except, of course, it is the opposite reaction. What matters in a review is the bit about why you failed to complete it or what it was about the book that kept your attention riveted.

    This information should be of interest to writers who plan to keep on writing: Was this person simply not your intended audience? What misdirected them to this book? And of course, if it is the right audience, then how could you have done it better? These are the kind of questions professional reviewers cannot answer for you because they come from ordinary people, not from people studied in writing and literature.

  3. I had a reviewer criticize me for not explaining fully something that’s an understood trope in the genre (a vampire unable to enter a residence without an invitation). All it did was demonstrate that he’s not a regular reader of vampire books. The critique amused me.

  4. I usually only red the 3 or less reviews unless the book description isn’t clear. Guess what I am trying to say is, I wouldn’t have a large backlog of books in my que to read, if negative reviews were not useful.

  5. All authors often have to deal with negative reviews, that’s why they have to develop thick skin to not take things personally. For me, I personally think that if an author handle the criticism right and professionally, a really good relationship can open up between an author and a reader. Just think of the bright side, better to have negative reviews than a zero review, good to know that there are people who really gives interest and read your book . No one is going to love everything, you can’t please everyone , do what you love and write what you like and share your work to a target market that would really appreciate your book.

  6. @LP, I’m actually “Juli” not “Joanna.”

    I will leave Amazon reviews for books I haven’t finished. I just don’t write reviews for sites like this if I haven’t finished them. That doesn’t seem professional to me.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail