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What To Do With A Bad Review

Updated on December 12, 2015
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Nightcat is a Jane of all trades and likes to pass on tips she’s found useful around the home.

Gods of Fortune

Reviewers, like the dragons of China can bring blessings and good fortune that boosts a writer's career or destroy just as easily.
Reviewers, like the dragons of China can bring blessings and good fortune that boosts a writer's career or destroy just as easily.

Keep Calm And Carry On

I recently read a novel that for the life of me, I couldn't see what other people saw in it. As a matter of fact as it touched on subjects that made me have very strong and negative reactions. I wanted to either throw the book or write a nasty, mean-spirited review. Because, frankly, all I cared about was my worldview and I didn't give the novelist a chance to share a unique vision.

But two things are stopping me from writing that negative review, one, I just got slammed with a negative review of my own for reasons exactly inverse to why I disliked the novel, and two, now that I've been reminded of how unfair and unfounded most negative reviews are, I'd like to give that novel one more go.

Before I begin I fully acknowledge we writers are a coddled species. Where we'd feel free to tell a chef his cooking is terrible because we paid good money for it, we wilt and cry and moan when someone doesn't like our precious creations. What we need to do is take a good dose of 'get over it' and get on with our lives.

That said? I know how badly negative reviews hurt, I just got a whopper, but we get negative reviews in all aspects of our lives on a daily basis, and hopefully don't dissolve into puddles of tears over it.

At the very least I got likened to Terry Prachett, most likely the first and last time a reviewer will ever do it, so there is gold to be found even on our worst days. Please keep in mind I speak for myself only, not all writers will agree with me, nor should they.

Lively literary debate is, after all, a beautiful thing. But when those debates turn into all out war, we doth have reason to protest.

A World With Countless Doors

Every book's an adventure and a door to new worlds. Naturally, not everyone will like what they find there.
Every book's an adventure and a door to new worlds. Naturally, not everyone will like what they find there.

Be Realistic, My Dears

Not every reader is going to like your writing. And I know, as a writer that makes me want to curl up in a tiny ball and hide. Be it a piece of fan fiction, an article or a book, somebody, somewhere won't like it. And the frustrating thing is that you can't figure out for the life of you why they bothered if it wasn't to their liking in the first place, right? If we are honest with ourselves, we all know writers we can't stand. We do. We might not write nasty reviews, but their writing is about as pleasant for us to read as fingernails on a chalkboard.

Yet, other people love their writing.The same rules apply to us. Some readers will love every blessed thing you write. Some will be meh, and some will just, for whatever reason, hate you. That's nothing to be afraid of or a reason to stop writing. It is just an immediate reaction they can't control any more than we can control the writers we dislike.

So let's be realistic. We know these reviews will come. Either from professional reviewers or Internet trolls. And as hard as it is, let's dig through those bad reviews and see if there isn't something we can use. Keeping in mind the old adage to consider the source.

The dirty little secret of writing of course is that we wouldn't exist without our readers. And what they think does matter. This doesn't mean I think you or I are a bad writers if a reviewer doesn't like our work, but it does mean that as a member of the paying public, yes, they actually do get a say.

We can still feel free to pin negative reviewers photos to dart boards and throw darts at them, naturally.

Dealing with bad reviews (Not Mine, Obviously)

Don't Retaliate

One, you prove the reviewer's point. You are not only a bad writer, but now you can't take criticism either. Had I been a jerk and wrote that review and the author had retaliated we'd both look like children. And two, people who are just truly nasty don't deserve free press, so don't give it to them. Focus instead on the good reviews. You are never going to please the person who didn't like your writing in the first place, and if you did you'd likely loose other people who liked your original vision.

Take how I got slammed. Let's just say it was on a religious article and the "gentleman" in question didn't like my views. At all. But the thing was, I'd clearly warned readers of the subject matter. I could have green lighted his comment but I could tell from his wording my religion was a sick, evil perversion of his religion (the same for our Gods) and there was no use in having a theological argument with a brick wall.

As a wise man and American humorist Mark Twain once said: "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Sometimes we as reviewers (when writers get around to it) have to realize that a book, novel or article wasn't written for our pleasure or to bear bait us. Whether we are the target audience or not, the whole literary world doesn't have to drop everything and please us. Writers do not have to flock to us, begging our opinion on their latest novel. So take that logic and apply it to yourself. You'd never get anything done if you let negative reviews dominate you life, and that said, as I knew my negative review wouldn't help the author grow as a writer, I chose to keep quiet.

Bestselling Authors Read Mean Reviews

Is It Legit?

Whoa, don't run. Sometimes a negative review is legitimate, as much as we don't like it. If you have taken on a subject the reviewer has strong feelings about, be it planting tulip bulbs to politics (like the Henry Mitchell reference?) you can expect some reviewers to go temporarily insane. They will attack you for all they are worth, because, in their temporary insanity they see your views as a threat to their strongly held beliefs.

