So You Got a Bad Review?

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by Maggie Brendan

You’ve put your heart and soul into your novel and finally hold the first copy reverently in your hands-then the reviews come. Some good, others bad. You feel like it’s a personal attack. So why do we re-read the bad reviews again and again and not focus on the genuinely good ones? I think it’s tied up in our egos and we take it to heart. I even had one reviewer question my Christianity, which questioned my character instead of my characters! That cut like a knife. One review cast aspersions on the editor and publisher by saying the book should’ve never been published. There was one outrageous reviewer that said she could tell my book was going to be sensual (the characters were man and wife) when she saw my sexy headshot on the book jacket! My editor laughed and said, “who knew you could tell a book by the author photo?”

Online reviews are often just personal opinions from anonymous people who might not be qualified to give them or aren’t necessarily representative of your average customer.

I’ve had some say my book was “boring and unoriginal” which doesn’t help me improve – because “boring and unoriginal” is simply their opinion, not true feedback. Those kinds of reviews won’t help me learn a thing about improving my craft. It’s important if your rating is low overall and the comments all relate to the same issue-then you may have a problem in your writing that should be addressed.

I never apologize to a reviewer or make an excuse as to how I could’ve made my story better because my editor and marketing advises me not to respond to reviewers online. Many reviewers are only trying to engage the author. So the best thing to do is to try to hear what the reviewer is telling you to make the next book even better, if it’s an honest review-you can usually tell the difference between them.

With that in mind, I’ve learned to read as few of my reviews as possible, as advised by my peers and marketing team. Don’t consider the reviewer to educate you on how to write. I learn more from my fellow authors, my editor, agent, conferences and workshops than any place else.

I’m certainly no authority or the most prolific writer with only six books released, with one releasing February, and another in the works, since I was published later in life than most. The best piece of advice I can offer you-and I have to keep reminding myself-is ignore the cruel ones that have nothing to do with your writing skills, and keep writing instead. Remember they are opinions and all opinions are so subjective. I will never please every reader but I do try to please my audience of One.

Maggie BrendanMaggie Brendan is a CBA bestselling author, the winner of 2013 Laurel Wreath Award, a 2013 finalist for the Published Maggie Award of Excellence, and a 2013 finalist for the Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Award. The Trouble with Patience releases in February, 2015. Follow Maggie on her website, her blog, Twitter @MaggieBrendan.

Comments 0

  1. Thank you, Maggie! I just got a bad review this week (after many exceedingly positive ones) and it was very painful. Your post was just the encouragement I needed to carefully examine this review and pull out what is useful and ignore the rest. Best wishes and may God continue to bless your writing. Katherine

  2. Katherine, I feel your pain. I’ve had some really off the wall reviews but for limited word count here I didn’t copy them on the post. Just keep in mind your “real” audience. Hugs to you!

  3. Thank you for this great post. Even though we know we shouldn’t take all of our reviews seriously, the truth is, most of the time we do. The mean reviews cut, and you wonder what kind of person (who calls herself a Christian) gets pleasure out of hurting a vulnerable author.

    The only answer is for us to create a harder shell – and stay away from our reviews. But that means we don’t get to read many of the lovely ones. And that’s a shame.

    I’ve griped about bad reviews to God in the past, and His answer has never changed. “This is part of it being an author. Do you still want to write?” My response is to say, “Yes, Lord,” gulp, readjust my armor, and go again.

    At least until the next bad review. 🙂

  4. I’m a fairly newbie too, Maggie, but the few “bad” reviews I’ve gotten have been unhelpful and as you said, personal opinions. Great post. One thing I’ve done is read just a few of popular authors’ reviews. That puts things in perspective. If a bestselling author garners “bad” reviews, then surely I will too. 🙂

  5. Nancy, I so agree with you, and yes, we do want to read some of the good ones which helps us know folks are enjoying what we’re writing, I have since developed a harder shell since 2009. Thanks for posting. 🙂

  6. I don’t generally read my reviews. If I read the good ones, my eyes keep looking for the bad ones and it’s hard not to click on it. And then feel bad the rest of the day. So I just don’t go there.

    Great post.

  7. I am a blog book reviewer of fiction and non-fiction. Although there have been a few books that I could not develop an interest, I was able to find some areas I enjoyed; a character, a sub-plot, or the cover! I always do my best to provide an honest review and tuck any negative in-between two positives.

    I always request books that will interest me. Is it possible that the bad reviews stem from reviewer burnout or choosing to review a book on a topic that truly does not interest the reviewer?

    I found you through Kit Fuse Twitter.
    Ruth@Composed By Grace

  8. The funniest and strangest “bad” review that I have ever received read something like this: “I haven’t read your book yet. I’m more into knitting right now.” She gave me a three star review. LOL!

    Even more funny–and gratifying–were the several responses to her review asking her why in the world she would rate my book when she hadn’t even read it.

  9. I appreciate your honesty and encouragement! What a great thing to keep in mind: that we really only need to please the audience of One. I will keep that in mind as my reviews start rolling in 🙂 Thanks, Maggie!

  10. Hi Maggie,

    The most painful “not-so-stellar” reviews I received were from a relative and a high school classmate, who posted for her mother. The classmate did not read the book and when I called her mother, she said she “loved” it!

    Should I mention the classmate was very competitive in school?

  11. Ruth, thanks for posting. I think you may have a point. I imagine reviewers get burnout like anyone else. But you made a valid point, that if you’re reviewing in a genre you enjoy, but don’t care for the book,usually there is at least one redeeming quality one can speak about.

    It’s the same way in critiquing-while pointing out things that don’t work, you can usually find something encouraging in the manuscript
    to comment back to the writer.

    Like I said, I know all of my books won’t please everyone. 🙂

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