Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Handling Bad Reviews

One of the hot topics among book reviewers right now is poor behavior from authors regarding bad reviews. There are very few book bloggers out there who enjoy giving bad reviews and so far I haven't met any of them. But sometimes it can't be helped. Reviewers are approached by authors seeking reviews to market their books and bump their ratings. The reviewers give their time to read and then write at no charge to these authors. And I can tell you that, as of this post, I have gotten fewer than a half-dozen thank-yous from the authors whose books I've reviewed. Most don't give me a second thought once their review is posted. So all is well when the review is favorable. 

Unfortunately, there have been a few authors who have retaliated against their reviewers for posting negative reviews. I haven't been on the receiving end of this behavior yet, but I suspect that in the future I might be. 

People, I'm an author, too. Getting reviews is hard. Getting bad reviews hurts. But if you got into this thankless business without a thick skin, then you better hang up your typewriter ASAP because it's not going to get easier. Publishing is a scary thing. You're putting your soul on paper (or whatever) and tossing it out into the world for everyone to see. Some people won't like your book. Some people didn't like Harry Potter (me) and that book seems to be doing fine. Every review, even the bad ones, is a chance to further develop your craft. Even bad feedback is constructive. Sometimes ridiculous reviews can even help sell your book.
Below is my response to a review of my book last year. Note that I didn't respond directly to the reviewer. Never, I repeat NEVER do that unless it's to say thanks. You'll only end up looking childish and insecure. This response was posted on my author blog as part of sharing my publishing journey with my readers. You can read the original review here.

So, some may have noticed that I recently received a scathing review for Here with Me Now on Goodreads. As a writer and a former dancer who once tried acting (and failed miserably) and did a long stint in outbound telemarketing, I've developed a very thick skin. Of course a bad review makes my flesh burn for a minute, but then I look at it reasonably.

The positive side of this woman's review is that she didn't say she hated the book because of poor writing or bad pacing or any of those mechanics that would really embarrass me as a writer. The reviewer hated the story. Well, you can't argue an opinion of a story. Specifically, she hated that there's a moment where Mallory's male classmate slaps her across the face. Sorry, but it's a fact of life. Sometimes boys hit girls. Then she hated that the mom was relieved that her daughter wasn't a lesbian. Again, plenty of moms throughout history have uttered those same words. Neither of those scenes in the book are condoning violence or intolerance. Neither of those are statements on how the world should be. They're simply demonstrating the experiences of this particular teenage girl. Here with Me Now is a slice-of-life novel, not an episode of Full House. If you're looking for a sugar-coated account of high school, might I suggest Sweet Valley High or The Baby-sitters Club?

Then the reviewer goes on to complain that Mallory was obsessive and annoying and out of touch with reality. Well, at least she got the point of the story even if she didn't like it. I wrote this novel in the first-person voice of an irrational teenage girl. She doesn't have the outside narration to explain her ridiculous thoughts or the experience of the reader to tell her she's out of her mind. She's a girl and this is how some girls think. Not all girls, but some. This one. I mean, honestly, if I'd wanted to write about a level-headed teenager who thinks clearly and makes the right decisions there would have been no reason to write anything at all. But there's no reason to be so angry about it.

So, no. I'm not upset about getting a bad review. I actually appreciate the reviewer's assistance in summing up the message of the story: "...this is why teenagers can not make consenting decisions related to having sex with [an] adult. They do not realize the consequences!" It seems like she fully understood what I was trying to say. Maybe I should have hired her to write my tag line.

Anyway, bring on the reviews. I'm up for it.


  1. As a reviewer, I do hate to be negative but you have to be honest. It's only one person's opinion and the writer should not take it to heart. You'll find that others will love it too.