Sunday, April 17, 2011

They’re Just Not That Into You: Dealing With Reviews

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A common question I get asked at events is, how do I handle negative reviews? Sometimes it’s asked matter-of-factly, other times with this look of dread in the asker’s eyes (I can tell right there they’re writers, too). Do I respond? Do I cry? Do I get mad? Do I change my writing to fix what they said? How do I possibly go on?

I’ve been pretty lucky so far in that most of the reviews of my books (The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall) have been positive. Even the reviewers who didn’t like them had some positive things to say (a sign of a good reviewer). There have only been a few that were downright nasty. But this holds true of every book out there, even the ones with hundreds of five-star ratings. Be kinda silly for me to expect different treatment, wouldn’t it?

Do I respond?
I haven’t yet, though sometimes I’m tempted to say thanks for trying, and it’s a shame it wasn’t for them. But I’m never sure how that might come across, so I stay silent. I’ve never been tempted to say more than that, though, because everyone really is entitled to their opinion. And just because that person didn’t like my book, that doesn’t mean it’s bad or that no one will like it.

Do I cry? 

No tears, but there have been a few reviews that hurt. It wasn’t so much the review that got me, but the comments after where people said they’d seen the book and were thinking about buying it because it looked good, then changed their minds now that they read this review. Those really stung. But then I told myself that if these people liked the same kinds of book as the reviewer, and the reviewer was usually spot on in their tastes, then my book probably wasn’t for them. Had they read it, it might have generated another bad review somewhere.

Do I get mad?
Nah. There’s really no point, and it’s a waste of energy. Even though a bad review can feel personal, it really isn’t. They’re not attacking me, they just didn’t like my book. And that’s okay, because I don’t expect everyone to like my book. Naturally, I hope most folks do, and I hope folks are willing to give it a try, but everyone has their own tastes.

Do I change my writing to fix what they said?
Sometimes, but only if it’s a comment I see in a lot of reviews, and I think they’re right. I look at reviews as another way to gain valuable reader feedback. If I’m doing something that hurts the book even a little, then it might be something I want to address in my writing. My goal as a writer is to entertain readers, and understanding what entertains them helps me do my job a lot easier. And hopefully, a lot better. While I won’t change something to appease one reviewer when hundreds more liked what I did, I have found things in bad reviews that I agreed I could have done better. I tried to improve on that in my next book.

How do I possibly go on?
By developing a thick skin, and understanding that my books are products, and people are going to have every opinion about them there is. Not every book is for everybody, and that’s a good thing, because it gives us an enormous variety of stories to choose from. Besides, personal taste has zero bearing on the talent of the writer or the quality of the book. There are bestsellers out there that I couldn’t get past the first chapter, and books than others panned that I adored. Entertainment is subjective, as is art, and books are both. The goal is the get the books into the hands of those who like your kind of book. And reviews can be good way to do that.

I give kudos to reviewers, because I imagine it has to be a bit nerve-wracking to write about someone’s work, especially if you have some criticisms. Will they be upset? Will they comment? Will they say bad things in return? But as an author and a lover of books, I enjoy discovering new books and seeing other readers discover mine. So I really can’t get too upset about what’s said about my work.

’Cause after all, at least they’re talking about me, right?

Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at The Bookologist.


  1. Sounds like darn good strategies to me. I always thought that while we all hate having to go through rejections while querying (and going on submission) it really is good training in learning how to cope and develop a thick skin. I always try to remember that myself. If you can't take rejection, then reviews are going to be impossible to deal with.

  2. I can't actually imagine a situation where responding to a bad review would leave a writer coming out well. Perhaps it's just a good policy not to respond, publicly at least, to any reviews at all?

    How I'll handle reviews if/when I get to that stage is one of the things I fear most. I've managed to develop a thick skin for comments from my crit partners and beta readers, because I know they want to help me make my work as good as possible. Reviewers though, are a whole new breed to me.

  3. If everyone liked the same thing we'd only need one of everything -- how dull.

  4. Good for you. I hope to be the same way if/when I'm published. I want to learn from the negative but no reply to it.

  5. This was a great post to read. Recently someone found my blog, contacted me and sent me a book to review. It's painful, but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The idea is great, and I see the potential, but it feels like they self published before getting beta readers to help tighten the book.

    My other thought is that if they paid for an editor, they need to get their money back.

    Can I ask your advice? Should I contact them and let them know I can't do a review? I feel bad they spent the money to send the book, but it has taken me a month to read 88/494 pages.

