Four Things To Do With Negative Reviews (And One Thing Not To Do)

2015-11-30 five stars, review good, happyIndie Plot Twisters, it is our pleasure to introduce Allison Maruska as our guest blogger this week. She’s got some great advice on what to do when you get negative book reviews! Also, we’re holding a drawing for her intriguing mystery, The Fourth Descendant. Details at the end!

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 Pop quiz time.

What do the following things have in common?

  1. Traffic jams
  2. Fish in the ocean
  3. The full moon appearing every month
  4. Negative book reviews

If you answered they are all certain to happen, then you pass!

Every book gets negative reviews. The Hunger Games, a book I absolutely love, has 443 1-star reviews. No matter how good your book is, eventually, you will get negative reviews. So since we can’t avoid them, we should have a strategy for what to do when they appear on our product pages, else we collapse into a blubbering heap or decide to quit writing and join the carnival. Sure, the endless access to funnel cakes would be awesome, but your family would miss you.

Below are four actions I’ve gathered from personal experience, talking with author friends/reading similar posts, and research. I hope that by the end, you’ll be able to read negative reviews of your work in the most objective way possible.

2015-11-30 What to Do with a One-Star Review

Action 1: Understand negative bias

Negative bias basically says feedback of a negative nature affects us more than feedback of a neutral or positive nature does (click here for the Wikipedia article). It has an evolutionary basis, because our prehistoric ancestors needed to pay more attention to the lion’s den than to the pretty flower growing next to it. It was about survival. In our current day setting, the bias plays out in our reactions to problems that need solving. Emails of an urgent, negative nature get attention first because we want the problem to go away.

Our brains see negative reviews as problems (because they feel like attacks), but we can’t solve them, so they sting more. Neural activity and heart rates increase, as if we’re preparing to go to battle. This is normal. It’s also why they get stuck in our brains while positive reviews blend in with the rest. Anyone who works with kids has heard the advice that for every piece of negative feedback you give a child, there should be ten pieces of positive feedback. This is why.

Action 2: Realize the negative review isn’t more valid

2015-11-30 chalk board, sad, frown, smiley faceThis goes along with negative bias, but it’s important enough to merit its own point. The negative reviews just feel more true, don’t they? Even if cognitively you know they aren’t (especially when the reviewer dings you because of the ebook price set by your publisher, or they were mad because they didn’t like how your character dressed), you feel like you could have done something to prevent the bad review.

Here’s the thing: reviews are opinions about your work. That’s it. They’re not about you, personally (in most cases. Reviews that leave personal attacks are a whole different issue). My book has received side-by-side reviews, one positive and one negative, both discussing the characters. One thought they were great and well-rounded, the other thought they were cardboard. Is one more right than the other?

We can’t control where readers are in their lives when they read our books. Perhaps a negative reviewer just lost a job and a character reminds them of their jerk boss. Even if they aren’t fully aware of the connection, that experience will taint the reading. Of course, we don’t get to read all that in the review. All we see is “the story sucked and the characters were unlikable.”

I’ve read that 1-star reviews tell more about the reviewer than the thing being reviewed. I tend to agree. There are people out there who seem to really enjoy complaining, and reviews are a great vehicle to do that. I would say a truly 1-star book would have no redeeming qualities. I’m not sure I’ve read such a book, but apparently, some people have read several, including The Hunger Games.

Action 3: Look for patterns

Sometimes, negative reviews are more than just opinion. If many say the same thing, like the book needs editing or the formatting was a mess, that’s probably something you need to address (if you’re an independent author and have the power to publish updated material). I read a post by an author that said she accidentally published an early draft and didn’t realize it until the negative reviews rolled in, criticizing her poor editing. You may also see a pattern if you’ve miscategorized your book. I know if I bought a book thinking it was a mystery and it ended up being a western romance, I wouldn’t be a happy reader.

However, it’s possible that no patterns exist. My book has a handful of negative reviews, and while a few kind of say the same thing, overall they’re pretty different. Most solely talk about the story’s content (characters and events) rather than the writing itself. This leads us to…

Action 4: Realize negative reviews help sell the book

2015-11-30 Dislike, not good, bad, sad, unhappyI know, it seems completely counter intuitive. Bad reviews = scared away readers, right? While that may be true in a few cases, negative reviews often contain something many positive reviews don’t: specific details.

