Pub Rants

So PW Hates Your Book

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STATUS: I’m really hoping to feel less congested tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SEASONS OF LOVE from the musical Rent

No doubt about it. It sucks when you get a negative review from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, or Kirkus. Although from Kirkus, we all kind of expect one since it’s so rare for them to write a good one. It’s almost badge of honor to get a bad review from Kirkus! Means you have arrived in publishing.

By all means, take a moment to be sad. Email close friends so you can get some immediate emotional support.

But don’t bother getting mad; get even.

And the best way to do that is to take the sting out of that bad PW review. You know it’s going to be out there on,, Borders, and your closest large Independent bookstore website. There’s nothing you can do to change that. All those websites will post the big reviews. But you can minimize the impact.


By gathering all the good reviews you can and by getting solid “must read this book” blurbs from well-known authors. Then you bug your editor or in-house publicist to bug their contact over at the main sites to also include all these other good things about your book.

With any luck, these sites will post new info as it comes in and that black eye of a PW review will be lost at the bottom of the page. Even if it’s still there, prominently coming up as the first before all other reviews, at least you have populated that page with all kinds of good stuff that any discerning reader can then weigh and judge if they want to buy the book. The one bad review won’t be center stage.

Action is the best medicine.

26 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Do these A**hole reviewers (and no I’ve never received a bad review from one)realize that THEY are part of the problem with what’s happening in the industry??? They are telling people NOT to buy and read books, and these very people make their living through people buying books. They’re agents doing this very thing on their blogs as well. It’s INSANE!!! These people are ultimately hurting themselves. With everything that’s already happened, why won’t these people wake up? There are people who have their jobs this very day because of the Twilight books, and yet they still go around telling everyone how bad a writer Meyer is. Don’t misunderstand: you can hate something, that’s fine; but why not just refuse to review it; only review those books you do enjoy???? Stay positive; keep the industry positive and let the readers decide for themselves regarding the books reviewers decide not to review because they didn’t like them. Industry heal thyself!!!

  2. Angie Frazier said:

    Great advice in this post! I dread the (inevitable, I’m sure) bad review of my debut book out next year. I’m just hoping there are more good reviews than bad. Action really is the best medicine!

  3. Kimber An said:

    As a writer, I can’t imagine it yet.

    As a reader and an unpaid, unprofessional blogging book reviewer, I can say that bad reviews really aren’t that bad.

    First of all, how much stock can I put in a reviewer who’s paid to review a book in a genre she already hates. You’d never get a positive review of a blood-and-guts Horror novel from me, for example. Yet, it might turn out to be an award-winning bestseller!

    Second of all, I’ve noticed readers follow reviewers who’s tastes they share. This means if the reader hates Horror, she’s going to pass on reviewers who love it.

    Thirdly, readers are smart. They know reviews are subjective.

    And, lastly, most importantly, even a bad review is good because it gets your book’s title and cover art out there in front of the readers. So, if DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES by Linnea Sinclair gets a stinky review, a reader may go, “Wait just a doggone minute! How could a book with that cool of a title be bad?” And she’ll buy it anyway.

  4. Tara Maya said:

    Frankly, I hate it when I’m shopping on Amazon and the major review is cruel or dismissive. I remember one review shich complained about a writer’s style, and gave an example of a “bad” sentence. I didn’t agree with the reviewer at all.

    I always read reader reviews first. I don’t necessarily take those at their word either, but there are more of them, so you can tell some people “get” the book and others, sometimes, just don’t. I think it gives a better sense if the book is for you or not.

    I think in the comment to another post, a published author mentioned this problem though — even after you have book out there on the shelves, you still have to deal with rejection.


  5. Karen H. said:

    I bow to your interesting post.

    As an author, my reviews in PW and Booklist came out in the SAME week. They were both as far apart on the scales; polar opposites. What I learned from this? Those reviews were from two different people; and though they were heavily weighted because they were from prestigious journals, I came to realize that this is all very subjective. Crikey, I haven’t liked every book I’ve read (or written, for that matter, but that’s between me and my laptop). You are right to encourage a trove of reader reviews on Amazon. My publisher gave me that same advice and it has served me well. Bravo!

