Skip to main content

Self-Publishing Tips: Should You Worry About Reviews?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Desired and Dreaded Book Reviews

So, you've just finished your self-published book and it's for sale on Amazon. It's about to be reviewed by both readers and critics. Are you ready for this?

Authors, especially new ones, often fret about the possibility of getting a bad review. The fear can paralyze them from even publishing the book in the first place.

Let's get one thing straight: If you put yourself and your work out there—whether it's online or offline—people will judge you and what you do. Not prepared for that? Then find something else to do that will keep you as incognito and invisible as possible.

Writing and self-publishing a book is, by its very nature, a public activity. The etymology of the word publish can be traced back to the Latin publicare which means to "make public" (Online Etymology Dictionary). The cloak of invisibility that many writers desire is an illusion that has been ripped away by the Internet. It all seems so "private" publishing from the comfort of one's home when, in fact, publishing is more public than it's ever been.

With self-publishing being a public activity, you need to be prepared for both desired and dreaded book reviews.

Could Negative Reviews Kill Book Sales?

Short answer? Maybe or maybe not.

Judging from my own experience (and I'm sure you could relate), I'm not reviewing five different books, comparing for price and the one negative review tips me over into non-buy mode. Books ain't toothpaste.

True, a great review might tip an on-the-fence buyer to actually buy a book. However, if you are actively marketing your book or ebook, and actively building your audience, readers may be primed to buy your book and may not even think to look at the reviews. I know I rarely look at the reviews, except for curiosity's sake. Why? Because I tend to read books that were recommended to me by REAL people I know and trust. Luckily, Amazon has the "verified purchase" designation which does give some reviews more credibility.

And let's remember this. Your book is a unique creation. Sure, there may be dozens, if not thousands, of books addressing the same market or topic. But it's what you bring to the market that will encourage them to buy.

Silent and Squeaky Readers

Happy customers can be the quietest customers on the planet when it comes to expressing their good experience with a product, service, or vendor. Their expectations were met. They've moved on to the next thing. Even worse is that once they've purchased a book, they are not going to be repeat buyers of that book. Again, a book ain't toothpaste.

But unhappy customers? They're the proverbial squeaky wheel (or reader in this case), all too anxious to express their displeasure with anything relating to a purchase... even if the source of their unhappiness is the most minor or irrelevant issue.

Unfortunately, as many small business owners can attest, this is a maddening scenario that currently has few viable solutions. Thankfully, on Amazon Kindle books, when the reader is finished, a starred, easy-to-complete review opportunity pops up when the book is finished. Even if they don't write a review, at least the book might easily earn some stars. As well, Amazon does send emails reminding buyers to review their purchases. Sadly, both can be ignored.

The Book Launch Review Bonanza or Bust

Many authors scramble to get their friends to read a book pre-launch in the hopes that as soon as it publishes, their friends will quickly post a (hoped to be positive) review on Amazon. Not a bad strategy and I encourage authors to solicit as many early reviews as they can. But I'd like to offer some experience I've had.

When I've distributed review copies (usually a PDF version watermarked with a notation about being a sample or review copy on every page), it is difficult to get friends to actually post a review. They're busy and that's just one more thing they have on their burgeoning To-Do list that won't get done. I am NOT a high priority. Plus, some are s-l-o-w readers. So I have a decision to make: Should I badger them to post a review? Or should I let it go and move on to more friends?

With the low cost of PDF review copies, cost is not a huge factor in soliciting warm and fuzzy reviews from a wider audience. But consider this: How many of those friends could be book buyers? Giving away too many review copies could hurt sales, too, especially in super niche markets where sales volume may be low anyway. And there's always the chance that they'll "share" the review copy with others, further reducing sales opportunities.

Some will take a "giver" stance and say that the more they give away, the more that will come back to them. Okay, I understand that universal principle. But where do you draw the line? Should you draw the line?

What Can You Do?

  • Get as Many Positive, Warm Book Reviews as You Can: Even though it might be difficult, get as many warm, fuzzy book reviews from friends and fans as you can, especially in the pre-launch and early book launch period. But don't stop then! Encourage reviews throughout the book's lifespan.
  • Don't Panic over Bad Reviews: Everyone, even the most successful of authors and artists, gets bad reviews from time to time. Again, if you're in a public profession, be prepared for this to happen. It's inevitable.
  • Ignore the Trolls: There will always be haters and pontificators, noisy "trolls" who are looking for attention more than anything. Ignore, don't engage.
  • Watch for Trends and Valuable Critiques: While it's best to ignore the ignorant trolls, in some less-than-positive reader reviews, you may observe trends and treasures of insight. Use these valuable bits of information when preparing new books, next editions, or revising marketing plans.
  • Build Your Review-Resistant Fan Base: More than anything, authors need to build a loyal fan base and a community eager to read their latest work. This requires consistent branding and engagement with that audience. Don't just build a book, build a fan base!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I review a book containing photos and narrative about each photo?

