Dealing With Negative Reviews

I had a reader email me with:

Hi! I have a suggestion for you to write about on your blog. How to recover from a negative review? […] It hurt, especially since some very valid points were made.

This will happen if you make anything. I’ve written harsh criticism, and have received harsh criticism.[1]

There are a few points, some ways of reacting that I’ve seen and some that I’ve done:

  • You can leave the review alone. Don’t comment, don’t look, don’t link to it, just walk away.
  • You can thank the reviewer for taking the time to review. That’s all. Just thank, say nothing else.
  • You can engage with the reviewer on the points brought up. If you do this, start by thanking the reviewer.

The first one is easy, and with some particularly inflammatory reviews that’s best. If they linked to you, they’re helping your SEO ranking. You don’t have to return that favor.

The second one is a personal favorite for dealing with trolls, but it’s also good for just being charitable toward someone. And you look classy for it.

The third is dangerous ground. If the person on the other end is reasonable and respectful during the conversation, and you are as well, then it can be fruitful. But know that you’re not just conversing with that person, but any onlookers who may chime in. And they might not be respectful of the attempt at civil discourse. Sometimes great fruit bears from that, other times it’s a waste of your energy. Just be aware of that.

No matter what you do about it, once you can get some emotional distance away, look over the points. There may be wisdom there you can use in your next project or how you continue forward with this one. Sometimes it’s something you can correct now, and sometimes it’s just something you can do in future works.


Finally, if you can’t say something nice, don’t engage. Otherwise you look like a petty asshole, and you can’t delete your comments on someone else’s space. And fuck help you if that person has really strong SEO, where Google searches for your name lead to that negative review where you show your petty side. Because you’re not being nice for their benefit. You’ve being nice for yours.

I know I’m not the only person who has had to deal with this. Creator-types: any other tips to share?
– Ryan

[1] And received bullshit name-calling and ad hominem attacks, which is not criticism. Perhaps I’ll write on that later, but that’s not what this post is about.


18 Responses to Dealing With Negative Reviews

  1. David says:

    There’s definitely an art to it.

    When we receive negative criticism it comes from one or two arenas: someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who likes us and doesn’t like something we’ve done. The former you can’t do anything about and it’s better to just let it lie. You’ll never convince them and walking away is the best for everyone.

    The latter is where you have the opportunity to show that person EXACTLY what it is they like about you. Thanking the person is good. Asking the questions about specifics or what they would have done differently can really show you how to take that to the next level.

    I’d beware, though, this technique requires something that a lot of people don’t have or aren’t comfortable with: separation of art and artist. If you’re not willing to have an objective conversation about your work where someone’s going to tear it apart and tell you how horrible of a job you’ve done, don’t engage. I wouldn’t even thank. Just move on.

    Negative feedback is an opportunity not an insult. But, if you’re not equipped to deal with it properly, it’s a danger.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Negative feedback is an opportunity not an insult.

      That is the best line ever.

      – Ryan

    • David says:

      Brant on the Trap Cast turned all of the negative comments about his show on iTunes into a contest.


    • Ryan Macklin says:


      There is something oddly validating about negative feedback. It’s something a lot of my author friends listed on Amazon talk about, and I experienced on the books I’ve worked on. Hearing people rip Dresden’s City Creation apart, which was largely my baby, gave me that “okay, it’s real now, people aren’t just bullshitting me” feeling.

      And that was with harsh ranting rather than something constructive.

      – Ryan

    • JDCorley says:

      I don’t know. I don’t really “like” most of the people I write positive or negative reviews/critiques/thoughts for, nor do I dislike them. There are too many of them and most of them have never met me. I have no personal feelings about them one way or another. I might hold the door for them if they had their hands full though. I’m cool that way.

  2. You are never wrong not to engage, but saying thanks is nice if it isn’t an entree into a conversation. Recently there was a weird review of Fiasco that I *think* is positive, but it is positioned from the POV of somebody who is clueless and dislikes it. Complicated! I left that one alone.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Probably wise. When in doubt, walk away. It’s not as if you can’t respond later. The Internet is quasi-timeless like that.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thinking about it, “later” might be another good option. It allows time to digest and watch early reader responses to said review or criticism. And commenting later might mean less bullshit from a peanut gallery, depending on where it is.

      – Ryan

  3. pie says:

    it all really comes down to what your goal is in responding. if your goal isn’t to understand more fully what the criticizer was getting at (with the intent of improving your ‘product’) it’s probably best to walk away until it is.

    Ryan, it’s easy to tell that you ‘get’ this from our many conversations–we don’t always agree and yet we both learn something every time–and from this statement: “Negative feedback is an opportunity not an insult.”

    and yeah, just don’t feed the trolls. ultimately, in this era of search engines and SEO, you’re only feeding them your own good reputation.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      ultimately, in this era of search engines and SEO, you’re only feeding them your own good reputation.

      Given how often I get search results for folks & things I’ve critiqued or reviewed, that’s definitely true. Some are probably vanity searched, but too many for just that.

      – Ryan

  4. Graham says:

    Respect expert criticism. Respect people expressing their opinion. Ignore the second dressed up as the first.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That leads to arrogance, calling people trolls, etc. Such thought leads to ad hominem attacks rather than reason.

      And all that, naturally, lead to a lack of personal and professional growth.

      – Ryan

  5. Graham says:

    Not at all! I’m suggesting we learn from those who know their subject and those who don’t, but are honest that they are simply expressing their opinion.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      There’s quite a bit to talk about regarding how this is a flawed perspective when dealing with criticism, but I’ll have to shelve that as a future blog post, as it’ll take more time to unpack that I have this morning.

      – Ryan

  6. pookie says:

    At best, I rarely get more than a thanks for writing a review. Do I want more? Well, feedback is always nice. Do I deserve more? Probably not.

    I have though, been subject to highly negative feedback from a publisher for a review that I wrote. I admit that the review I wrote was negative, but to write anything else would have been I felt, dishonest. In my situation, I stepped back and watched in amazement as this blew up into a fight between those attacking and those defending myself and my review.

    The oddest thing to have come out of this is that the publisher approached me afterwards and asked me to read his books for detail and historical verisimilitude. This has since progressed into my developing and editing these titles.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      As a creator, the last thing I would do is, as you say, “give feedback” on a review. At best, I’ll only look passive-aggressive to some of the people reading it. At worst, I leave a giant black mark on my reputation that’s visible when searching for me or my game on Google.

      After all, it’s just as easy to read someone’s criticism as a personal attack as it is to read feedback on said criticism as one. And I don’t just mean for the two parties involved, but for all the readers who look on and make their own silent judgments about what’s being said.

      – Ryan

  7. The RPG Guy says:

    Wow, funny, I actually just had my first bit of public criticism just last week.

    I really like all three of your points here and I agree that 1 / 2 are probably some of the best ways to deal with criticism… and then coming back to it and looking to see if some truth is there.

    Thanks Ryan!

    – Travis

  8. Joe Mcdaldno says:

    A rule I often forget, but always benefit from when I remember:

    If someone says something annoying on the internet, take 24 hours before responding. Often, you’ll realize in that span of time that replying won’t benefit anyone.