  6. ryan field said:

    I’ve had some reviews that didn’t even make sense. Ah well. They usually all balance out in the end.

    But when I read a great book that I love, and when I admire and respect the way it was written, I believe it’s important to write my own review. I just did it recently about the latest book I read.

    And everyone else should do this, too. It takes all of five minutes to sign up on Amazon, and to be able to write a review you only have to make one purchase. There are used books there for one penny plus shipping. It’s worth the money.

  7. DebraLSchubert said:

    Interesting. As a songwriter, this reminds me of how things work on As a musical community, we review each others’ music. However, if you can only give a scathing or highly unflattering review, you’re encouraged to skip that song and move on to the next. This doesn’t mean you only give stellar reviews; only that you don’t give really bad ones.

    As a novel writer I’m clear that no matter how you slice it, getting a book written, spit-shined and polished, securing an agent, and being published is no small feat. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, hard work and commitment. Any book that ends up on the shelves of a bookstore (or in the hands of a book reviewer) deserves at least a little credit. IMHO.

  8. Madison said:

    No matter how good your book is, someone is not going to like it. You can’t please everyone. That’s how I would look at a bad review, no matter who wrote it.

    And then I’d go out and do like you said…put out the positive publicity! 😀

  9. JohnO said:

    Y’know, PW hated my last book when it was part of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Lottery (er, contest).

    Only problem was, they read about 5 percent of it. And got teensy little plot points wrong, which would have been obvious if they hadn’t skipped about 20 chapters.

    But oh well. I’m sure that even though they got the main conflict and the character of the romantic entanglement ass-backwards, the rest of the review was just fine.

  10. Kim Kasch said:

    “Get Even”

    That’s a motto of a lot of coaches I’ve met over the years. And:

    “You’re not a loser if you get knocked down, you’re only a loser if you stay down.”

  11. David Dittell said:


    This reminds me of something I read once (by Seth Godin) about the best way to deal with something negative or regrettable coming up on google when you’re searched:

    If you can’t get rid of the bad, drown it out with the good. The more good you put out there, the less important, noticeable, and accessible the bad is.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Kirkus was nice to my book, VOYA, however, ripped me a new one. Honest to God, it was the most hateful thing I’d ever read. Plus, the reviewer mixed up the plot, so it made me wonder if he/she/it had even read it.

    I don’t know how I feel, actually. Because when I search book reviews using book bloggers, Amazon reviews, and Goodreads, I’ve seen some pretty mediocre books get 5 star reviews. I understand taste is subjective, but when you look closer and see that *all* the 5 star reviews are someone the author has as her livejournal friends, it does get suspicious.

    Who do you trust? A pissed off hateful book reviewer who gets paid to review as a job? Or the author’s friends flooding Goodreads and Amazon claiming mediocre books to be the second coming (in the hopes the author will do the same for them when they get published)?

    I pay attention to NONE of it.

  13. Jenny said:

    As a bookseller, I can tell you it’s also important to impress the booksellers. When Twilight first came out I’m pretty sure I remember the actual reviews weren’t wonderful–but one of the booksellers in our store liked it. So a couple of us read it. And liked it. This happened in a few different stores across the country and BAM! (As Emeril would say.) We really, really like advance copies too.

    Also, don’t underestimate the power of a local newspaper’s review. They tend to be more positive toward a native son or daughter–and that way you support a local writing venue as well, and perhaps things like the disappearance of the Rocky Mountain News can be delayed/averted.

  14. Genre Reviewer said:

    Anonymous 4:53PM said, “Don’t misunderstand: you can hate something, that’s fine; but why not just refuse to review it; only review those books you do enjoy????”

    As a book review blogger, if I start a book and realize within twenty pages that the book is one I won’t be able to give a good review for, then I usually stop reading and don’t review it. However, sometimes I’m halfway into the book or even at the end before I realize there are some problems I feel I’ll have to point out. After putting that much time into reading it, I’m going to review it. I try to be fair, though, and also point out as many good things as I can.

    I’m not trying to prevent people from buying or enjoying the books. I’m trying to help people find books that they’ll enjoy. That means I need to point out things that might make this book not enjoyable for some people while not bothering others in the slightest.

    (BTW, I’ve never read the Twilight books.)