Small picture, a detail the reviewer hated could be something the potential buyer enjoys. Or if the negative review is especially ranty, the buyer may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Big picture, the total number of reviews your book has affects how visible it becomes on Amazon. It doesn’t take into account if those reviews are positive or negative. More reviews = better visibility = more sales.

And now for the one thing not to do: Respond

I said reviews are not about you, personally. They are also not for you. They are readers talking to other readers. Granted, the online forum opens the door for more negativity than you’d probably see in an in-person book club, but the idea is the same. Reviews are readers talking about content.

Responding to a review puts you in a position of challenging someone’s opinion. The chances of you changing the reviewer’s mind with a comment are zero. Just don’t do it. People don’t like to have their opinions challenged, and responding brings attention to the negative review you don’t want people to see.

Instead, read all your positive reviews. Print out a few of your favorites and tape them around your desk. Internalize them. You wrote a book that people love! Those ideas are much more deserving of your mental energy.

The Book Giveaway

Allison has one free ebook copy of her mystery, The Fourth Descendant, for our readers. To enter the drawing, just scroll down and leave a comment in answer to this question: How do you approach negative reviews, either as a writer or a reader? The drawing will end on Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. CST. Good luck!

If you tweet the following, we’ll enter your name twice! 1) Don’t remove the @IndiePlotTwist tag. 2) Let us know in your comment that you tweeted! It’ll help us match your tweet to your comment.

About the Author 

Allison Maruska headshotAllison is a YA and mystery/suspense author, writing/humor blogger, teacher, mom, wife, coffee and wine consumer, and an owl enthusiast. She published her debut novel, The Fourth Descendant, in February, 2015, and it has been on Amazon’s historical mystery best seller list since April. Her newest book is a YA dystopian/urban fantasy called Drake and the Fliers, which she released on November 20th, 2015.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

About Her Book

Allison Maruska - The Fourth DescendantWhen Michelle receives a call from a Richmond historian, she sees the chance for a much-needed adventure. All she has to do is find a century-old key.

Three others – a guitarist, an engineer, and a retiree – receive similar calls. Each family possesses a key to a four-lock safe found buried in a Virginia courthouse, though their connection is as mysterious as the safe itself. Their ancestors should not have interacted, had no apparent reason to bury the safe, and should not have disappeared thereafter.

Bearing their keys, Michelle and the other descendants converge in the courthouse basement and open the safe, revealing the truth about their ancestors – a truth stranger, more deadly, and potentially more world-changing than any of them could have imagined. Now it’s up to them to keep their discovery out of the wrong hands.


My Double Life Crisis

A Guest Post by S. Usher Evans

Stars and CompassWhen one thinks of science fiction, one imagines space ships, gruff characters surviving the harshest conditions, and lots of faster-than-light zipping across the galaxy. Identity crises and learning to love oneself aren’t usually at the top of people’s lists. Even less so – using a science fiction book to heal emotionally and conquer one’s fears. But that’s exactly what happened when I self-published my first novel, Double Life.

At the end of 2013, I was in a pretty dark place, and finally decided to seek therapy to help me deal with the war in my head. In the first session, I mentioned how I seemed to have two completely different people living in my head. The first, Whit (my real name), was an intense, marathon-running, dog-rescuing, home-remodeling consultant who had aspirations of executive leadership. The other was a dramatic, creative, fearless (and utterly shameless) author whom I gave the moniker Suni (as in Sunny; Sun’s Golden Ray was my first screen name way back when).

The “girls,” as I call them, never really got along. So, obviously, the therapist suggested that I consider embracing both halves of myself. In that spirit, I created a Facebook page and told everyone I was releasing a book. Although there are many in the ol’ “mind palace,” I opted to revise and publish Double Life, the first book in a science fiction series. I chose this story as it was the most complete, not knowing that it was almost a perfect allegory to my own impending dual-identity crisis.

In the book, my main character, Lyssa, is living two distinct lives. She very much would like to be a space pirate bounty hunter, but, being a female, is not allowed to play with the men. To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life, struggling with a side of herself that is reviled by everyone, including her own family. I never actually saw the parallels between her journey and my own, until I was doing final revisions at the end of the book.