And that is actually a good thing. No, I mean it. Kudos on writing well enough to provoke such a strong reaction. The writer of the novel I wanted to blast should be proud of the unique ability the novel had to provoke such a strong reaction. And I would give the writer points for literary style, it just, to be honest, touched on raw nerves and if you've ever had a root canal you know how painful that is.

So as bad as that review is, look to see if there is some legit claim you can find. I'm not saying take the review to heart, but if they genuinely feel hurt or offended, ask yourself why. This folks, is why disclaimers about not wishing to offend readers are a great idea. Especially when you are digging into subject matter you know will hit a lot of raw nerves such as religion or politics.

If they still complained they were warned well before reading the whole thing to bolster their claims. Personally? If I don't like something I don't read it.

A Skewed View?

Sometimes the negative reviewer is just a jerk. Breath in, breathe out and let go.
Sometimes the negative reviewer is just a jerk. Breath in, breathe out and let go.

Let's Face It, The Reviewer's A Jerk

I'm not being harsh, but as writers we have to get over it, because sometimes reviewers are just being mean for the fun of it. And your poison pen reviewer has likely found riper targets and forgot all about you by the time a review is published. I know a person who likes to review my life. Not only are my personal actions not the business of this individual, but they always carefully pick things to hurt me with they know are beyond my ability to change. And they get this smirking, self-righteous tone in their voice too.

Now, the thing is, if I ever snap over their rude and outrageous behaviour, and I've taken the bait more than once, they win. But not only that, while I can spend days or weeks legitimately hurt and grieving over their cruel words and wondering if they aren't right after all, this person has likely forgotten what they said, and would screech denials they ever said it if confronted later.

There is a Haitian proverb that loosely goes: "The man who is slapped remembers, the one who slapped him forgets." In other words it is easy to hold onto the pain we are dealt. But it is also easy to find a caring friend who will listen and give you good advice. Like not listening to people who clearly live to cause pain in the first place.

Keep On Writing!

Your beneficial dragons (reviewers) will come. Keep the faith and keep going.
Your beneficial dragons (reviewers) will come. Keep the faith and keep going.

Turn that Review Around

Had I been nasty and shortsighted enough to blast the writer with a vile and uncalled for review, written out of pure spite and to get revenge (What? I'm Kitty Kelly with a BA some days.) a clever and canny writer could have turned every negative into a positive. And although it sounds silly, it works.

Think of the exact opposite of whatever the review says. They didn't like how long the book was? At least it wasn't too short! They didn't like some detail they felt was wrong and didn't suit the character? Your character is uniquely themselves. And so on. It doesn't take much imagination to turn even the worst review around (it was boring and/or poorly written), especially when you learn to read between the lines.

A lot of what a bad reviewer says is really about themselves. They are showing their tastes, and their tastes only. If they wanted an action-packed, torrid, bodice-tearing romance they shouldn't have bought your novel on a sweet little gran who goes sleuthing in fabric stores.

The fact that said sweet little gran is on the cover in front of a knitting store should have clued them in, but there is no accounting for taste. And to be honest? Although we are told not to judge a book by it's cover, the cover art and book jacket of the novel I took a dislike to gave me a pretty good glimpse into what I would find inside, just not in a way I expected.

That combined with a carefully tailored ad campaign made me expect something entirely different but that was on me, though many reviewers shared my dismay. So, if you get a review based on a reviewer with mistaken expectations take it for what it is.

In Closing

We all get bad reviews. I just got a doozy of a bad review and while the reviewer had every right to his view, he also had every chance to walk away, and sometimes reviewers just don't get that.

Sometimes it is better to surf away, to close the book, or to shut off the film. While legitimate criticism is fine, an attack on a person's religious views, sexuality or culture in general is not. We live in a complex world now, whether some folks like it or not. A world of many religions, cultures, subcultures and viewpoints.

Negative reviewers for the most part seem to forget that and the bad reviews become little more than shallow reflections of their viewpoints, not those of every reader. While they can hurt, these people will continue moving on and finding new targets. The jerk that attacked me for my pagan article will most likely be intolerant of other religions his entire life and many fundies would agree with him. But to just as many folks out there, reviewing should be the art of live and let live.

I do know this. I will not be the same type of person. There's no need for me to hurt another writer's feelings by bad mouthing the writer, the writer's religion (or possible lack thereof) or anything else about the novel. It was just that, a novel. There were things I did like about it, there were times I almost loved it. And after the reviewer who attacked me I am more than willing to give it one more go.

And no, I won't mention the novel. Yet. Once I've given it another go, instead of just giving an instant review I'll stop and think about the writer's side of things, and you might have that review.

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