Earlier I posted about how reviewers and readers should critique or review an author’s book. It would be nice if people would try to follow some of those suggestions, but what happens if they don’t and you get a mean, nasty review? What can you do? The short answer is: not much. You just have to suck it up. What you shouldn’t do is fly off the handle and respond to a nasty review. In our online world where everything you ever post is out there forever, it will only make you look bad to whine about a less than complimentary review.
As writers, we want everyone to like our stories, our characters. We want them to appreciate the hard work we’ve put into our books. Unfortunately, not everybody is going to like our baby. The creative world is subjective. Even you, as a writer, don’t like every book you read. Sometimes you can pin-point why a work was only mediocre. But what about those books that are undeniably well written, get rave reviews, but don’t touch you in any emotional way? Keep this in mind; other people might feel the same way about your book. It’s not personal. Not everybody will like what you write. It’s as simple as that.
But will a bad review be a death knell for your book? Apparently Norman Mailer was concerned about it. In 2003, he wrote a letter to the publisher of The New York Times wherein he said, “It does take three good reviews to overcome a bad one, if the bad one is a potential reader’s first acquaintance with the work.”
Every reader can be swayed to some degree by a bad review. As for me, when I look at reviews, I lean toward what the majority of the people say. If there are one or two reviews that seem way out of line (like giving the author one star when everyone else has given them 4 or 5 stars) then I don’t take as much stock in the bad review.
So, here are a few things you can do if you get a bad review:
Consider the source: Was it a professional reviewer who reads thousands of books in your genre? Or was it someone who might hold disdain or ignorance for your genre. Maybe it stemmed from jealousy? Another writer who has yet to be published, perhaps. The green-eyed monster can be a vicious creature. Or it might be someone who loves to hate everything. By criticizing someone else’s efforts, he feels important and superior. If he can tell the world about it, it’s an even bigger coup.
If the bad review comes from a reader who bought the book (rather than a professional reviewer who is paid to do reviews), they could still fall into one of the above categories and be someone who just loves to say nasty things, so keep that in mind. But if they didn't like your book, they won't buy another one and they'll tell everyone they know not to buy your book. Reader reviews tend to hit us the hardest and have the most lasting effect on our egos (and maybe even our sales).
Focus on good reviews: It seems to be human nature for writers to dwell on the words of one bad review. Instead, you should go back over all the good reviews. If you really need bolstering, write down the good reviews and pin them near your computer so you can read them frequently and be reminded of those people who liked your book.
Learn from it: As much as we writers hate to admit it, sometimes there is a modicum of truth in a bad review. It might be sour grapes on someone’s part, but it might not. After you’ve considered the source, be honest with yourself. Is there a lesson for you to learn so you can improve your writing?
Move on: After you’ve allowed yourself to cry, cuss, or be depressed for several days, then put it behind you and get back to work. I like to think of the authors who had some bad stuff written about their writing, but they became household names and their works became classics.
On Leaves of Grass: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.” – Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The Atlantic, “Literature as an Art,” 1867
On Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — Graham’s Lady’s Magazine, 1848
On Catch-22. “Catch-22 has much passion, comic and fervent, but it gasps for want of craft and sensibility… Its author, Joseph Heller, is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design… The book is an emotional hodgepodge; no mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.” — Richard G. Stern, The New York Times Book Review, 1961
On The Great Gatsby: “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” — L.P Hartley, The Saturday Review, 1925
On Catcher in the Rye. “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951
On Brave New World: “Mr. Huxley has been born too late. Seventy years ago, the great powers of his mind would have been anchored to some mighty certitude, or to some equally mighty scientific denial of a certitude. Today he searches heaven and earth for a Commandment, but searches in vain: and the lack of it reduces him, metaphorically speaking, to a man standing beside a midden, shuddering and holding his nose.” — L.A.G. Strong, 1932