Lyon's Pen

Official Website for Fantasy Author E.L. Lyons

The Scapegoats

The writing community is generally wonderfully supportive and positive—toward each other. But there is shameful behavior toward reviewers who post negative reviews. Calling reviewers out and shaming them, arguing with them, or generally being unkind to the amazing people who give our books a chance is bad behavior. Period.

I’ve seen authors who claim to be okay with honest negative reviews add caveats—as long as the reader read the whole book and didn’t DNF, as long as they were gentle and kind in their criticism, as long as they clearly articulate why they hated it, as long as they don’t nitpick my grammar/typos/formatting, as long as it isn’t under 3 stars, as long as they’re qualified (I know my Twitter people still remember that guy), etc.

Either you think book reviewers should be able to speak their minds and give an honest opinion of the book, or you don’t. They shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells and choose their wording carefully to tell us what they don’t like about our books. They shouldn’t have to worry about being insulted, threatened, or harassed by authors (or other readers) if they don’t word things just so.

What it comes down to is that authors are using negative reviewers as their scapegoats instead of acknowledging the flaws in their work or the limited scope of their audience.


I think it’s appropriate that you can’t spell authoritarian without author. Because many authors seem to share that core belief that anyone who criticizes them is committing a heinous wrong and must be punished.

What other industry has such delicate expectations of critics? Do we ask movie critics or food critics to hold back? No. Books aren’t exempt from criticism. Yes, they take years to write and edit. It takes people years to learn to cook well, paint well, or direct well. In academia, harsh criticism is expected, and it can bring down years of someone’s work in a single paper or study.

It is simply not okay to discourage negative reviews just because we wish everyone loved our books. It’s a dear hope of mine that everyone who picks up Starlight Jewel enjoys it, but it isn’t a realistic hope. No book is beloved by every single reader. No book is perfect. My real hope is that everyone who reads Starlight Jewel feels comfortable posting an honest and detailed review. 

How to Respond?

I was conflicted for a while on whether or not it was okay for me, as an author, to post negative reviews. So many in the community don’t think it’s okay or professional for an author to leave a negative review, but indie authors are the most prolific readers of indie books, and more importantly, less and less reviewers are willing to leave negative reviews because of the potential repercussions. As a reader, I don’t ever want to be in a world where every book is a 5-star book and criticism isn’t allowed in the discussion of books.

By discouraging authors from negatively reviewing other authors’ books, we’re not really supporting the truly honest reviewers, we’re just protecting ourselves from the backlash that they’re subject to every day. 

If another author gets upset with me for posting a critical review, I can handle it. And I can handle it if reviewers post critical reviews of my book. I will never publicly call out a review or reviewer in a negative way. I will never argue with a reviewer who doesn’t like my book. If you ever want to bring me on a podcast so we can discuss the issues in one of my books… I think that would actually be fun and kind of awesome.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Starlight Jewel. I think it’s a pretty good book thanks to the amazing people who criticized it for two years until it was something I felt proud to publish. But it’s a debut novel written by a flawed person who has a disturbing imagination. My skills have improved since finishing and publishing it—I can see many flaws in it. It’s not going to meet everyone’s standards, and that is perfectly okay.

Criticism is a Form of Support

Criticism helps authors grow and improve and it helps readers choose books they’re more likely to enjoy. If all reviews are good reviews, then reading reviews is pointless and we may as well just guess at what books we want to read.

More importantly, supporting each other and giving each other criticism aren’t mutually exclusive and never have been. Criticism is the form of support that’s gotten me further than anything else, and largely because I recognized that I needed it and embraced it. We can encourage each other, share each other’s work, beta read for each other, and do plenty of other things to support each other that don’t involve the eradication of criticism.

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