Reviewed Words of Wisdom

I made my first sales as a flash fiction writer in 2009-11. A number of my stories appeared at Every Day Fiction, and that magazine provided my first experience in having my fiction reviewed. Readers could give a story a star rating, as well as comment on it, and sometimes those comments ended up being micro-reviews. Since then, like other published authors, my books have varying numbers of online reviews at the various online book stores and at Goodreads. Each author ends up having to decide how to deal with reviews of their books—ignore, read only the good ones, read all of them, and what, if anything, to take away from those reviews.

Today’s Words of Wisdom provides three insightful takes on reviews. Joe Moore lays out the three types of reviews, Laura Benedict reasons for motivations for reading your reviews, and Clare Langley-Hawthorne shares a useful way to categorize your reviews. Each excerpt is date-linked to the original post, and all are worth reading in their entirety.

No book has ever been declared great by everyone who read it. There will always be those who dislike a book for more reasons that we can count. As a matter of fact, it never ceases to amaze me the vast span of reactions to books including my own and those of my friends. Pick any bestseller and you’ll find someone who loves it and someone else who doesn’t. And often both are willing to say so, in the strongest of terms. There are more than enough good, bad and ugly reviews to go around.

So I thought that instead of talking about online reviews, I’d share some of mine with you. I’ve listed 5 of my thrillers (all co-written with Lynn Sholes) and a sample of the good, the bad and the ugly online reviews we’ve received over the years.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who wrote and posted these nor have I ever paid for a review. These samples were gathered from Amazon and Goodreads.


The Good: “I’ll read anything these two authors write. I have to be careful not to put a spoiler in this review, but there is one scene that knocked me off the sofa. I don’t often squeal during a movie scene when the bad guy comes out from around the dark corner, but there was a scene in this book that made me jump and I almost flung the book across the room. I won’t tell which one it was because I don’t want to ruin it for any other reader.”

The Bad: “I just couldn’t figure out if this book was for “young adult” reading or “teen reading” or adults or Christian reading or even anti-religion.”

The Ugly: “The writing is deplorable, the style so bland I had to read a page twice to make sure it was indeed that bad!”


The Good: “What I want to know is when is this going to come out as a movie? It has to be one of the most exciting thrillers I have ever read. I was hooked from the first page on when Cotten Stone (the main character) stumbles onto the dig site of the Crusader’s tomb.”

The Bad: “This started with interesting characters and action, but the quality of writing was fair and the story went downhill. Would not recommend even as a beach book.”

The Ugly: “The book was simply boring and poorly written. The characters had no depth. The plot took forever to go anywhere.”


The Good: “This was one of those books you cannot put down. Basically I was on the edge of my seat so to speak whilst reading it. Exciting, mysterious. Well written, keeps you guessing. Loved it… Would recommend as great reading!”

The Bad: “It takes more than an exotic location and some perceived struggle between good and evil to make a good story.”

The Ugly: “Religious hype … I was totally disappointed.”

Joe Moore—September 5, 2012

Whenever I’m tempted to read reviews of my work, I keep in mind what my very first writing teacher told me: “You don’t get to look over your reader’s shoulder and explain your work. It is what it is.” That’s it. It’s out on paper or online (or shared with your workshop or writing group or significant other) and it must stand on its own. Sometimes it’s going to wobble, and sometimes someone is going to point out where you screwed up. That’s the way of sending work out into the world. The sending out has to be its own reward because there are no guarantees once it’s done.

If you’re not one of the stalwart writers who can confidently take anything a reviewer throws at you, pause a moment before you sit down to read your reviews at Goodreads or Amazon or anywhere else and ask yourself a few questions:

Am I looking for approbation? If so, then go ask your mom or spouse or bff what they think of your work, because while you might find some solace in reviews, you’re going to find a lot of other things that are nothing like approbation.

Am I being tempted to look at reviews by my overbearing inner critic? This is your own resistance trying to keep you from your work. Your inner critic will skim over all the nice things it reads and zero in on the negative comments. These are the ones that will stay with you when you sit down to write.

Am I willing to give equal weight to both the negative and positive reviews? This is related to the inner critic question. If you believe all the bad stuff, then you might as well believe all the good stuff, too. And vice versa.

Is there critical information that will help me become a better writer? This is a tricky one. Sure, there may be some clues in there, but if your goal truly is to become a better writer, then find a good editor and pay them to tell you what needs to change. Good editors rarely spend their time giving away their advice for free in reviews.

If I read my reviews, am I likely to be motivated to put my backside in the chair and write my thousand words today when I’m done? For me, this answer is always a resounding no. Your experience may be different. If someone writes to me and tells me how much they like my work, I sail away to my keyboard on Cloud Nine, but I’ve never felt that way after reading a review. And reading negative reviews can knock me off my schedule for days. Sometimes weeks.

