Bad Reviews Suck. Why I Don’t Care.

By Rachel Thompson | Blog

Jul 12

BAD REVIEWS SUCK. WHY I DON’T CARE. 

(Note: I’m happy to share that the San Francisco Book Review picked up this article. Read more here!)

 

Let’s talk about reviews, shall we?

 

We’ve all read instances where an author acts poorly in the face of a one or two-star review. It’s usually referred to as ‘authors behaving badly,’ usually for good reason.

 

Writers are generally sensitive, artistic types. We slave over our computers to pound out stories that will not get out of our heads. It’s a lonely occupation, even with the advent of social media and blogging because the ideas, the writer, and our medium are solely what bring our stories forth.

 

Then…after we’ve paid for editing, proofreading, graphics, and formatting (hint hint), we upload our books and wait. Martini or Nutella in hand, we wait.

 

What if people love it? What if people hate it? What if what if what if? (I do recommend using betareaders for a bit of loin girding.)

 

And so it goes.

 

Well, guess what: some will love it. Some will hate it. As anyone who creates art can tell you, no work is universally loved.

 

Most of us accept this, perhaps grudgingly and with a certain amount of angst. Then we move on. More to write. Right?

 

We’ve all certainly read books we’ve hated. I even threw out a CD once because the music was so incredibly god-awful, I couldn’t bear to deal with the hassles of returning, so I broke it and dumped it in the bin. And it felt good!

 

Why then are authors behaving badly? Or, are we?

 

AUTHORS BEHAVING BADLY – DEFINED

 

I’m of the camp that believes there are some authors behaving badly. Why?

 

  • I hear the argument frequently that one poor review will affect sales much more than ten positive reviews (though I haven’t seen actual data). And perhaps that is true. Yet, accept that when you write a book, you are putting yourself out there for any scrutiny or criticism people want to heap upon you. You are no longer the lone author in your office, tapping away to your iTunes playlist. You are now part of an established tradition and community, and you will be schooled in hard knocks whether you want to be or not.

 

  • You don’t like everyone you meet, right? Sometimes a person disappoints you, or isn’t interested in what or who you are. That’s life, baby. All artists must develop a hard shell to criticism, as a form of staying true to our own vision as well as not allowing others to manipulate our emotions. It’s been my experience that the authors who doth protest too much might want to look at what they’ve written instead. There could be merit. I’m not saying there will be; I’m saying there could be. (Example: some people object to the use of hashtags in the one-sentence intros of my second book, Mancode: Exposed. I read them. I changed nothing. But, I’m aware that the use of this tool annoys some. #ohwell.)

 

PEER REVIEWS

 

  • I personally would never write a scathing review of a fellow author’s book, knowing the effort we put into writing them. That said, there is a lot of crap out there (just as in music and in art), and though I’m an avid reader, I’m not a reviewer by practice, so I don’t feel comfortable advising someone else on what I believe they should have done (which I think is rather presumptuous anyway). I will email them with changes or suggestions if they’ve asked.

 

Meaning, I don’t review books as a book blogger – simply as a reader. I believe those who are book bloggers or professional reviewers should adhere to some guidelines (as many amazing reviewers do): review the book, not the writer; offer suggestions for improvement; point out inconsistencies or annoying tendencies; I would hope editing and grammar had already been looked at but worth pointing out if the author missed something in the process. Etc.

 

  • And yet, not every reviewer, reader, or book blogger ascribes to that. I’m often shocked at the horrible things people say that have nothing at all to do with the work itself.

(There are rumors now that Amazon will remove author to author reviews, unverified purchases, and other inappropriate commentary. If that’s the case, great. So far, there’s nothing in their official guidelines about it {though it’s been supposedly mentioned on their Facebook page}. I’m thrilled to see them taking steps to verify and set up better quality control.)

As writers, it’s our job to learn from these reviews; what we did well, what needs improvement. And move on.

 

POOR REVIEWS

 

  • Sometimes, a person will have a viscerally negative reaction to your book. They hate it with every cell of their soul. It happens. However, I have very little respect for negative reviews that attack the author personally or use inappropriate names, labels, or make judgmental statements regarding the author’s personal life. (I speak from experience. People often make these types of remarks about who I am as a person. Remember this: readers don’t know you. At all.)

 

But…do I feel it’s worth reacting? No way. For all the time you spend agonizing and righteously whining over that one poor review, you could have written five chapters of your next book.

