Bad reviews stink. There’s nothing else to say. That’s not to say a bad review isn’t a legitimate thing or that people are wrong to write them. Readers aren’t wrong to write them. People have every right to express a genuine and honest opinion of and reaction to my novel, or to any other novel they’ve read. It’s a writer’s responsibility to learn how to handle the negative feedback.
All I ask is that people limit themselves to critiquing my work without insulting me or bringing me as a person into the discussion. That’s a legitimate expectation on the part of any author, I’d think. I’m happy to say I’ve never received a bad review that attacked me personally, and I’m grateful that my readers have been so decent.
The occasional bad review is part of being an author and publishing your work. I feel lucky that overall reviews of my first release have been positive. (I have a 4.3 rating right now on amazon.com.)
Of course, I definitely have one or two one star reviews in various places across the web. And those always sting, because you want the people who read your work to enjoy it. You always hope they will. Check out this snippet of a one star I received somewhere a while ago (which I’m printing here as an example of a legitimate and respectful bad review, one at which I can’t take legitimate personal offense)
Ugh. I tried so hard to like this book, but neither the characters nor the plot were compelling.
You can’t expect everyone who reads your work to like it. That would be ridiculous. It’s simply outside the realm of possibility. People’s tastes and expectations vary far too much, and that’s a good thing in the grand scheme of life.
So what do I do when I get a bad review?
- First of all, I never, ever, EVER respond. Don’t do it. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t disagree, or offer explanations, or take a risk of looking like you’re attacking the reviewer. You’ll look like a baby who can’t handle the criticism. You will never, ever come out looking good by responding to a negative review. This is true even if your intent in responding isn’t worthy of condemnation.
- What I do instead is I take a deep breath and remind myself that my work will never be to everyone’s taste. That helps me not to take a respectful bad review personally. Because honestly, I’ve no cause to.
- I try to put things in perspective by asking myself: do other reviews say this same thing? Do I have a positive review–or multiple positive reviews–disagreeing with the critiques here? For instance, considering the review above: Do I have reviews that say someone really connected to a character or two, or that they enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns?
- If the answer is yes, I have positive reviews disagreeing, this helps me feel better about the negative feedback. It reminds me that a fair number of readers did enjoy my work. It prevents me from overreacting and wishing that, say, I’d never published. It stops me from attacking myself and entering a spiral of self-doubt.
- Now, the answer for me has never been “no, no one has disagreed with this negative assessment,” but if that were the case, I like to think I’m mature enough to take my feedback as a learning opportunity and a chance to identify where I need to improve as a writer.
- Even when I can tell myself, “Yes, I have reviewers who disagree with this assessment of my writing,” I still try–in as unbiased a manner as possible–to determine if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. Because hey, I’m always looking to become better at what I do. Constructive criticism is a wonderful tool for that. It’s something to embrace and be grateful for, not to get down in the dumps about.
So thanks to all respectful reviewers out there, of my work and of others’ work. Thanks for your honest feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read our books and give them a chance. Thanks for taking the time to let us know you enjoyed them, and for having the courage to tell us where we can do better. I, for one, am grateful.
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