What to Do with a Negative Review

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By Liz Curtis Higgs

I’ve never been voted off the island, named the weakest link, or told what not to wear, but as a novelist I’ve weathered my share of criticism—constructive, destructive, and otherwise. A sharply-worded email from a disgruntled reader makes me question my calling. A scathing review on Amazon sends me back to my w-i-p with a heavy heart.
When, as the Bible aptly puts it, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27), what’s a writer to do? (a) Let those critical words fester? (b) Pretend you never heard them? Or (c) Strike back while your ire is hot? You know the answer: (d) None of the above. Instead, take a positive approach when negative feedback comes your way. I promise you, these steps will help ease the sting and get you writing again.

Filter the Feedback
One discouraging comment is often far outweighed by ten encouraging ones. But our human nature tends to focus on the lone naysayer and discount the many affirming voices. We tell ourselves, “They’re just being nice.” Exactly. Nice is a good thing. Put aside the worst, snarkiest review and (this is harder) toss out that gushing, over-the-top one too. Somewhere between “Ugh!” and “Wow!” lies a fair appraisal of your work.

Consider the Source
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not every opinion is of equal value. Some caustic comments stem from jealousy, envy, or frustration, and reveal more about the other person than about you or your writing. Ask yourself if he or she is truly your reader, the person you had in mind when you wrote the novel? And is this person speaking the truth in love or throwing fiery darts intended to wound you? Love is good. Hate is not.

Embrace the Truth
Some criticism, however painful, may bear a small kernel of truth. Find that kernel, chew on it, and swallow your pride along with it. However difficult the process, if it leads to growth and improvement in your storytelling, the momentary discomfort is worth it. I welcome honest correction and direction from my faithful readers because they are helping me become a better writer.

Win Them Over
If someone writes me a personal email or letter, or posts a comment on social media, I do my best to respond in an upbeat way, thanking them for their take on my story and perhaps explaining why that plot twist they hated was necessary. Readers are often so flabbergasted to hear from us that their hearts are softened and they confess they really loved the novel except for that one really awful, terrible, no-good bit. Readers simply want to be heard. Our job is to listen.

Stay the Course
In the end, only the Lord’s opinion truly matters. If you’ve done your absolute best work, give Him the glory and press on, trusting His leading. If you can do better on your next book, now you know where to start.

Liz Curtis HiggsLiz Curtis Higgs is the author of 36 books with 4.6 million copies in print, including: her nonfiction bestseller, Bad Girls of the Bible, and her latest release, The Women of Easter; her award-winning children’s Parable Treasury; and her Scottish historical novel, Mine Is the Night, a New York Times bestseller. Visit Liz at www.LizCurtisHiggs.com and www.MyScottishHeart.com.

Comments 0

  1. Thanks for this, Liz. There’s nothing here I don’t already know, but everything here is truth I’m prone to easily forget!

    A number of years ago I got harsh criticism on my WIP from someone I greatly respect. Just as you describe, I became fixated on that single encounter and blind to positive reviews from others equally qualified. I stopped writing.

    Thankfully, God used that hiatus. In fact, He extended it. He showed me my motivations had run off the rails. I was more anxious about finding an agent than partnering with Him. My concern was pleasing a potential publisher—and everyone else—rather than pleasing Him alone. I was trusting in the industry instead of Him. And I had forgotten how to write so “only the Lord’s opinion truly matters.”

    Now I’m back at it—and I’m having more fun than ever. It’s not about getting published—it’s about glorifying God and enjoying Him in the process.

    My new motto? The Lord is my Agent, I shall not want.

    Thanks again!

  2. Well said!
    I, unfortunately, have just stopped reading a book that never developed any type of story line, and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to review it. And I hate that what I could say will hurt the author who has poured so much time and effort into this book. But I love what you’ve written here. I wish I could leave the link with the review, but that would probably be rude too.

    Honesty doesn’t always feel like the best policy, especially when feelings are involved.

  3. This can happen in a critique group. And rarely, but it does happen, a negative criticism will start a bandwagon effect that can feel to the recipient like the group is taking a vote.Ugh!

    I’ve come to think though, negative criticisms are an opportunity to grow in our ability to listen to God. We can go to Him with our hurt feelings, our confusion and sort it out with Him. This interaction with Him builds us up in our writing and in our lives.

    But don’t get me wrong, I said, “I’ve come to think.” And knowing me, I’ll have to come to that thought again. And again.

    Thanks, Liz! I think this one goes into Bookmarks.

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