Reader Friday: Bad Reviews

“From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.” – Isaac Asimov

How do you respond to bad reviews?

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20 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Bad Reviews

  1. In my very short career as an author, I learned early on, reviews are opinions and everyone is entitled to them. My solution is to write the next book.

  2. It depends on the review. If a reviewer points out factual inaccuracies, weaknesses in the plot or lack of character development, those are worth listening to. Others, who just want to drop a bomb like, “It’s a load of crap,” aren’t worth consideration. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to embrace that distinction.

  3. Good quote. After 30 publications, the copious bleeding doesn’t last as long. I think about books I thought were “far less than stellar” and look at their reviews, noting that others may have liked them (and wonder why), and at books others say were fantastic that I couldn’t get into at all.
    I have one book that got a glowing review and is up for an award, while the same book got panned by other reviewers.
    Hard as it is to have someone say your baby is ugly, you move on. Others will find her pretty.

  4. Everyone wants their creation to be loved, though at this point in my writing “career,” I’d say fifty 3-star ratings would cause far less copious bleeding than one 5-star ratings would cause. Which is to say, anonymity is the real enemy.

  5. I was very lucky, and very obscure because I was an ebook pioneer, plus pre-Amazon for most of my books. So, a vast majority of reviews were done by review sites and magazines by experienced reviewers, and the reviews were excellent. One really bad review stands out because the reviewer complained about the book’s poor spelling and grammar in a review filled with bad spelling and grammar. My editor and I both laughed and screamed. Between the editor and myself, we had seven degrees in literature and education and over forty years of teaching writing so no way. The review was out, but I did contact the magazine and suggest that they shouldn’t publish a brutal review by an untested reviewer without offering it to a second reviewer. My other reviews were fine, and the novel won a few awards and is still in print.

    The only time I politely exploded to a site on a review that hadn’t been published yet was when the reviewer revealed the SIXTH SENSE level twist at the end of a novel. The site owners were horrified by that, and the review was changed.

    I’ve also contacted review sites for misspellings or factual errors. How hard is it to add a second “N” to a common name used by a movie icon?

  6. I don’t ever respond directly to a review. My life is way more pleasant when I ignore them completely. Hard to do. Like every writer, I’ve had some stinkers, and they’re always louder in my head than the good ones. Best not to look.

  7. Since James posed this question, I’ll share a little story that involves him, in this context. Having just connected with Jim as co-conspirators and advocates of structure within storytelling, I wrote him to ask his opinion of a particularly scathing review I received about my first writing book from a particularly uninformed new writer. Jim’s response was brief, and priceless. He said:

    “Pfff. A gnat.”

    Priceless.

  8. If a reader emails me directly with their criticism, I will always respond with a polite thank you. Fiction is about triggering emotion, after all. There’s an implied compliment in the fact that someone was so moved by a story (positively or negatively) that they decided to write to the author.

    In public forums, however, I think it’s always a mistake to respond to negative sentiments. It makes the author look small and defensive.

    I know I’ve posted this before, but I actually won an award at ThrillerFest for the most scathing review of all time. A New York state newspaper said in its review of NATHAN’S RUN, “The glue boogers in the binding are more captivating than Gilstrap’s torpid prose.” Now, that’s style!

    • You’ve done us all a service, John. If we ever get down about a negative review, we can read about boogers in the binding. Sheesh!

      There is a terrific little book called Rotten Reviews, with a collection of famous swipes at well-known authors, books, and plays. One NY critic said of a production of Uncle Vanya: “If you were to ask me what Uncle Vanya is about, I would say about as much as I can take.”

  9. I don’t mind something negative in a review if it makes sense or if the reader can support their argument, say, by putting a current book in context of the others of mine they might have read. That can be helpful. But as Larry and Jim say, mostly it’s Pfff…a gnat.

    Or in my case a fruit fly, since my kitchen is overrun with them this week.

  10. I remember the Emily Giffin debacle a few years back (https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/things-get-mean-when-everyones-critic/324201/). The takeaway:

    Never get into debates with online reviewers and trolls.

    If you are a seasoned writer and someone offers advice that you don’t agree with, allow yourself time to process the advice. Don’t react. Just say, “I’ll think about it.” Even great writers disagree about how to do things sometimes. Some people like chocolate ice cream, and others like blueberry ice cream. Everyone has a favorite flavor. If after protracted soul searching you agree with a critique, learn from it. If you disagree with it, ignore it. You are your own boss. Art is not a cheeseburger that can be cooked to order.

    On the other hand, if you are an emerging writer and you haven’t taken any classes or read any writing books, pay attention to people with more experience. Better yet, educate yourself. You’ve got to put the time in and do the homework. Good writing doesn’t happen by accident.

    I just critiqued a novel for a friend, and the writing was nice. Pretty even. Yet, the protagonist went through the book getting everything she wanted. Page after page of no conflict. The second something bad happened, the problem would disappear a paragraph later. The minute it started to rain, an umbrella would fall from the sky, so to speak. So, although it was uncomfortable not to give my friend the rave she was seeking, I was honest about the strengths and the weaknesses as I saw them. Just like I would tell her if she had a big stain on the back of her skirt. One day she will thank me. But not today. And that’s fine. It’s only human. The criticism that hurts the most is the criticism that you know is right the second you hear it. We’ve all been there. So fix problems and move on. Then eat chocolate.

  11. My favorite: “Read it a while ago. I don’t recall the plot, if, indeed, it had one — 1-star” Those I can ignore. The ones that truly shock me are 5-star ratings from perfect strangers who rave about how good the book is. I have to stop and think, “What book were they reading; surely it wasn’t that good.”

  12. Some reviewers can be entertaining, wording their comments in clever prose. One reviewer used a parody on my title. The book: And Then Came a Lion. His review title: And Then Came a Reviewer. Made me laugh. He still gave me three stars and what I took as a positive review. As others have said, these are opinions, and everyone is allowed one. I don’t like every book I pick up, why would others? It boils down to taste. However, abusive, none supported criticism makes the reviewer look bad, not the book, and isn’t worth thinking about let alone responding to. As other have mentioned, even the masters of the craft get bad reviews. We are certainly in esteemed company.

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