Answer: You have to ask yourself how you feel about the photos and narratives, and make that the basis of your review. That's what an author wants to learn from your review of his or her book.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 26, 2016:

Good to hear, Suhail! Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 26, 2016:

Hi Heidi,

Read this informative hub today. I got what I was looking for.



Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 17, 2015:

You've made a good point, breathing, that writers should always be concerned with what will resonate with their target audiences. Thanks for stopping by!

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on December 15, 2015:

Good reviews are always a bonus and encourage the writers to write more good words so that the readers can come back for more. In case of self-published writers, bad reviews do not have a significant effect on the book sales as the author suggests. But why take the risk? Yeah there will be criticizers of your book but try to write in such a way that you get maximum amount of positive response from your target readers. If you have sufficient amount of positive reviews, then the negative ones will not be a big deal at all! So try to get the writing to a level which attracts readers and get you positive reviews.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2015:

Hello again kalinin1158! Isn't that an interesting result? I know I've had similar experiences with not only books, but YouTube videos, blog posts and more. Never ceases to amaze me. And I think we'd all rather have the authentic reviews, than those we had to push. Thank you so much for adding that great insight to the conversation! Have a great day!

Lana Adler from California on October 14, 2015:

I didn't self-publish, but I went through many of the stages you're describing - badgering friends, realizing friends are too busy, realizing I have very few friends, realizing my friends aren't readers etc. Some of them did post the reviews. Others were less than helpful. And I still get amazed when I get a review from someone I didn't solicit, and it's a glowing one. Wooooooooooooooow...Great advice Heidi!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 19, 2015:

Hi teaches12345! Indeed, once we step on the self publishing stage, we're setting ourselves up for it. "Goes with the territory" as the saying goes. Luckily, we have encouraging and supportive writer friends on HP that can help us keep our spirits up. Thank you for adding your thoughts to the conversation! Happy Weekend!

Dianna Mendez on September 19, 2015:

I try to ignore the trolls in general, good tip! I think writing makes one vulnerable to these critics but we one must be brave.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2015:

True that, Larry! I get mad every time I think of how much of my life I've spent worrying about the opinion of others. Luckily, the older I get, the less I care. One of the benefits of aging. :) Thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2015:

Indeed, purl3agony, oftentimes we're our own toughest critics. It is easy to slip into worry zone, wondering if our work is good enough. But then, one day, we realize that we have something wonderful to share with the world and it starts to go away. So glad you haven't been worried enough to keep you from posting your beautiful hubs here. Thanks for starting your week here and hope it's a good one!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2015:

Well, Sunshine625, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has to argue with myself. :) Indeed, most writers are their own worst critics. Glad to see you overcame any fear and decided to share your wisdom and cheer with us here on HP. Thank you for chiming in and have a delightful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2015:

Sadly, FlourishAnyway, you're right. There will always be trolls. One of the greatest accomplishments a writer can achieve is to be brave enough to write and publish, regardless of how others think. Thanks for starting your week here. Have a delightful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2015:

Just glad to provide the humor, billybuc! Agreed, if you want to write, you gotta be ready for a more public life. Thanks & Happy Monday!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 14, 2015:

Always nice to win acclaim, but you can't spend your life worrying about what others think.

Donna Herron from USA on September 14, 2015:

Wonderful hub, Heidi! I'm definitely someone who would worry about potentially bad reviews. But you make some excellent points about happy customers being silent customers. Thanks for the great advice on how to build positive reviews and silent the worrying voice in my head. Thanks for sharing!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 14, 2015:

If I was concerned about other people's opinions I would never have published my first hub years ago. So, I sure as heck am not concerned about other's opinions on my self-published books. Well, except my own and I am my worse critic. Oh well...I will continue to write and argue with myself. Haha!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 14, 2015:

I love that line too! Books ain't toothpaste! You provide excellent encouragement for authors to just get out there and ignore the trolls. There will always be trolls.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 13, 2015:

"Books ain't toothpaste." I'll be laughing over that line for the rest of the evening. A writer afraid of a negative review should not be a writer...period.

Thanks for the dose of reality for those who need it.

Have a great week!