What do you do with a bad review?

As some of you probably know, many writers are notoriously undone by bad reviews. (do you remember the Anne Rice Amazon Debacle of a few years back?) We write in solitude and much of our egos hang on whether people like the product of our work. And of course, our ability to pay bills hangs on how well they like it and how willing they are to put money down on our books.

My book, The Cipher, was released all of a couple of weeks ago now, and I got my first bad Amazon review about a week or so later. Now first, I”ll point out that the book is getting rave reviews from all sorts of places including three others at Amazon. But my puny little freak brain is fastening onto the one bad one. I’m not the only one. Most writers do this. It’s a good idea not to read reviews really.

But here’s the thing. Though there are also some notoriously bad review behavior on Amazon–like people who don’t like you posting relentlessly negative reviews as revenge, or getting all your friends to post happy bubbly reviews for you–in the end, those reviews are a fairly direct response from actual readers. And my bad review is a thoughtful review, not one out to decimate me personally. She tries to look at the good and the bad. As she said, she’s baffled by the good reviews and wanted to offer a counter opinion. I respect that. I want to stomp and shout and argue, but I still respect it.

I don’t write bad reviews of books (though I do write reviews for a music magazine and yeah, I will give bad reviews there.) But if I don’t like a book, I mostly don’t say anything. Partly because I’m a writer and it’s too close to home, and partly because I wonder if I was in a bad mood when I read the book. Or if it just wasn’t to my taste. There are a lot of books I don’t like out there that are wonderfully popular. And movies. I’m aware that I have biases and odd tastes. Which is why when I look at reviews of other people’s books, I try to be aware of the reviewer’s biases. I love Dearauthor.com because often they offer ‘dueling’ reviews where two or more people review the same book with different perspectives. And what comes clear is that taste is personal and unique and even people whose opinions you respect in general, can tell you a book that you will hate is good, and vice versa.

But I still want to stomp and rant and curl into a ball when I hear a bad one about my stuff. In the end, all I can really do is keep writing, keep trying to write better books, and tell myself I can’t please everybody. That’s why there is more than just one book in the bookstore. I just wish I could convince myself that one lone voice (so far) doesn’t outweigh the positive voices. But then I remember I’m a writer, and it appears to be a hazard of the job. Dammit.

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  1. 1. SMD

    Honestly, don’t worry about it. You were reviewed by my blog friend SQT, who has been kind enough to send me books from publishers and help me to get in on the ‘game’ (bad word I’m sure) of doing reviews. She loved the book. She has very good judgment in my opinion. But realize that not everyone is going to love your work. I mean, look at Stephen King. A lot of people love his work, and some people can’t stand it. I’ve only finished one SK book (Cell) and have tried over and over to get into his other work and failed. Or perhaps look at Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini. A lot of people love his books to death, and then there are those who have gone all out and made websites dedicated to tearing it down (which is useless because the publisher really doesn’t care if 10 million people hate the books so long as 1 million buy them).
    So, don’t sweat it. You can’t please everyone :P .

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    SMD has it right. There is no book that everyone likes. My favorite author is Neil Gaiman, but I have good friends–smart, well read people– who don’t like his work. Go figure. The wonderful thing about novels is the connection between the writer and the reader, but you (the writer) are only half that equation. Don’t sweat the other half.

  3. 3. Kristine Smith

    I’m going through pretty much the same thing right now–new book out for a few weeks, first bad review on Amazon.

    In truth, it isn’t that bad a review. But the reviewer took me to task for an aspect of the storyline, and got a major fact wrong in the process. I had explained the thing s/he took issue with several times over the course of the series, but s/he either missed the explanations, or didn’t feel them sufficient.

    And you aren’t supposed to respond to reviews, so a wandering reader might be left with the impression that I blew it, when I really don’t think I did.

    My consolation is that while Amazon is very visible, most folks don’t buy their books there, and the ones who do likely don’t read all the reviews, or disregard them. This review may not impact that many, if any, potential readers.

    We takes our comfort where we can gets it. But I am thinking of coming out with a line of Amazon Reviewer Tear-Apart Dolls for writers of my acquaintance.

  4. 4. lyda morehouse

    I also get personally attached to reviews. I had one make me cry.

    But I do think bad reviews can be good, too — if they’re the right kind of negative review. One reviewer of a book of mine (Tate’s actually), pointed out that I could be read as anti-Catholic, which I never, *ever* intended. Her comment made me write the subsequent books more carefully. I wanted to curl up into a ball, but like any critical critique I found myself listening all the same… to, IMHO, good results.

  5. 5. CE Murphy

    Except on the rare occasions somebody (usually my editor, but once in a while a reviewer) actually emails me a review, I don’t read ‘em. I discovered in very short order that even the good ones make me neurotic (“Oh my God! What if I can never live up to this? My career is at an end!”) and the bad ones, well, we all know how we react to those. :) I think the hard thing for most writers is sort of not picking at the scab, as it were. We know the reviews are out there. It’s hard not to go look.

    -Catie

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    As far as I’m concerned, all reviews are good reviews. Being dumped on is much better than being ignored. Of course I have to remind myself of this several thousand times when I get that bad review…

  7. 7. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    SMD/Karen: Yeah, like I can STOP worrying about. Did I mention total neurosis? Okay, maybe it’s more I’d rather focus on that than on my current revisions, which should tell you a lot. And nothing good.

    Kristen: I’d want those dolls. Maybe I should buy a Mister Potato Head so I can do some demolition . . .

    Lyda: Yeah, I can see that. Well, I bet when I’m not in the middle of revisions and waiting to hear on another proposal and thereby more vulnerable to this stuff I’ll see it. I hope.

    Catie: (And oh, so sorry not to have had a chance to hang out at WFC), I am so impressed by your strength of character and resolve. Picking the scab. Yep. That’s me. Sigh.

    S.C.: I know you’re right. I’m repeating that. Ignoring is worse. So now I will stew more about that as no one talks about my books. See? Neurosis will rule, no matter what it takes. My powers of insecurity are powerful.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    Welcome to the club. Maybe we should talk about each other’s books and get the ball rolling.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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