Lyssa travels to a fantastical place between heaven and hell. This netherworld was a plot device to help my wayward main character come to terms with herself, smashing together the two halves of her so she could accept both of them equally. She reflects on the hatred of Lyssa and how many people have abandoned her, and realizes that she, too, has abandoned herself. In fact, she’s been the worst offender.

When I wrote that paragraph in the manuscript, it elicited an emotional response so deep I felt it in my soul.

As I sat there, stunned at my own words, I realized that I, too, was guilty of abandoning myself. I had put aside writing and creative pursuits because I was afraid what others would say, afraid of being myself, afraid of being broke, afraid it would result in some catastrophe that I would never recover from. Everything I was doing with my life – even running the marathons – I was doing because I was afraid. But I wasn’t going to be afraid anymore (There were a lot of “Let it Go” solos in my car for a few months).

Eight months later, I’ve published Double Life  and written its sequel (due out in March). But the biggest change I’ve seen in myself is my own happiness. Life is not perfect, I am still anxious, emotional, and stuck in a job that I do not enjoy. But just as Lyssa learns both halves of her double life can work harmoniously together, Whit and Suni have banded together to rationally (and irrationally, when needed) work through whatever life throws my way. I have stopped letting fear dictate my every thought, finding peace in chaos, courage in the face of the unknown, and confidence that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.

I think that the more fantastical the setting, the more truthful the confessions. Science fiction takes readers to the deepest reaches of space to expose real human truths. For me, it took a journey with a stubborn bounty hunter to understand that it’s impossible to find your heaven while putting part of yourself through hell.

About Our Guest Blogger

IMG_0003_2S. Usher Evans is an author, blogger, and witty banter aficionado. Born in a small, suburban town in northwest Florida, she was seventeen before she realized that not all beach sand is white. From a young age, she has always been a long-winded individual, first verbally (to the chagrin of her ever-loving parents) and then eventually channeled into the many novels that dotted her Windows 98 computer in the early 2000’s. After high school, she got the hell outta dodge and went to school near the nation’s capital, where she somehow landed jobs at National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, capping off her educational career with delivering the commencement address to 20,000 of her closest friends. She determined she’d goofed off long enough with that television nonsense and got a “real job” as an IT consultant. Yet she continued to write, developing 20 page standard operating procedures and then coming home to write novels about badass bounty hunters, teenage magic users, and other nonsense. After a severe quarter life crisis at age 27, she decided to finally get a move on and share those novels with the world in hopes that she will never have to write another SOP again.

Where to Find Her

About Her Book

DoubleLifePiracy is a game. How much are you worth?

Since she was a little girl, everyone – from her father to the Great Creator himself – told Lyssa Peate the same thing: she’s worthless. But when she becomes the pirate bounty hunter Razia, she can see the price tag on her own head. Employed by one of the four pirate syndicates, she uses bank transactions and her considerable wits to capture rival members. At least, she would be if Razia’s boss ever gave her a chance. It’s a man’s world, and all she’s allowed to hunt are purse snatchers while she languishes on probation.

To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life as Lyssa, discovering and analyzing distant planets and selling them for cash. She’s doing just enough to stay out of trouble, pretending to be continuing her father’s mysterious research while away for long periods of time. Her slimy boss is always asking questions and even assigns one of her younger brothers, Vel, to intern with her. Already struggling to keep the balance between her double lives, she tries everything to rid herself of the kid…

…until the universal police mistake Lyssa’s intern for Razia’s hostage.

Where to Get Your Copy
Barnes and Noble

My 57-Year Quest for One Book

Writers, please welcome today’s guest blogger Katheryn Maddox Haddad. While Carrie and I are going indie, we have plenty of room at the table for traditionally published authors like Katheryn. And her story is truly inspiring! Whatever your goals, keep after them. You never know – the next proposal you send could be the winner. And what if you’d given up just before sending it?

Congrats from Carrie and me, Katheryn.

My 57-Year Quest for One Book

0-COVER---Star-Song---flatI’m gray haired now, but when I began my quest to get my book, Soul Journey With Jesus, written and published, I was dealing with pimples and wondering if I’d ever get another date.

When I was seventeen, I wrote about the crucifixion. As usual, I showed it to my girlfriends. They all said I should write the entire life of Christ. I told them I wasn’t old enough or wise enough. I needed to spend time living real life in order to give it justice. So, I told them when I was sixty, I would write it.

