The answer: nothing.
If you are an author who is about to publish, my best advice is this: expect bad reviews. Rather than see them as criticism—as reasons to feel depressed, reach for the vodka, and wish you’d never published–think of bad reviews as one of the hallmarks of a successful book. Some of the greatest books ever written have garnered plenty of negativity. Consider the following critically acclaimed best sellers and how many 1-star reviews they have on Amazon:
Eat, Pray, Love = 629
The Help = 185
Water for Elephants = 176
Life of Pi = 155
Unbroken = 48
Of Mice and Men = 48
People will pan your book for all sorts of unworthy reasons. They include:
They’re still mad about something you did 20 years ago. You can count on your jilted lovers, envious former co-workers, and anyone you’ve had a falling out with over the years to go on Amazon and claim to hate your book, even though they have not read it.
They don’t know their facts. One Good Reads reviewer complained that the Dovekeepers, a historical novel based on the Masada massacre in 70 CE, didn’t have a “Christian focus.” The book is about a sect of Jews called the Zealots and, to a lesser degree, about the Essenes.
A different Good Reads reviewer also panned the Dovekeepers for being “unrealistic.” In particular, she didn’t think anyone would choose suicide over enslavement. Again the Dovekeepers is an historical novel, a fact that seems to have been overlooked by both reviewers.
They just can’t believe anyone could write something so good. Therefore it must be bad. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an extensively reported work of nonfiction based on the lives of many families in the slums of Mumbai. It has won many awards because the author’s extensive access, reporting and rapport with her subjects allowed her to write a work of nonfiction that reads like fiction. As a result, some reviewers have written, “This reads like a complete work of fiction…. Nothing appears factual.”
They hate books like yours, but they read and reviewed it anyway. One reviewer of the mega-bestseller Wild, a memoir, wrote, “I’m not sure this genre is my cup of tea. I didn’t like Three Cups of Tea, I abhorred Eat, Love, Pray and I didn’t like A Million Little Pieces one bit.” She goes on to explain why she hated Wild for all the same reasons she hated all of the successful books in its genre.
They wish they’d written such a successful book. Or even gotten a book deal. So in their review, they say, “I can’t believe this book ever got published.” Consider this line from a review of Eat, Pray, Love, “The idea that someone was given an advance to write a book about finding herself is… well, pretty disturbing.” From another review of the same book, “I could not understand how it became a best-seller – how could I be so out of touch with my fellow readers?”
They only like happy books. Many of the 1-star reviews of the novel One Thousand Splendid Suns, a book that is structured similarly to a Shakespearean tragedy, complain, “I found this book to be very depressing.”
The list goes on. If you have a sex scene in your book, you can count on a reviewer to accuse your book of being offensive. If you don’t have a sex scene, a reviewer will ask, “Why didn’t this book have a sex scene?” If your book is brave and honest, reviewers will say it’s too honest. If it’s not brave and honest, reviewers will say it’s not brave and honest enough.
You get the idea. You can’t please all readers. If you try, you’ll end up writing a safe book that gets no one-star reviews—and no 5 star one’s either.
Risk criticism. Write a great book. Err on the side of bravery. Smile every time you see a bad review, because that means you did your job as an author.