My relationship with reviews has evolved significantly over the past decade. At the beginning I approached even Amazon reviews with reverence and fear. My attitude was funny given that I reviewed for a newspaper for ten years. I knew how subjective reviews were. Much depends on the reviewer’s workload, tastes, and expectations. But I couldn’t get past the kid waving the potholder for several years. I wanted everyone to love my work! And if they didn’t, I spent a lot of time worrying that there was something wrong with it.

I can’t pinpoint when I changed. Somewhere along the line I stopped having expectations of the people who—often very kindly—bothered to take the time to write down what they liked, or didn’t like, about my work. I turned my concentration to my characters, making them more human, even occasionally sympathetic. That was what I could control. Now, months can go by and I don’t even know about new reviews that have gone up.

Laura Benedict—August 10, 2016

An article in the New York Times last week got me thinking (again) about reviews (hey, I bet most authors have a small part of their brain devoted to the ever-present background angst about past or future reviews/criticism of their work). The article (which you can find clicking on this link) is an interview with the author Curtis Sittenfield on the thorny issue of how professional authors handle criticism.

Now we’ve all heard of the unfortunate instances where authors have directly responded to negative reviews or criticism – usually through an ill-advised rant on twitter or a hot-headed response on Goodreads or Amazon. If you’ve forgotten or unsure of what some authors have stooped to doing, I recommend reading some of The Guardian’s book blog posts on the matter (see: how not to handle reviewshow not to respond to a bad review for example).

Curtis Sittenfield provides a useful quadrant tool that many authors could use. Basically she divides up reviews into four quadrants: smart and positive (definitely read!); smart and negative (still read); dumb and positive (read for the ego’s sake); and dumb and negative (do not read!). Many authors get into the greatest hot-water when they allow themselves to get embroiled in a debate over what they consider to be ‘dumb and negative’ reviews. Now, maybe it’s too hard to resist the temptation to read these kind of reviews but it’s up to every professional author worth their salt to resist the temptation to respond to them. You just can’t take it all so personally (being a professional writer means recognizing this is a business after all). As Curtis Sittenfield notes: ” I literally don’t think I’ve ever read a letter from a writer complaining about his or her negative review that made the writer look good. You’re better off just biting your tongue.”

Too true!

But, as Curtis goes on to point out, there are many instances in which harsh criticism can identify a real weakness in a book or an author’s approach to their material that, while humiliating, can all be part of the process of learning to be a better writer. Even in these instances though, the best response from a writer is no response at all. For Curtis, her nightmare reviewer is one who has an agenda that precludes them from responding sincerely to the book – and I think this is (again) where many authors come unstuck. There’s a lot of mean people on the internet who have their own agenda when it comes to reviewing a book or adding comments on a thread regarding someone’s work. Sometimes they are angry and bitter, sometimes they may be jealous, sometimes they want to indulge in a personal attack just for the hell of it (some are just plain trolls after all). But there can be nothing gained from responding to a scathing comment or a harsh review regardless of the reviewer’s real (or imagined) motive. Anyone who’s been on Facebook or other social media recently can attest to the fact that you are never going to change someone’s mind through an ill-advised post, comment or flamewar!

Clare Langley-Hawthorne—August 29, 2016


There you have it: the good, the bad and the ugly of reviews; reading reviews; handling reviews.

  1. How do you categorize reviews?
  2. Do you ever read your reviews? If so, do you read all of them? Do you have someone else screen your reviews and only share certain ones with you?
  3. Do you learn anything from reading your reviews?

This entry was posted in #writers, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, Joe Moore, Laura Benedict, reviews by Dale Ivan Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dale Ivan Smith

Dale Ivan Smith is a retired librarian turned full-time author. He started out writing fantasy and science fiction, including his five-book Empowered series, and has stories in the High Moon, Street Spells, and Underground anthologies, and his collection, Rules Concerning Earthlight. He's now following his passion for cozy mysteries and working on the Meg Booker Librarian Mysteries series, beginning with A Shush Before Dying.

17 thoughts on “Reviewed Words of Wisdom

  1. I categorize reviews as either constructive or book reports. I think I dislike the book reports more than negative reviews.
    I read some reviews, but don’t pay a lot of attention. When there’s a negative one, I look over at the rankings distribution to remind myself the vast majority are 4 and 5 stars.
    I did have one reviewer point out a significant error in a book, and I went back and fixed it–a perk of being indie.
    For me, the biggest positive of a review: Someone read the book! (probably)

    • I like your categorizations, Terry. Book reports is an apt term for overly long reviews, which can also be spoiler heavy.

      Biggest positive being that someone read the book is wonderful perspective.

      Hope you have a fine weekend.