When I was sixty, I wrote it.

When I was through writing it, I had 80 chapters. I had covered 100 people who had met and struggled with Jesus. Also, I realized I had written a lyrical novel, a novel that can be analyzed like a poem. I made it an octilogy with book one ~ Star Song ~ being entirely on the birth of Christ. Every chapter begins with a doubt, but most end with victorious faith.

That done, I found out that American Christian Writers was having a conference in a nearby city. I showed some of my MS to several publishing reps and they thought it had merit, but they weren’t really interested in a biography of Jesus. Bios of Jesus were popular back in the 1940s through the 1960s. It was now 1994, and the popular genre (though that word wasn’t being used then) had long ago switched to how-to books: How to pray more, how to please your husband or wife more, how to raise your children better, how to stay moral, etc. They did advise that I create a proposal.

The following year I spent creating the most magnificent proposal you have ever seen. It even listed all the books on the same subject for the past forty years! I began sending it to publishers. I was sometimes told it was the most thorough proposal they had ever seen (though I think they wrote it tongue-in-cheek), but they weren’t interested. Or I wouldn’t hear from them for six months and I’d start writing polite follow-up letters, and finally would call them and was told they guess they lost it.

When the year was over, I went back to another ACW conference at the same place. I got the same response from them. They thought the proposal was good and they liked the writing, but the topic wasn’t popular.

So, the following year I tried to find an agent. But at that time, an agent wouldn’t take you on unless you had published at least one book already. I was told publishers would be more interested in me if I was a public speaker. I attended a week-long seminar with Florence Littauer and learned to speak without reading. Then I sent out word that I would speak for various groups, but groups tend to line up women someone already knows and has heard.

I continued to send my proposal and sample chapters to a few more Christian publishers. But I got no response from publishers or agents, and few responses to speak. So I took my manuscript and all my notes researching it, put them in boxes, and put them away in my closet. That was around 1999. I’d written it in 1990. I’d given it nine years.

On and off in the following years, I would get out one of the chapters, turn it into a booklet, and sell them at Bible lectureships, conferences, etc. I didn’t sell many, and would always go home and put them in my boxes.

In 2013, I got my books back out and decided to publish them myself in spiral binding. So I went through all eight books and did formatting for them all. I created a nice cover. And I spent hours on end printing two pages on one sheet, cutting them in half, then arranging them in book order, then gluing the pages back to back. Then I’d go back to the printer and print a master. I ended up with six inches of book. I took them to my alma mater’s annual lectureship and tried to peddle them with their nice cover and pre-formatted layout to several book publishers that were there. But they were only interested in Bible class books, not novels.

My husband had watched me go through all this. At first he was my Barnabas and kept encouraging me. But after all these years, he just remained silent as he watched me go through everything again; it was kind of a silent sigh for me.

Then last November my husband passed away. I moved to Arizona and moved in with my brother until I could find a place of my own. I had plenty of time on my hands. Someone in one in the ladies’ Bible classes I began attending talked about Sandi Rog and her first-century novels. I got one of her books and read it. In it, she thanked the American Christian Fiction Writers for their encouragement. I looked them up on the internet and joined them.

I entered the Genesis Contest but hardly got to first base with them. I dusted off my old proposals, revised them since proposals are different now, and sent a few out. No one was interested. I realized that the popular genre in Christian books is now romance and mystery. I entered three more contests, but hardly rated with them either.

In the past people had compared my writing to Max Lucado’s. I had received good reviews from Urban Renewal, Focus on the Family, and others. But the publishers still didn’t want it. I decided to throw in the towel.

I sent a message to the online loop of ACFW and told them I was throwing in the towel and may as well just trash the whole thing. I was giving up for good.

I received a phone call from a publisher in the loop saying he wanted the whole series. That kept me from trashing it. But after several months of stalling, he finally admitted he had changed his mind. Down again. But that same week I heard about a new publisher, Mantle Rock, and decided to send my proposal one last time.

They accepted it.

As of November, 2014, the first of my eight books on the life of Christ ~ Star Song ~ was released. The other books will be released in three-month intervals. I am now seventy-four years old.