    If it is self published, could he revise the book and re-release it? If it were me, I'd rather pull a mediocre book and replace it with the best I can do. And I don't feel like he's there yet, but it's not really my place to say that is it?

    Oy, I never thought blogging would bring me to this. :)

  6. This a great way of dealing with reviews. I like how you thought through the entire process. Thanks!

  7. I've had a reviewer give away the final surprise twist in one of my novels. Since it was a web review, I asked her privately to remove the offending sentences because readers don't want that much of a spoiler, and she did.

    I've also corrected major factual errors like two characters with their name switched, again in private.

    Public comments rarely work.

  8. Can't beat what a Python said:

    “Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.” Terry Gilliam.

  9. I love this post. I like to review books honestly, but I don't want to offend authors I may meet at conferences. I've thought about just going to a 'no review' policy. I know some authors will do interviews on their blogs as ways to give their writing friends airtime, but they won't review or comment on the books at all so as not to be put in the hard position of having to say they like some books and they don't like others.

    But I love to talk about the books I read. So for the present I'm reviewing what I want. I have tried to cut way back on the "Where was the editor?!!!" type comments, though, now that I have a book that is about to go out on submission. heh heh

  10. As a writer, I've had pretty nasty reviews when i would post my work to a forum site on LJ back in the day. At first I got mad and defensive, then I was self depreciating, then I just started thanking them for their time, then I just stopped responding all together. One time I just posted the work and the next day there were 83 comments about people arguing over my work and I wasn't even there to witness it. The comments were pretty awesome.

    That being said, it probably is best not to respond because you don't want people getting a negative opinion about you. Even if you are right. ;)

  11. After you've gotten enough 1 and 2 star reviews, you stop caring. Thick skin really does develop over time. :) I suggest authors keep a folder of fan mail and browse through the 1 and 2 star reviews on popular books to understand it's not just them. 1 and 2 star reviews are just a part of the process. As someone said above, your book isn't for everybody.

    Oh, and I would never reply publicly to a review, good or bad.

  12. Very cool post.

    In completely unrelated news, I'm about to start Shifter! :) I've decided to stop reading another, very popular, but rather dry book to skip to yours. :D

  13. Wen: That is so true. Rejection and judgment is such a staple in the book biz. Someone somewhere is going to be judging you your whole career.

    Paul: Yeah, that's what I finally decided on about the bad ones. Good ones I like to say thanks when I see them. It's one more way to connect with readers and I enjoy that.

    GigglesandGuns: Totally!

    Karen: "learn from the negative but not reply to it." Good philosophy. :)

    Charity: I've never done reviews, but I've read on quite a few other review blogs that they can't promise a review just because you send in a book. If you feel you can't do a review for them, perhaps don't do it. And since they didn't ask for a critique of their work, I'd probably not say anything about it. I understand the urge to want to help, though.

    Elizabeth: You're welcome! I've found myself thinking about things I never expected to :)

    Marilynn: That's nice that they did that. I'd imagine reviewers review because they love books and writers, so I can see them being happy to edit in a case like that.

    Bob: Python wisdom works in so many situations :)

    Sally: I stopped posting much on Goodreads for that very reason. (And took down the books I didn't care for) Just because I don't like a book doesn't mean it's bad, and I'd feel horrible if I met that writer somewhere and they mentioned it (not that they would, all the writers I've met have been way to nice for that). Probably tough being a writer/reviewer.

    Najela: That's probably a great way to build up a thick skin actually. I agree with the not responding. Safer in the long run.

    Ruth Ann: Wise words. I went back and looked at those bad reviews for mega bestsellers I loved just to remind myself that :) It helps!

    Robin: Oh cool! I hope you like it :)

  14. I'm LOVING it--only, it's getting in the way of my own writing. Could you please be a little less interesting next time? :)

  15. LOL oopsy! But that'll take all the fun out of it! (grin)

  16. I saw Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips co-present a workshop at RWA a few years back and they gave great advice on bad reviews:


    These are bestselling authors, yet they still call each other over very nasty reviews and that is the requirement they gave each other. Get it out of your space and move on.

    I've always remembered that. I'll take your advice and put it with their on the bulletin board over my computer. Thanks!

  17. A writer I know has a ritual for bad reviews. She makes a cup of tea, and while she drinks the tea she allows herself to grumble about the stupid reviewer (aloud, not online!). When the tea is gone, that's it - she moves on.

  18. Jenny: Good advice there. Just vent with a friend and move on.

    Anne: I like that!