  2. Though I’m not yet published, I’ve given thought to how I’ll handle reviews. As Claire mentions, people can be purposefully nasty in their reviews. Being able to hide behind an anonymous computer screen without face to face interaction brings out more harshness in people. But it’s guaranteed to happen.

    I’ve never had a problem with having my work critiqued—I have implemented a lot of feedback received, and I occasionally disagreed with feedback received. But I think reading reviews of my work will be a whole different ballgame. My biggest concern will be what Laura mentioned in her post—instead of focusing on the good, zeroing in on the negative because of my inner critic that’s always working overtime.
    I like the advice someone here at TKZ gave—about getting someone to read your reviews and giving you the key takeaways. That’s the plan I’d like to adopt. But in reality, can I really resist reading the reviews? We’ll see. But I think it will be worth enduring the good, the bad and the ugly to read those reviews where you read it and think “That person really gets me. Gets what I was trying to do through my story” by mentioning a story element that really meant a lot to them and meant a lot to you too, as author.

    • Reviews can certainly fuel the inner critic, B.K. Having someone filter them for you is an excellent idea. It’s something I’ve considered, too, though I still read my own reviews. One thing that’s helped me is the observation that reviews are for other readers, not for the author.

      Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  3. Great posts to pull from the archives, Dale. That takes some real work. Thanks for finding them and organizing them.

    I tend to ignore the reviews of my books. When I read them, I read all of them, and I don’t have anyone screen them for me.

    I like Curtis Sittenfield’s four-quadrant organization for reviews. For some reason, while reading about it, I realized those four quadrants could be nicely pasted onto a dart board.

    I hope your weekend is a good one, and the gremlins stay away from TKZ today.

    • Thanks, Steve!

      Ignoring reviews is probably healthiest. One author noted another reason for avoiding reading reviews of your work was to not be unduly influenced by excessively glowing ones, because those could cause you to be caught up in an expectations trap for your next book, making hard to not try and match in your next book whatever it was that the particular reviewer loved.

      Envisioning the review quadrant as a dartboard gave me a good chuckle 🙂

      Hope you have a terrific weekend.

  4. I never read reviews. My job is to write the stories. It’s none of my business what the reader thinks of them, and every reader will have a different opinion. (Same reason I don’t seek or accept critiques of my writing.)

    • My job is to write the stories: words of wisdom, Harvey. A writing friend of mine, Jay Lake, who sadly passed away in 2014, used to say “stories belong to the reader,” meaning that readers own their reactions to a story or novel, and the same applies to their reviews.

  5. Reviews are an emotional minefield for writers. Dale, thanks for the collective wisdom from Joe, Laura, and Clare to put things in perspective.

    As Clare says, the shield of anonymity brings out vicious cowards–one reason why I largely avoid social media. Nastiness says more about the person spewing it than the book they’re supposedly reviewing.

    • “Emotional minefield” neatly sums up the risk, Debbie. Well put.

      When it comes to nastiness and insulting behavior, I’ve worked to adopt a Stoic mindset that says the best response is no response at all. The next best is self-deprecating humor, but that’s better used in face to face interactions, rather than on social media. I do staunchly adhere to the principle to never, ever, respond to a review of my work. As Harvey put it, that’s none of my business, reviews belong to readers.

      Hope you have a restorative weekend as you prepare for next Saturday’s book release!

  6. I only read reviews for the book’s first month, two tops. Once a few months roll by, I’m less likely to even know about them. Reviews are for readers, not authors. That’s my motto. And I never read Goodreads reviews. Safer that way. 😉

    Smoke is filling our skies again, so please post lots of luna pics, Dale! I did catch her all last week, but it may be over a week till I see her again. It’s depressing. I hate not being able to admire the night sky. Anyway, hope you have a great weekend!

    • That seems like a very smart approach, Sue. I agree, too, that reviews are for readers, not authors, Goodreads especially 🙂

      I’m sorry the wildfire smoke continues. I’ll definitely post moon photos when I take more–the past few nights have been clear, but Luna has been low in the sky, and difficult to photograph. Still, I’ve gotten to see the night sky–last night the Moon was near Antares. Despite the awful smoke, I hope you too have a wonderful weekend!

  7. I don’t read my reviews unless my publisher sends me one. If an otherwise good review has something in it that my brain labels as a negative, it will keep me away from the computer for days.

  8. I do read the reviews of my books. I look for what the reviewer particularly liked or didn’t like and see if there’s a pattern with other reviewers.

    The first time I got a one-star review, I almost fainted. Then I decided it was a badge of honor. It meant my book was being widely read, and that’s important to me. There are lots of great books out there with one-stars.

    • A one-star review as a badge of honor is an excellent mindset. I think we would be hard-pressed to find a great book that didn’t have at least a few, proving, once more, that no book is for everyone.

Comments are closed.