 

WHAT TO DO

 

  • So, is it then, a waste of time to read our negative reviews, if controlling our emotions about them is more difficult than moving on? That’s up to each writer, of course.

 

I read all my reviews. As I said, I never respond (though I do pull anonymous quotes from them occasionally for the entertainment value, ‘trustafarian dewdrop’ being my current fav).

 

  • Negative reviews actually legitimize your work. Many people look at a book with all four and five-star reviews and say, “Friends and family,” though (from my experience), that’s rarely the case. This is hard for most authors, especially new ones, to understand. I know it took me awhile!

 

  • Breathe. Relax. It’s just ONE review. (Wait til you have received ten, twenty-five, even fifty! Vodka helps.)

 

BOTTOM LINE

 

I write my books with my vision. That is my success. If people buy it and hate it to the point of writing a one-star review, at least I’ve elicited an emotion and that, my friends, is a win.

 

What if someone recommends others not buy it? Don’t care. I have faith that anyone who is truly interested in me, my book, or my work overall will be intelligent enough to make their own decision, find out more about me, or move on. The sheep that can’t make their own decisions probably won’t enjoy my work, anyway.

 

Final words: Reacting defensively to a poor review reminds me of kids fighting in the schoolyard over something that seems monumental at that moment, yet which they will forget about within minutes.

 

You dig in to make your point, fight with everything you have, and guess what? Nobody remembers anything about your book anymore. They label you instead.

 

If writing is your profession, be professional. Name-calling and drama is fun for some, and if you think it will sell you more books, knock yourself out.

 

Truly, please. Then we won’t have to listen to you anymore.

 

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share below!  

 

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About the Author

Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month – created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed.

She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs,  #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats.

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Leave a Comment:

(41) comments

    Rachel Thompson July 12, 2012

    Thanks sweet. My opinion only, but there it is :).

    Reply
eden baylee July 12, 2012

I agree and have no time for authors who pick a fight with reviewers. It’s bad form – plain and simple. On a few occasions, I’ve come to the defense of an author who received a bad review, but it was to create a dialogue that would hopefully garner a more “accurate” review for the book.

Authors who attack reviewers only show themselves to be bullies, and the focus goes off their writing and on to themselves — not a good thing.

eden

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 12, 2012

    I understand the fury and ego — we all want to defend our (or others’) work. And that’s fine. It’s when it comes across as attacking, defamation, or plain ego that it becomes silly and uninteresting. And, ultimately unhelpful to a writer’s career.

    Thanks as always for weighing in, Thin Mint!

    Reply
Linda Morris July 12, 2012

I think of bad reviews as falling into two camps, the constructive and the merely hateful. I acknowledge the fairness of constructive bad reviews even though they don’t make me jump up and down with joy. I’ve been lucky to have never had a hateful one, but some of my author friends have and I’ve hurt for them. My view is that responding to hateful reviews is an unproductive waste of time and a bad career move, but it is the author’s *right* to do so if they want to go down that road. When an author publishes a book (or a singer releases an album, etc.), they put it out in the public domain for others to comment on. They lose control of how their work is perceived and what is said about it. A reviewer or blogger does the same thing when they write a review, so they also have to be prepared to take the flak that may come with exercising their right to freedom of speech. That freedom of speech is a two-way street for both author and reviewer, in my view. I would prefer that authors never attack people who give them bad reviews. I would also prefer that reviewers not resort to personal attacks on authors, name-calling, etc. It doesn’t seem likely that either of those two evils are going to stop anytime soon.

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    Rachel Thompson July 12, 2012

    Agree with your view wholeheartedly, Linda. I have multiple hateful reviews but I don’t take them personally because it clearly says more about the people writing them than it does about me. And again, if I’ve moved them to such a degree that they want to spew that vitriol, that’s a win for me.

    Many authors do react defensively — I think it’s within our nature to protect our art. But as you said, once it’s out there, we lose that control. Perhaps it IS more of a control issue for the writers that attack. Interesting way to look at it! thx

    Reply
    EKSwitaj July 15, 2012

    The way I look at hateful reviews is this: as authors, we have to trust readers to be able to see them for what they are.

