Monday, November 7, 2011

Reacting to Negative Reviews

(Yeah, I know. The video is more about editing than it is about reviews, but I'm invoking creative licensing here. You get the point, right?)

If you write or paint or do anything creative, and you put your work out for people to see, you are bound to get a poor review or two. My first book has received many good reviews but it has also received bad ones here and there. Let's talk about the bad ones today and how you handle them.

Let me start by giving you the advice my publisher and my friends Michelle Davidson Argyle and J.S. Chancellor gave me. DON'T READ REVIEWS. That's great advice. And if you are one of those people who can take that advice, you can stop reading now. But if you are like me and just can't go on not knowing what people think of your work, continue reading.

I used to read every review I could find. Now that my book has been out for awhile and my next book is coming soon, I don't seek them out as much anymore. I'll still read them if I see them, but they're not on my mind as much anymore. That's because I have learned what other more experienced writers have learned already. Two different people like two very different things. Simple as that. For example, some people complain about how I jump from one character to another throughout my book while others remark at how much they like that very element. Some people complain about my style while others say they love it. I have found that when it comes to books, if an author's voice doesn't jive with the voice in the reader's head, it doesn't matter how good the book is, it'll be hard for that reader to enjoy. There is nothing I can do as an author to change that.

But, back to why I started this blog. I really want to know how you handle negative reviews. Before you answer, here are a couple potential reactions and why such a reaction is or isn't a good idea.

The first is anger. "That person just doesn't get it. How dare they?" That's a natural reaction and I'm not going to say you are wrong in feeling this way. Where this reaction causes irreversible consequences is if you express it in any public way, especially on the web. You might remember not too long ago when a blog review site went viral because an author lashed out at the blogger's negative review of her work. I felt bad for the author and her subsequent verbal beating on that site, but I also knew she brought it on herself. You should never argue with someone about why they don't like what you've created or why they don't get it. It is simply unprofessional.

Another reaction, which I'm sure everyone who has been criticized has had at some point is sadness. Again, that is a normal reaction, but one I don't think should be expressed to the reviewer. If you feel you must say something, I guess you could tell them you are sorry they didn't like your work, but even that probably isn't a very good idea.

Now, I'm going to say something that creative people might not like at first. Bear with me for a moment and I'll explain myself. Those negative reviews, the ones that tear out your soul and stomp on it, for the most part, are right. OK, OK, don't come down on me yet and just hear me out. What I mean is it is right for that person. If a reviewer doesn't have a personal vendetta against you and their review is that they didn't like what you've created for one reason or another, it is their feelings therefore they can't be wrong. I hated the movie "300." Some people think I'm crazy, but I'm not wrong because they it is my opinion. If the reviewer didn't get my book or your art, then they didn't get it. So, take it with a grain of salt and move on.

This brings me to my next reaction and the one I think you, the artist, should consider. If you insist on reading the reviews, like I do on occasion, you should try to put equal weight in the bad ones as you do in the good ones. I know it is easier said than done, but you have to try. Read the negative reviews, set them aside and mope around for a bit if you must, and then forget them and move on. You shouldn't contact the reviewer or trash them on your blog or god-forbid allow their words to steer you away from your own vision in the future. Just take their words, tell yourself that they have their own opinions, and get back to creating. That's what I've learned.

Everyone gets bad reviews. It's what happens when you open yourself up to strangers in the form of art. My most brutal review was given to my book on its actual launch day. Talk about letting the air out of someone's sails. But I got past it and have went on to create more work that I am proud to have created. I can guarantee the person who gave me such a negative review will hate my next book, because I haven't changed my style in any way. There are no hard feelings and I'm actually sorry the reviewer didn't like my story. After all, I create to give enjoyment.

So, what do you all think? How do you respond when your hard work is decimated by a critic? And what is the harshest comment you have received? I'll start. The harshest comment I've received is when a reviewer said that my two years of hard work could have been thrown together in a weekend by any other author. Yikes.

(Quick note. If you have tried to comment in the past and have been unable, I think I have fixed that problem. I've heard from a lot of people who wanted to comment and couldn't so I've changed a setting. I hope that helps. Send me an email if you are still having trouble commenting and I will try again to fix the issue again. I want to hear from you. )


  1. Great advice. I haven't had a full out bad review but I have received a few criticisms mixed in with the good. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I just wonder ... but I let it go and keep writing the next book.

  2. At first, I'm probably more sad than anything, sometimes angry. But no matter how strong the emtional response I usually manage to get over it pretty quickly. I do seem to get more positive and/or helpful responses than negative ones, but I'm not 'out there' out there yet so I don't have that great of exposure or response.

