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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

6 Tips for Surviving Bad Reviews

My novel, Crossing Oceans, has earned a fair amount of reviews, mostly really good. In fact, I had a string of a hundred or so glowing reviews in a row. I was quite pleased as you can imagine, until, I started getting a string of one star reviews.

One star. Ouch.

I’m used to having my stuff shred in critique groups, from editors, and even finding out that someone here or there didn’t find it to be there cup of tea. I mean I got bummed when my local paper gave it a positive review but added it was a bit melodramatic.

Alright, so maybe it is. It still hurt a little. But not as much as finding I had half a dozen, You suck, I’d rather choke on my own vomit and be run over by a compost truck then finish this book reviews. Some descriptions? Predictable. Horrible. Unbelievable. Or my personal favorite… Christian. Ha.

Yes, I might have a hundred five star reviews to the four one star, but guess which ones try to whisper in my ear as I write?

My first thought when reading a particularly mean and unconstructive review is, I’ll bet the guy I dumped for my husband wrote it, or maybe that girl that was always tripping me in middle school or that man in my critique group who thought my suggestions to his manuscript were a personal attack on his manhood, or perhaps it’s a Tanya Harding type whose book mine knocked off some list. 

It could be sour grapes. I’ve ticked off enough people in my life to warrant worse retaliation. But, honestly, I doubt that’s it.

I think some people (gasp), simply don’t like my book.

After getting over the initial hurt feelings of reading that someone saying their dog can write better than me and she buried him two years ago, my second thought is to glean anything useful from their review. Sometimes I can. Often I can’t. This was a bit of a surprise to me.

I think what’s most upsetting is that there is no recourse. It feels a lot like someone driving buy, laying on their horn, flipping you the bird and then speeding away. The people that do this would never do that if they were standing next to you in a line. Why? Because you might do it back. It’s bad form for authors to respond publicly to their critics, and I highly recommend you don’t. It just makes you look bad. So what can you do to survive bad reviews?

1. Read the one star reviews of your all time favorite books. Ones I KNOW are genius. Even these books get the “This is puke” one star ratings now and then.

To Kill a Mockingbird:

(Real review excerpts from Amazon reviewers)ONE STAR: “Dead dull read. Buy it to cure your insomnia as it will certainly put you to sleep. It is one dead dull read.”

Enough said?

2. Reread the positive reviews, not just the negative.

3. Look at the overall numbers and remind myself, hey if two percent of people hate your book, it would only suck if the other ninety eight percent didn’t like it.

4. Eat ice-cream, enjoy a glass of wine or your favorite tea (Tension Tamer Tea works wonders).

5. Take a break from reading reviews. (I can see why some authors refuse to read them good or bad.)

6. Remind yourself that you can’t please all the people all the time. You can’t. I went to a conference a few years back and a writer approached me and said, I saw your picture on the web, it didn’t do you justice. You’re so much prettier in person. You should get a new picture.

Well, I thought, although it hurt my feelings a little, it was constructive criticism. When I got home, I’d change up the picture.

Not an hour later, another writer sat with me and said, “You’re a lot hotter in your picture than you are in person.”

That would have really stung if that other person hadn’t just said the opposite. I ended up canceling both out and the picture remains.

Beauty, (in people and words), is, and always will be, in the eye of the beholder and there’s no accounting for taste. Authors need to remember that, and so do reviewers.


  1. I hear ya. My mystery BLEEDER received many positive reviews and then there was one that I expected to be good and it panned the story as 'predictable' and 'clearly a rookie effort.' Can't please everybody.

  2. Congratulations on your INSPY award. That should put all the bad reviews in perspective.

  3. Oh Gina, your book is wonderful! Crossing Oceans gave me joy, tears, and hope.

  4. Thanks guys. That stinks John, but you're right, we can't.

  5. I love this as much as I hate the way the whispered voice in our head pulls us toward the negative. One of my ghosted projects received only one negative review--but that one appeared on a major Christian website and used a phrase that denigrated my writing.

    OUCH. I knew the reviewer didn't get it (the criticized element was one the editor and I agreed would pull young adults into the story) but, as you can tell, I remember. Nearly three years later, I remember.

    Maybe it's time for me to go have some of that tea. And, for the record, you AND your writing are beautiful.

  6. Thanks Marti, feeling's mutual. It's a shame the negative holds more power over us that positive. I think I'll go have some tea too.

  7. "Their cup of tea." And I agree with your advice about ignoring bad reviews.

  8. Among other annoying feedback.

  9. Gina, recently, after my debut novel, Code Blue, was made available as a free Kindle and Nook download, I garnered several one-star reviews. Seems like it's similar to getting olives out of a bottle--one occurs and others decide to follow. And underlying all of them is the complaint that the book is "Christian fiction," as though it's a terrible thing.
    Hang in there. You're doing things the right way.

  10. Gina,
    Your posting reminded me of another story I'd just read. This is the link. I don't personally know the writer, but the info seemed accurate enough to pass along.
    I wrote a children's book that called the 'whispering thoughts', 'dragonfly lies'. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  11. Thanks everyone. I did read that story and have mixed thoughts. On one hand there has got to be some of that going on. Amazing how many rotten reviews are from someone who only posts that one review. On the other hand, drawing attention to it with a lawsuit ends up just making the author look sort of silly. Of course they say any publicity is good.

  12. Hey, Gina! My debut novel isn't even on the store shelves yet, and it received a nasty, sarcastic review on Goodreads along with an animated image saying "I'm bored" inserted in the text so everyone would be sure to notice it. This person couldn't possibly have paid for the book, since it isn't available for sale yet. So... get a free book and slam it. No gratitude necessary. But it's okay, because from the person's comments it's pretty clear she didn't read the whole book, and I think any astute person will see that. It's just... my first Goodreads review... *big sigh.*


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