Sunday, January 22, 2012

Coming to Terms with a Bad Review

In the past few weeks, there's been a lot of talk about whether or not writers should engage readers who did NOT enjoy their book. Some have on Goodreads and Twitter. One instance even involved an agent and editor. it wasn't pretty for anyone involved. I have to believe every person who participated walked away wounded somehow.

No one likes to be rejected. It sucks, right? But it's a part of the business and we, as writers, need to understand this.

I'm not saying it's easy. One of my books received a not-so-complimentary review recently. Did it hurt? Sure! Did I jump into the comments and explain where I think she went wrong in her assumptions? Absolutely not.

When I'm faced with a review like that, I put myself in the reader's shoes. I can tell you, quite honestly, that there are many, many, many books I've read that I did not enjoy. These are books my friends loved, books that hit the New York Times bestseller lists, and books that won awards. Just because I don't like them, doesn't mean they're crap. What's the old phrase? One person's junk is another person's treasure.

I think this applies very solidly to writing and reading. This is a business built on subjectivity. And don't tell me there are certain rules writers have to follow, because there aren't. I can recall a very popular book I once read that had no quotation marks - in the entire freaking book. It was so hard to read! I never had any idea whether or not someone was talking or thinking or narrating. In my mind - it was a mess. But, it was well-reviewed and people all over loved it.

That's what we, as writers, have to remember when we see a bad review. There have been times we've hated books too. Maybe we hated them for the subject matter or because the main love interest had the same name as an ex-boyfriend and for that one reason  we couldn't connect with the rest of the book. Let's all keep that in mind when a bad review crosses our Google alerts.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I completely agree. I think all reviews should be posted, good and bad. Now I do not think that means reviewers get a free pass to be unprofessional when reviewing a book, but that is a whole other issue. I think it is important to be honest when reviewing, if you are going to be dishonest, you might as well not post any reviews.

    Honestly, the whole bad review fiasco scared me. Would an author get mad at me if I didn't enjoy their book? I love working with, and talking to authors and the last thing I want to do is upset them after they worked so hard on their book. But I owe it to myself and the people that read my reviews to be honest. But there is always a professional way to go about negative parts of a book.

  2. Exactly. Tact is always a good thing, on both sides, but your honest opinion about why you didn't like a book may be another reader's reason for wanting to read it.

  3. Great post. I've seen too many defensive writers lately. The whole business is subjective and everyone must remember that it's not personal.

  4. Excellent post, Megg! We've all been there. Those first low-star reviews are quite eye-opening, aren't they? For me, they're especially difficult to bear when poorly written and vague, as that in no way helps me grow as a writer. On the other side of that, however, is the fact that I don't think anyone else will find those particular reviews helpful. And I would never, ever comment on a review for the reasons you stated. That's just very poor form!

    Even our favorite writers receive their share of bad reviews, and that's also something to keep in mind. As you said, no single writer will appeal to every single reader!

  5. When I feel bad about a review, I look at the bad reviews of authors I admire and remind myself that it's not just me. lol

  6. Good post, Megg. I think as a book blogger it is sometimes hard for me because I would like to honestly say that I love all the books that I review. However, there have been times that the author is a fantastic writer, but the story, the genre, or little plot twists didn't work for me so it scored a little less than another book. It does not mean the author doesn't have talent; it just means beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we don't all think the same things are beautiful.

  7. I've been following this recent blow up quite closely, as I think there are a lot of learning lessons to be found on both sides. Yes, it definitely got out of control, but the thing that bothered me the most was a certain well-published author jumping on the bandwagon and beating down anyone who isn't a "literary reviewer" and basically saying anyone who runs book blog reviews or posts on Goodreads and amazon doesn't have the right to call themselves a reviewer. First off, no one reads literary reviews--at least, not the actual people buying the books. And second, by saying that, she lost a reader in me, which is a shame because I really enjoyed her books. So yup, it's definitely important to think about who you're insulting when posting something online because the repercussions could be a lot worse than you'd anticipate.


  8. I agree but I've noticed a trend with reviews that are completely rude and mean spirited all over review sites. I believe in reviews that are honest and forthcoming because I as a writer use it as a tool to deliver better. If everyone is saying that my frosting is too sweet and not enough vanilla, I add more vanilla and limit sugar. My own books are about werewolves and they say that in the synopsis. Nothing drives me crazier than to read a review of my book and they say they hate werewolf books..SMH! I'm picky about what I read... I don't care for zombie I don't read them, and if I do...I've taken it in my own hands (if they survive the zombies). Reviewers shouldn't be mean spirited and downright rude in a review, I look at them like a bully in the schoolyard when they take it too far.

  9. Me too, Meg. Reading bad reviews of books I loved puts it all in perspective. If the resounding feedback comes back that the book stunk, then, yeah, I'd double check things, but just a handful? *shrugs* Can't please them all. Great post. Authors are human.

    Hugs, Brenda