The short answer to this question is: never. There’s a longer answer too, one I’ll explore in this post. Reviews are generally written by readers for readers and should be ignored by the author, but there are also reviews that may offer critical analysis that can be of use to an author.
While these are general guidelines I’ve learned as an author and by working with other authors, I recommend using your best judgment when it comes to reviews.
Reviews to Ignore
Personal Attacks: Whenever a review is aimed as a personal attack at an author (hopefully you never encounter this, as reviews should pertain to the book, but it can happen), ignore it. The reader most likely doesn’t know you and is making grandiose assumptions about you based on your book. Any fuel added to the fire will make matters worse. If the reader does know you, you should still walk away.
Vague Reviews: If a review is short without much detail, you should ignore those too. “Eh, it wasn’t for me.” That kind of review offers no insight whatsoever. The reader is entitled to their opinion. Your book wasn’t for them? Fine, they weren’t going to become a fan anyway.
Unfounded Reviews: Additionally, reviews that are completely off-base should be overlooked. As a writer, you should know when someone is coming out of left field. For example, if other authors, your editor, and other readers say your descriptions are fantastic, but a reviewer says there was no description, you should ignore this review. The reader is still entitled to their opinion, but if other people (and you) don’t feel this way, disregard it. Some reviewers won’t understand or finish your book, and that’s okay.
Reviews to Consider
The thought of getting a low star review on any book you publish is gut-wrenching. Everyone has low reviews, even best selling authors. You can’t please everyone, not all the time and not with every book. Your fan, who loves books X, Y, and Z, might end up hating book S because it’s so different from your other work.
That being said, there are some reviews you can take into consideration.
Critical Reviews: Reviews that have critical feedback and logical explanations can be stored away for your future work. Someone doesn’t like the pacing in your book? Okay, think about it critically. Do you think the pacing is an issue? No? Ignore this review; the book wasn’t right for that reviewer.
If the answer is yes or maybe, spend some time mulling this over. Don’t think about it as “I failed,” but as a chance to grow. “Okay, so perhaps I rushed the ending a bit. What can I do differently in the future?” Use this information. Next book you write, take a longer look at the pacing. Don’t stress yourself out over it, but make sure you do a reading pass where you “observe” the pace. Focus on it. Does it feel off? Or did you nail it this time? If there is an issue, you’ll find it. You can fix it, make a better book, and become a better writer.
Those kinds of critical reviews are the ones you should acknowledge. They offer insight, provide another perspective, and tell you if you are succeeding. You will always have fans, and you will always have haters. The question is: how do you get the people who fall somewhere in the middle to become fans?
Keep your fans happy, work on the people in the middle, and ignore the readers who don’t like your work. It will help you maintain a semblance of sanity whenever your writing gets torn apart. Bad reviews always hurt, but keeping this in mind might make the sting less brutal.
Remember: reviews are not meant for you, the author. Finding a critical review that you can grow from is rare, as reviews are not typically meant to be constructive. Most reviews fall into the first category. Use your best judgment; you know your work better than anyone else. Additionally, commenting on negative reviews is generally not a good idea. Most of the time, you should find yourself walking away.
Lisa Cohen (LJ Cohen) recently wrote about reviews on her blog. She’s a fabulous author and Scriptors member, and she provides her own insight on how she approaches reviews.