What to do with a bad review

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All authors get bad reviews.  What do you do when you get one?

A.   Go all Anne Rice on the so-called reviewer who dared call into question your literary genius, in the process not only insulting the reviewer’s meager intelligence and no-doubt substandard education, but also intimating that his lineage is less than noble born?

Uh, No.

B.  Adopt the best Dr. Smith from Lost in Space voice you can, curl up into a fetal position, and exclaim, “The pain!  The pain!” all while self-flagellating yourself over your lack of talent?

Also, no.

C.  Do nothing (other than maybe write a blog post emphasizing the need to DO NOTHING) and move on.

Ding, ding, ding!  For me, at least, C is the correct answer.

Why is that?  Because a particular review (good or bad) doesn’t mean all that much, whether it comes from John Clute or Joe Blow.  Remember that a book isn’t a mathematical proof that’s objectively true or false, valid or invalid.  It’s art, and art speaks differently to each person who interacts with it.  Each reader will have their own, subjective truth (if I can wax all New Agey on you for a moment), their own idiosyncratic response.  For some, that response will be positive.  For some, that response will be negative.  Both are correct, both are ‘truth’, because the reading experience belongs to the reader.

So, you got a bad review.  It means you didn’t reach that reader.  It happens.  It’s disappointing, sure, because you hate to think someone looks back on reading something you’ve written and doesn’t consider it time well spent, but it happens.  And it will happen again with the next book.  And again after that.  So it goes.

In the end, it shouldn’t affect you much.   To do this for a living, long term, you must have (or develop) a certain confidence in your voice, style, and technique, a confidence unmoved by the slings and arrows of outrageous reviews.  The last thing you want to do is question or tinker with those things because someone somewhere said something negative about your work.  Someone will always say something negative.  That’s the nature of this beast.

Ask yourself this — Are you selling/being read?  Then you’re golden.  Carry on, scribe.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi, Paul!

    May I ask what specifically motivated you to post this blog? Once, in the past, I ran an internet forum about books and bad reviews are taboo there… everytime I wrote that I did not like some author, I was flooded by their fans 🙂

    Sometimes, it seems to me that the real fans are more easily enraged by a bad review than an author (I did not know this Miss Rice’s side :D).

  2. There seems to be a certain harshness with critiques nowadays like exaggerated cynicism is the new style. I’ve noticed that with more and more people being able to post their opinions and reviews on the internet in general. Too often bias is blatant and other aspects of a writer, director, etc. are tossed to the wind because of a critics personal preferences of definition of what is quality.

    I do reviews of games on my own blog and while there are quite a few that I don’t enjoy playing I can still respect the artistry behind them or identify the lack thereof without sounding like my opinion is some kind universal truth. I wonder what the actual qualifications there are if any for some of these professional critics.

  3. Wow, just read the Ann Rice response to the reviews. I actually agree with her to an extent. Amazon will publish anything. I’ve seen 1 star reviews go up that had nothing to do with quality of the product but more so to do with the actual purchase from second hand sellers.

    On other note, probably not a good idea to ridicule fans who have purchased and taken the time to read her books. I bet half those people probably thought she would never read them and the reality is they care enough to formalize a lengthy response. She sounded as if her work is beyond scrutiny. No one’s is. That’s what comes with being an artist even if the opinions are nonsensical.

    Anyways, keep doing what your doing Paul. You have a unique style and you have created some of those most memorable characters I’ve come across in fantasy.

  4. I’ve never really agreed with the “Anne Rice Approach”. Firstly, because it’s a bad idea to tell your readers that they “didn’t get it”. (i.e. – Too stupid to understand.) It’s unprofessional; you shouldn’t have to justify your work to people, or defend it. The work should be able to justify/defend itself.

    But, regardless, Amazon reviews are a tricky thing. There are some great mixed in with bad. (“Good book, terrible Kindle version!” “Did not arrive on time! Poor packaging!”) Authors and even potential buyers should take these reviews with a grain of salt. It’s an open community, not a coalition of NYT book reviewers. Then again, I think Anne Rice’s crusade came at a time when that fact wasn’t fully understood. xD

  5. It’s never easy to take criticism, but to attack the reviewer isn’t going to make you any friends.

    It seems people are divided, though, on responding at all, even in a neutral voice to clear something up that the reviewer mistakenly stated. Some feel you should never respond to a negative review, others feel that you should just be more careful with your wording when responding.

    Still, you have to admit that Rice’s take was the most amusing.

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