RSS Feed Print
What to do when you get a bad review?
Turquoise Foster
Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012 1:15 AM
Joined: 8/26/2012
Posts: 19

I know that bad reviews are expected when writing any novel, and you have to have tough skin to survive. I have gotten bad reviews before that have been really helpful to my newly growing writing skills. That is not a problem at all I want help or I wouldn't be here, but after reading a really bad one I feel horrible. I have had many second thoughts on if I could really write a novel and it made me feel like maybe I should take a break from it. My question to everyone is how did you get over your first bad review?
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 3:38 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Scream and throw things (not breakable things, and not at anything that will break.)   You need a physical outlet for the pain.  I'm serious here: you're allowed to feel pain, and express it...just in a professional way, which means you don't go online and whine about meany reviewers.  Personally, I go out in the back lot and kick rocks, of which we have a large number.

When the immediate pain has worn off, consider the source.  There are known bad reviewers.  If this review comes from one of them, shrug and go on.  If this comes from a known good reviewer, consider whether the beginning really is slow, the middle really does have that lump of infodump between page 234 and 251, the ending really is kind of lame.  If yes, remind yourself to do better next time.  If no, realize that even good reviewers screw up sometimes or that you hit one of the reviewer's hot buttons.  (Maybe he/she hates the word "tresses" or is sick to death of cats or...)  If you can spot the reviewer's bias, then you can save yourself considerable grief.

If the "reviewer" is someone without credentials (e.g. someone in a crit group, a random non-professional blogger), ignore unless three reviewers cite the same error/problem.  (If everybody points out that your black-eyed character has blue eyes on page 173...yeah, you goofed, and so did your editor and the copy editor.)

You can't change the book that just got published and reviewed--all you can do is write a better book next time.  Doesn't have to be 100% better (since a 100% lousy book would not have been published) just better in some way.  I had a savage bad review in my hometown paper for my first novel...reviewer told the world it was not only bad but immoral, disgusting, etc.  And that hurt, despite other good reviews. 

But don't stop writing.   Write whether you feel good about a review or horrible about it.  Ride it out.  If I had let that bad review (and others) stop me, I wouldn't have the books on the shelf I do today. 

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 6:58 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I'm with Elizabeth on this one. Vent, take a breather, and then read the review with a clearer head. Yeah, bad reviews suck (and bad reactions to reviews that you put your heart and soul into cut the same), but it'll pass. Just keep writing.

I've never had anyone just savage me, but there have been moments where something a reviewer said hurt just the same. I've been told that I write dispassionately, but I didn't let that stop me. I keep going and going because I love to write.
Turquoise Foster
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 8:33 PM
Joined: 8/26/2012
Posts: 19

Thank you! Elizabeth, I actually talked to my husband and once our conversation was over I felt much better. I'll have to make a mental note of your advice, because I know that I will need it. I know bad reviews will come right along with the good ones, and I need to be prepared.

@LeeAnna I have been writing more since reading the review. Writing is something that I am passionate about and I am determined to go through with this even if I am the only person that is going to end up reading it.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 11:27 PM

My take on it as a little different, I’m afraid.

I assume you’re talking about responses here and on other writing sites. But they’re not reviews. They’re critiques, a totally different animal. A review passes judgment. A critique is constructive, so there’s no such thing as a bad critique. If someone says, “This section stinks,” that’s a perfectly valid comment, so long as they explain why they believe it does. And that’s constructive because they’re helping you get rid of the problems before you show it to a prospective publisher or agent.

That’s not to say that they’re right in what they say, only that it struck them that way. And since they’re unlikely to be unique, right or wrong, you need to address why the writing failed to keep them so fascinated that they were able to stop and comment.

Another important point: how they suggest fixing a given problem matters less than why they were moved to comment. Their suggestion is how they would handle the problem. But they stopped reading because your writing failed to captivate as well as it should have. That’s what needs to be fixed.

But that being said, it hurts when something you’ve worked so hard on gets a raspberry from a reader. Of course it hurts. So what do you do?

First, you say thank you. Someone you probably don’t know took time they didn’t have to give you in an attempt to help you become a better writer. It doesn’t matter if you like the result or not. It doesn't matter if they're right or wrong. They did you a service. And you have to treat it as such.

Then, you settle down and look at each point that was raised and ask yourself how they could possibly have misunderstood your words. Perhaps you go back to the books on writing that have been the most helpful to you, to review what the pros have to say on that point (you have read at least a few of the more suspected teachers of writing, I hope).

You might ask for clarification, to better understand what in the writing caused that reaction. You might bring the subject up in the forums to see what other people think, so far as handling the kind of thing that was commented on.

But waste time on being upset for someone finding fault with your writing?

“A writer, shy or not, needs a tough skin, for no matter how advanced one’s experience and career, expert criticism cuts to the quick, and one learns to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.”
 ~ Sol Stein

Alexandria Brim
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012 3:32 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

I have to agree with everything said so far. Personally, I try to remind myself that they aren't "bad" reviews but "harsh to read." It's just my own way of remembering they still have merit because sometimes it's easy to dismiss something we consider "bad" as just that.

When I get such reviews (or really critiques, as Jay pointed out), I find it best to wait and read it again. Usually by then, I'm calmer and may then read the review in a new light. Sometimes, the review that seemed bad one day doesn't appear that way the next.

For example, when I was in high school and suffered from poor formatting skills, I received a review about my sentence structures. Namely, how unvaried they were. The reviewer suggested reading a book. In my teenage rage, I thought the reviewer had taken a jab at my reading habits. And my sentences were just how the grammar books said they were supposed to be!

I calmed down and reread the review. And I realized the person wasn't jabbing my reading habits. No, the person was telling me to go and really read a book. To study the sentence structures. And I realized I needed to throw away the textbook rules. My writing improved after that.

So, yes, "bad" reviews hurt. But once you calm down, you might see it's not so bad and may be an opportunity.


Jump to different Forum...