    As far as negative remarks I've received, I'd probably narrow it down to three. The French Canadian guy who just complained about everything in the stories he read (and while he did add that I had a very atomspheric style, the compliment seemed hollow by that point). Some woman said the way I worded things was so annoying that she couldn't stand to finsih the story. She always had negative things to say about anyone's stories and even prided herself on it, so I probably got off easy. The third was from someone who had liked another story of mine, so I let her critique something I thought she might like even more. Wrong. She had nothing positive to say about the story, but the worst thing was that the story was in two genres she didn't care for. One of which was harlequin romance. Me? Write that? You've got to be kidding.

    Also that sure was a harsh comment you received. I don't agree at all.


  3. Hi Doug,
    What an interesting post and a great topic for sharing. Here are my thoughts.
    I'm a bit like you in that I'm quite happy to read reviews of my book. Initially I read them hoping to find some good ones, as probably every new author does. Who doesn't want to read people saying nice things about your book and your writing? Now when I read them, its more to see what different people's reactions were, good or bad.
    I understand why people would recommend you not to read reviews at all, but I think you'd miss some interesting stuff if you never read one. I think it is important to find out how readers are reacting - after all, to be read and to give pleasure to readers is why we write... isn't it? Plus, writing should evolve, and if readers can give writers pointers in how to improve, shouldn't writers take notice? I don't say we should instantly change something if one person doesn't like it, but people's honest opinions can be good food for thought.
    I think, in some ways, I may have had a head start in this 'reacting to reviews' thing because I was well aware right from the start that not everyone was going to like my work. After all, we're all individuals and we like and dislike lots of different things. So getting the odd bad (or at least, not good) review is simply inevitable. It's life. If you're going to offer a book to the general public, you have to expect and accept some negative responses.Personally, I would say that if you're the kind of person who can't handle someone not liking your work, you shouldn't publish your writing. Keep it private.

    I’ve been very fortunate in that, so far, I’ve not come across what I’d term a ‘bad’ review. They haven’t all been five star, by any means, but I haven’t read one that has slated my book, or my writing style. It might be out there, of course, just waiting for me to find it, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. If I did ever find one, I’m sure I’d be disappointed and even a touch upset, especially if it was one of those nasty ‘let’s pull this author apart’ reviews. But I think I’m strong enough to dismiss such things as unimportant. Having faith in your work is what an author needs, and to remember that other people, such as the publisher and the readers who did enjoy it, have also shown that faith. Learn, move on, grow more rhino skin!

  4. Good post, Doug. I read less and less stuff about my work these days. I simply do not go looking for it. I'll happily read the nice stuff people send to my inbox praising my work. I like those emails.

    The truth is, we've done our part putting our work out there. Reviews are for readers, not the writer. If it's for the writer, the review is not truly a review, but a critique that the person should have taken up personally with the author instead of posting it publicly.

  5. I don't read my reviews. Not anymore. It's too hard to stay positive, and I have to be positive to draft.

  6. I'm not an author, but a rabid reader and reviewer. A friend asked me to review a self-published Kindle book written by HER friend, no one I knew. I did. Mine was the 4th review (all the other were 5 stars) and I gave it 2 stars. I was being generous.

    The commentary on Amazon quickly became ad hominem and hyperbolic. I was attacked - by people I don't know - for being selfish, evil, cruel to puppies and having a lousy sex life. For not knowing how to write, and not knowing how to read.

    Hardly any of those is true. Here's the permalink to my review, which, you may find, was not mean-spirited at all:

    If I were the author I would beg my friends not to attack a reviewer this way. Please let me know if you believe that, as a reviewer, I stepped somewhere out of bounds.

  7. That is a perfectly legitimate review. The worse thing an author can do is reply to negative reviews. I would be horrified if a single person who knew me tried to defend me like what you say happened to you. Most of the time, the first few reviews that are 5 stars come from the author's family and friends. As a reader, your review is 100% right because it is your feelings on the book. In saying that, I will also say that when someone criticizes an author's book (especially if it is their first book) it is very personal to that author. It is like calling their kid ugly. It may be true but... The author is allowed to be upset, but when they act out, or someone else does on their behalf, then it is unprofessional. I wouldn't let it get you down. I recently heard that George Lucas had considered 3 more Star Wars movies but decided against it after so many bad reviews of his last three. If bad reviews bother him, you can imagine what it does to someone like the author you wrote this review for. Again, I felt your review was professional and legitimate.

  8. It's gratifying to have your input, Doug. Thanks!