    Reply
      Rachel Thompson July 15, 2012

      Yup, exactly. Some of the negative ones are so freakin’ funny. If nothing else, they’re great for a laugh. I do trust that readers will form their own opinions. If not, oh well. 🙂

      Reply
Rae July 12, 2012

I never respond to reviews though I do read them. I feel if they took the time to write it I should read it. I understand that not everyone is going to like what I write or the style in which I write and that is fine. It’s what makes us an individual. If there is something constructive in a bad review I note it for future reference and if it is just a hater I let it sting for a moment, whine to a family member once, and then move on. (What’s the point of having a family if you can’t whine to them, lol). Good and bad go hand in hand and you have to take them both in stride, as much as you can’t let a bad one tear you down or make you walk away, you also can’t let a good one raise your ego to far. It only takes one comment from an author to a reviewer to taint the author for the duration and having the ‘behaving badly’ reputation is not something any author should covet and they should think twice, wait a week, and think twice again before even considering commenting on a bad review.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 12, 2012

    Hi Rae and thanks for your thoughts. We all want ‘atta boys’ but you’re right, getting to much of an ego boost based on good reviews will only go so far.

    I truly believe that we have to embrace success outside of whether someone says they love or hate our work. The loves are awesome — who doesn’t want to be loved? — but basing our whole writer self-esteem on others is a dangerous prospect.

    Reply
Ciara Ballintyne July 12, 2012

I only review traditionally published books on my blog pretty much for the reasons you’ve mentioned about author to author reviews (unless asked to review a book, in which case I don’t promise a good review, but also won’t publish it if asked not to). After all, it’s not really a good idea to piss in one’s own pool. Ahem.

On the question of good reviews being given by family and friends, you’ve said it’s not usually your experience. Although I wonder how do you define ‘friends’. Because most authors have a huge online network of people they can appeal to for reviews, and many actively do. I’ve bought, partially read, and ditched books that had dozens of glowing 4 and 5 star reviews. These aren’t books that just weren’t to my taste, they were poorly written, with huge slabs of backstory, poor POV, infodumping, bad grammar, mountains of cliches and in one case, no plot/conflict/resolution. Yep, no plot. One star would have been generous for any of these. If it’s not friends and family giving these reviews, who are they?

I totally don’t trust the review system anymore and only buys books recommended or by authors I enjoy.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 12, 2012

    Thanks for your comments, Ciara.

    I agree, take reviews with a grain of salt.

    As for family and ‘friends,’ I specifically mean asking friends to give glowing reviews, which is not a practice I engage in now or ever. Sending books out for review in the author and review community is a well-established and accepted practice, although I can say that the majority of my reviews come from strangers I’ve never met or interacted with: readers from all walks of life, reviewers, and other authors.

    hope that helps define what I meant! thanks, sweet.

    Reply
      Ciara Ballintyne July 13, 2012

      Given your marketing practices, I’m unsurprised most of your reviews came from strangers. As you know though (because hey, you make a business out of it) many authors don’t market well, and in those cases I think review start to become more suspect, especially when they are all glowing reviews.

      I ended up reading the reviews for one of the bad books I read, and of 20+ reviews, all of which were 4 or 5 star reviews save 1, which was a 1 star review, the only one that more any resemblance to the actual book was the 1-star review. Most disappointing.

      Reply
        Rachel Thompson July 15, 2012

        Thanks for commenting, Ciara. Reviews should come from readers we don’t know, from all walks of life, whom we would never have expected to have a connection with otherwise. I’m always honored when I receive a review — even the negative ones. It takes time and effort for someone to write a review, so if they love or hate my book so much they’re willing to write about it, that’s a win for me.

        Thanks again for sharing your experience. I think we’ve all felt duped at some point. xo

        Reply
        Jaime Smith July 28, 2012

        Ciara – SO TRUE…. I cant stand reading the reviews most of the time because I know they are phony so what’s the point?

        Reply
Stephannie Beman July 13, 2012

I like seeing what people have to say about my books. I don’t mind constructive criticism, good or bad, as long as the reviewer sticks to the book and doesn’t go out of their way to attack me personally or the other reviewers for liking the book. Even then I’m not going to attack them back. Their review reflects worse on them then me.

I hope Amazon does make some ground rules for reviews. It’s gotten a little out of hand over there. More and more I’ve noticed a trend in reviewers to be critics, even plain mean in book reviewing. Some of the reviewers don’t even finish the book, or the sample as I saw on one book, before telling everyone how much they hated the author and the book.

A writer friend of mine had a reviewer who posted a nasty review of the book and then went through the reviews on three of her books and accused the reviewers of being liars, the author herself, or paid reviewers because she personally hated the book and couldn’t see why they would like it. She had a range of reviews from 1 to 5 and there was no proof of what the reviewer was saying.

Sometimes the urge to fight back is strong, but it doesn’t reflect well on the author. It only validates the “meanie”.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 13, 2012

    I agree fully. If you look at the multiple one-stars on my books, many do the same as what occurred with your friend. Meh.

    It’s not smart to ever respond because as you said, it simply validates and focuses attention on the reviewer and no matter what the author says, we’ll look ridiculous. Does a lyricist have to defend their lyrics? No (okay, rarely). The fact that it’s so easy to trash a book astounds me. Particularly when there are no guidelines in place to prevent someone from posting a negative review based on a free sample chapter read.

    I’ve always advocated the LOOK IN HERE feature of Amazon — couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t use it! But now I understand better.

    Which isn’t to say I’ll remove it. I hope, like you, they put the verified purchase in place. Then people can hate on me all they want, like some do now, but with more restrictions. Although restricting free speech goes completely against my grain, so what’s the right answer?

    I don’t know. 🙂

    Reply
      Stephannie Beman July 16, 2012

      The thing I’m seeing lately with reviews is that some of the hate reviews have nothing to do with the book at all or makes you wonder if they actually read it. I had a reviewer gripe that I hadn’t explained something in the book. If they had read the book, they would have read the where I explained it and then built on it with two other instances.

      The best advice I was given was if people didn’t like your book, then they weren’t part of your target audience. If you have a lot of fans of your book, then you found your target audience.

      Reply
        Rachel Thompson July 16, 2012

        Great advice, Stephanie. And the target audience is a GREAT point. With the new borrow and free features of Amazon, many people read our books who are not our demographic. Which is great — more exposure. And that’s the whole point of those marketing tools. What we have to realize as authors is that greater visibility and exposure if always beneficial — even if people trash us. Looking at it from a metadata perspective, it increases the amount of reviews we receive — a good thing!

        Thanks for your comments!

        Reply
MJ Gottlieb July 15, 2012

Xcellent post and I agree. I think if we constantly focus on what “other” people think of us, we will never put ourselves in the position to achieve our goals. Personally, I could care less. I do, however tend to offer ‘solicited’ advice only and am careful about the opinion I express as I do understand that no matter how ‘bad’ a body of work may be ‘in my eyes’, it was an effort, and that is what counts. Not everyone is God’s gift to whatever area someone is trying to operate in.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 15, 2012

    That’s it exactly, MJ. Writing takes such great effort and concentration. When people blow it off, it’s almost painful. To take the time to help someone hone their craft takes respect and care. I thank you for being so thoughtful.

    Reply
EKSwitaj July 15, 2012

As someone who has been bullied for a negative review (dude referred to me as someone who had “never written a memorable line in [my] life”–ouch, also irrelevant to a discussion of his work), I couldn’t agree with you more.

The sad thing is that the publication I was blogging for at the time, Fringe Magazine, told me it was a problem that I had made him angry since they had published some of his work (not the piece I critiqued) before.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 15, 2012

    Yea, that’s a bummer. Honestly, even if they’d published his work before, that doesn’t mean that the piece you critiqued (or any previous pieces) were stellar FOR YOU. That said, it’s possible you just didn’t like his writing. It happens, right?

    I respect honest reviews that give writers something to think about. It’s the ones that attack the writer personally that are so disappointing (not saying you did that, of course).

    Reply

I don’t believe in responding to reviews however I won’t criticize authors who do, on occasion, discuss reviews or participate in discussions about book reviews. Authors are probably the biggest readers of all and they have a right to express an opinion.
Anyone can upload a book. Anyone can style himself or herself a reviewer. There is a lot of anarchy on the web right now and hard feelings regarding book reviews and reactions to book reviews from both sides.
What do I really believe? People need to calm down. The personal attacks are childish and quickly devolve into internet bullying.
I also think public review sites, like Amazon and Goodreads, have a responsibility to monitor reviews for obscenity, name-calling, personal attacks and racist and sexist remarks and remove them. I believe Amazon already does. GR takes a more hands off approach.
Both authors and reviewers/book bloggers need to stop this internet stalking and grow the hell up.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 15, 2012

    Good points, all, Julia.

    I have, on occasion, left a comment defending a writer who received a left-field poor review. As you know, we’re a tightly bound community — yet I always suggest the writer themselves not respond. It just gets ugly. I’ve read about the web anarchy — both sides — and feel similarly. Why are there sides at all?

    Art is art. Some will love, some will hate. It’s been that way since time immemorial.

    xo

    Reply

There’s only one way for an author to deal with bad reviews head on. Hint: it involves a bag of pretzels and orange dreamsicle ice cream (yes, together).

And I’ve low-starred books by the likes of Charles Dickens, Henry James, and other classics because I didn’t enjoy them. I think Charlie’s still okay.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson July 16, 2012

    Mmmm, that sounds yummy!

    The best advice I give authors who are upset by a bad review is to not take anything personally (I’m a BIG believer in The Four Agreements by Ruiz and Gabe Berman’s Live Like A Fruit Fly). Both help authors change their paradigm.

    Just keep writing and trust your own vision. Of course, use professionals and a crit group for their advice or opinion, but ultimately, it’s our own work. Nobody knows our vision except us!

    Reply
Maryellen Brady July 16, 2012

I agree with you 100%. You can’t please everyone. I concentrate on the feedback that reassures me I am being true to my vision and just keep writing.

One day soon, when I publish and the bad review hits amazon, I may sulk and reach for chocolate. I’m human after all. It will hurt. I don’t intend to let it slow me down….after all, that bad review reflects just as much on the reviewer as it does on the book.

I’ll let you know 🙂 Right now, feedback stings and it’s giving me a tough skin.

Reply

[…] last post, ‘Bad Reviews Suck. Why I Don’t Care,” here on BadRedheadMedia.com seemed to have hit a nerve. The comments have been involving and […]

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Jonathan Segal August 18, 2012

I remember a review you got on your Mancode book for being unoriginal. It’s been done before. I found that review ridiculous at best. You were giving your view of the relationships between men and women from your point of view. Relationships have been done before. Should there never be another book or movie about relationships? People have their unique perspective on stuff. To me, that’s what makes it original. I think reviewing a book or a movie is not easy to do. I would never claim to be able to do it myself. Saying things like “you are great” or “you suck” don’t help you at all.

Reply
    Rachel Thompson August 18, 2012

    Thanks, Jonathan and really good point. People say every story is the same version of ‘a man comes to town’ or ‘a man goes on a journey’ — not perhaps as much in nonfiction, but it still holds true at its essence that storytelling is the retelling of the same story through different eyes. Books are as individual as people. Some better written perhaps, but there it is. Thanks for visiting! x

    Reply
T.M. Franklin August 25, 2012

Fantastic article. Being new to the publishing world, this is one I sorely needed to read today. Thank you so much!

Reply
    Rachel Thompson August 25, 2012

    Quite welcome. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and it’s taken me a long time to not take things personally. Reading (and rereading and rereading haha) The Four Agreements helps A LOT. Good luck to you.

    Reply

[…] Bad Reviews Suck. Why I Don’t Care. […]

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Kara King September 25, 2012

I wish I read this article a looooong time ago. When I saw my first one star review, I cried all day and I was sure that my career was over! I am glad I didn’t respond. Instead, I went straight to an author forum, where they immediatly chewed my ass out and demanded that I stop whining! lol *love those school of hard knocks* I admit, it does get easier to swallow with each one. Although, I can’t wait until I am able to laugh at them. I have a big mouth, that which requires a tougher skin. lol

Reply
    Rachel Thompson September 25, 2012

    It is a learning process, that’s for sure. I experienced my first difficulties in getting critical feedback when I started back in the late 80s as a sales rep. I had no idea what I was doing, never having sold a thing (except selling my folks on the idea of me being a cheerleader, but that’s another post). The feedback from my boss was brutal and I was convinced he hated me. After I cried through our next ride-along, he was completely baffled (being a man): what is up with you today, Rachel? Me: You hate me. I can’t do anything right. Him: I think you’re great. You just have to learn how to take criticism.

    Anyway, I learned that a big lesson: take nothing personally. Even if people hate our work, it’s okay. At least they’ve read it. That, in and of itself, is an achievement!

    Thanks, Kara. x

    Reply

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