  15. Anonymous said:

    Heads up, Jenny @7:33–

    Twilight had star reviews from PW, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

    Far more importantly, it was a lead title which we all know puts a book out there in such an undeniable way that you’re gonna get sales whether it has star reviews or not.

    Give me a choice between a star review or being a lead title, I’ll chose lead title, hands down.

    *To comment on the OP, I don’t think average, everday readers care about reviews. They are still going to pick it up and read a page or two to see if they think they’d like it. I understand that reviews provide a guidline of sorts, but the cruel ones speak more about the reviewer than the book, in my opinion.

  16. Jenny said:

    To Anon. @ 7:46
    *ducking and dodging ninja-starred PW reviews*

    I agree. Lead. Definitely.

    But Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Richard Paul Evans (all those Christmas stories…) didn’t have any reviews when they initially published their books themselves. A small group of readers read them and loved them. Gotta work hard. And then work harder.

    For authors who don’t have leads or starred reviews, however, the local newspaper route–I’ve had far more Posts and Gazettes shoved under my nose (“Find this!”) from readers than PWs–is still a valid publicity route. The crowd is small, but like Paolini and Evans, it just takes a few….

    All I’m saying is that there are other avenues for backing your book.

  17. Dara said:

    As a reader, I tend to read the reviews of the average joe on Amazon; they tend to be closer to my opinions and tastes than the major reviewers are.

    A bad review on a book that interests me doesn’t deter me from reading it; most of the time I disagree with it anyway, just like I don’t really agree with movie critics for most of the time.

    I do understand though that it affects the author, especially when with booksellers. I guess the best thing to do is be as positive as possible and be proactive about making sure there are good author endorsements of the book, like you mentioned.

  18. Jean said:

    As a reviewer (and writer), I can always find something good to say about a book. A good reviewer can generally figure out who the book is aimed at and bring out the highlights that will sell that book to that group of readers.

    For example, in my book club I didn’t finish reading the last book we read. (I know, I know. How huge a faux pas is that?) But I knew why I didn’t finish reading and was able to express that to the group. The storyline’s conflict simply wasn’t for me. However, I could still find plenty of great things to say about the book–as well as indicate which group of readers it would appeal to or not. 😉

    BTW, I really like your advice on how to deal with a bad review. It’s very positive. I like it!


  19. Anonymous said:

    I totally don’t understand the people saying there should be no bad reviews; that if you realize you hate it, refuse to review it.

    Um, that defeats the whole purpose of a review. Why bother reading them if every single one is going to be a good one?

    Frankly, honest reviews, good or bad, are all that’s worth printing.

  20. Lisa said:

    Yes, don’t get discouraged. Check out what your READERS think. People who shop for books on Amazon are going to give more credit to what the readers are saying & how they are rating the book.

    If you have a bad PW review, but 4.5 stars from readers, I’ll completely ignore the PW review.

  21. Kimber An said:

    Anon 12:48

    I can tell you why I only post positive reviews.

    1) I have an extremely full Real Life and I bore easily. I don’t have time to read books I don’t like.

    2) I prefer, and I think the Bloggers who read my reviews prefer, help finding books they can love, rather than ones they’re likely to hate.

    So, I’m honest about little details, such as Historicals using contemporary elements to snag readers because a lot of us just hate that, but if I don’t like it, I don’t read it.

  22. M.E.T. said:

    Ionno, I think Eragon is far too much like Star Wars and LotR (and obviously he was trying to type ‘dragon’ and typoed), and the fact is, Stephenie Meyer’s self-inserting Mary Sue/Gary Stu-isms are just annoying and horrible-fanfic-esque. I wouldn’t pick up another book by either author, because of the terrible first impressions they made on my senses.

    But that’s just me, and I’ve only read about 150,000 books in my lifetime (I’m sorely behind). So it’s more opinion than anything else, albeit slightly more educated than the people who have only seen the movies and think the books must be equally magnificent.

    tl;dr: Twilight + Eragon? Do not want, plz.

  23. Michelle Gagnon said:

    Personally, I resent the anonymity. If they’re going to give a bad review, they should have to put their name on it. This is a small industry, and it’s likely that from time to time the reviewer has a personal ax to grind with the author. In which case the author has a right to know who they are.