Katheryn-Stars-Red-largeKatheryn Maddox Haddad was born in the north, but moved to Arizona where there is no snow. She lives with her palm trees, cacti, and computer with the key names worn off. With a BA degree in English and Bible, she earned part of an MA in Bible, including Greek studies. She spends half her day writing and the other half teaching English to Muslims around the world, using the Bible as a text book. She has converts to Christianity in hiding in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and Palestine. “They are my heroes,” she says.
Katheryn’s website:
Amazon for adult’s version:
Amazon for child’s version:

Randy Ingermanson on Writing Deeper Characters

I’ve been a big fan of Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine since first finding it years ago. The e-zine comes out once a month. Each issue has an article on organization, craft, and marketing and a few extras. No matter what you write or how you write it, you just cannot go wrong by subscribing to Randy’s E-zine.

Oh, one more thing. Did I mention it’s FREE? Click here to sign up.

Yeah. I know. Shameless promotion, but well worth it!

Randy’s article on craft in the November issue was all about developing deep characters.

Writers can never learn too much about character development and I read this article with just as much interest as any other writer might. I liked it so much, I want to share with you today, with Randy’s blessings.

Here’s Randy.

Writing Deeper Characters

Deep characters are not deep merely because there’s something magical about them that sets them apart from other characters.

Deep characters are deep because the author chose to go deep with them. The author could have chosen to go shallow, and the result would have been shallow characters.

Any character can be a deep character. Any character can be a shallow character.

It’s not about who your characters are, it’s about what you choose to do with them.

I’m convinced that a very powerful way to go deep with your characters is to interview them.

Set up the interview in Q and A format. Ask your character a question. Then get inside the character’s skin and answer the question—in that character’s voice.

This works for several reasons:

It Alternates Between Analysis and Creation

Asking questions gives you a chance to put on your analyst’s hat. You get to ask the hard questions about motivation and values. You can probe as much as you want into your character’s mind.

Answering those hard questions gives you a chance to put on your creative hat. You get to become the character, exactly as you would if you were writing a scene from that character’s point of view.

But in an interview, you don’t have to worry about action and description. You can focus on speech patterns, mental patterns, emotional patterns.

And you don’t have to worry about being “interesting” to the reader, because nobody will ever read your character interview. The interview is just for you to get to know your character.

It Gives You Practice Being Each Character

This is essential, because as you write each scene, you need to become the point-of-view character for the duration of that scene. You need to slip inside that character’s skin. You need to convince your reader that she is that character.

This is not easy. It’s a little easier in first-person than in third-person. And when you’re interviewing your character, you’re always answering the questions in first person. You’re speaking as that character. So this is your chance to practice. But this is not mere practice time. This is practice time that also teaches you new things about your character.

One of the hardest things to do in fiction is to develop unique voices for each character. It’s way too easy to have all your characters sound alike. The interview is an opportunity to develop all the little verbal tics for each character. You’ll learn which words they overuse. What grammatical liberties they take. How they think and how they express themselves.

It’s Not Your Fault

When you interview your character, you can let him go off on tangents and take all the wrong turns that are bound to happen as you learn who your characters are. After all, your characters are human, so they’re bound to make mistakes.

But it’s them making the mistakes, not you. So if they go off into left field, you can rein them in, delete all the dumb things they said, and start over. And it’s all their fault, not yours.

Yes, this is a psychological game you’re playing with yourself. No, there’s nothing wrong with this. Any time you can make it safe to take chances in your story development, that’s a good thing.

It’s Fun

Interviewing your character is incredibly fun. And incredibly powerful. If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out on something amazing.

You can do this at any point in your story development. It’s especially helpful if you’re still planning the story, or if you’ve painted your story into a corner, or if you’re worried that your character’s motivations don’t make sense.

Try it now. Pick any one of your characters. Open a document and start asking questions. Ask one, then answer it right away. Then ask another, and answer it right away. Keep doing that until you’re done. You’ll know when you’re done. Your instincts are smart about being done.

If you don’t enjoy the process, then don’t do it again.

But I bet you will. I bet if you try this once, you’ll be hooked for life.


Randy’s right. I’ve been interviewing characters for some time and have learned a lot more about them with that method than any other. I still use other methods like character journals and putting characters into situations outside the story, but the interview is where I begin.

I confess that up to now, I’ve been interviewing primarily lead characters with an occasional secondary character or villain thrown in for good measure. But that’s about to change.

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Legal Stuff

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 10,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit