POINT OF VIEW: When Reviews Attack

head in hands - deposit photos

I just got the worst review of my writing life. I mean, truly brutal. They pretty much hated everything about the story.

Technically, it was written four years ago, but I just ran across it this last week.

It’s for one of my earlier stories, but it absolutely pulls no punches – the characters sketchy and poorly drawn, the story unbelievable, and – gasp – the world-building too sparse.

It also called my writing that most dreaded of adjectives, the one every writer hates to hear.

Unoriginal.

I bring this up not to cast aspersions on the reviewer. They felt the way they felt, and to their credit, they took the time to really looked deeply at the story, kicking the tires, checking the oil, and taking a deep dive into its guts. I know, mixed metaphors and all that. *grin*

As one of my writer friends recently lamented – reviews are not for authors.

What struck me about reading this one was how much it would have affected me if I had run across it back when it was written. I was still a fledgling author, and this particular story was one of my first stand-alone tales.

It got a reasonably good reviews otherwise, which I read and cheered about. And then I kept on writing.

I know how much I have grown with my craft over time. My characterization – which was always a weak point for me – has really improved, and my world building has become the stuff of (rather limited) legend.

But bad reviews – especially brutally bad ones, are a writer’s kryptonite. If I had read this one back then, there’s a good chance I would have been stopped in my tracks, that I would have given up on this whole writing thing again, and maybe forever this time.

I’ve talked to many writer friends who have felt the same way. No number of wonderful reviews can prepare you for the one that really cuts to the bone. One bad review is worth twenty good ones, no matter how illogical that seems.

Most of us writers have a healthy dose of Imposter Syndrome – that conviction that we don’t really know what we’re doing, that we’re faking it and are *this close* to being found out. When a reviewer really hates our work, it plays right into our own pre-existing doubts and fears.

So what’s a poor, self-doubting writer gonna do?

Reviewers gonna review. I can’t stop them from disliking my work or saying bad things about it. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. As long as they are speaking from their authentic experience, they have every right to say how they feel about what I wrote. There’s a school of thought that this actually helps – that readers distrust a book with only good reviews, and a bad oen can help put them in perspective.

But to continue on after receiving one – that’s another story. We authors have to own our own power. We have to figure out who we are as writers – what our voice is – and then plow ahead, keeping true to our own vision. When someone questions it, we must learn to take what is helpful and let go of the rest.

It helps, too, to have a trusted friend or two – someone you can vent to privately and get some of the angst out. And paper bags you can scream into are extremely helpful.

You should never respond in kind, or belittle the reviewer for what they said. But you can’t let their words eat you alive either.

Is it easy? Hell no.

Am I glad I didn’t see this review way back then? Totally. It would have near-killed me as a writer.

In the end, though, I get stronger with each new book and each review, even the bad ones. I can read ones like this now, say a mental thank you for the time the reviewer took to consider my work, and move on.

So thank you to this reviewer for your input and dedication to your craft.

And I hope you liked the next one better. 🙂

How about you, my writer friends? Have you had a review that just knocked the wind out of you? Without giving details or naming names, how did you deal with it?

3 thoughts on “POINT OF VIEW: When Reviews Attack”

  1. I’m a reader. And when I buy a book, I only check the reviews for a new author. But most of the time, I read books from my favourite authors or there recommendations, then I don’t read reviews. I trust my authors.
    And I write reviews for books, most at goodreads, because 50% of time, amazon don’t let me post it. (So I do it there only for new ones or ARCs). And I have a system and explain my ratings. all over 3* (3, 3.5, 4 and 5*). less then that is not, what I like (not my style or tooo many typos/grammars/unlogical) and if it’s not my style, I don’t write a review. and if it’s too many typos, I contact the author.

    That’s my standard review (which I extend then with personal words):
    PLEASE READ MY RATING SYSTEM!!!

    To my ratings:
    My old 3* is now a 3,5* and clicked with a 4* but in review marked as 3,5*:

    5* – very very good and rare (it would be a Blow-Away-book like ‘Jesse’s Smile’ or ‘Joey’ from Angelique Jurd, ‘Save the at he kids’ series
    from EM Leya, ‘Love’s Tethered Heart’ from C.L. Etta or ‘Liberty’ from Seth King),
    it’s like an A+

    4* – very good and will be often reread and is a WOW-book with interesting plot and surprises (like most of Andrew Grey books)
    it’s like an A

    3,5* – a really good book, which will be reread a few times (most romances where you can enjoy for relaxing and during waiting times in
    hospitals). I can recommend them definitively!
    It’s like an B+

    3* – it could be more then a one-time-reader (2-3 times a year),
    it’s like a B

    2* – it was ok to read, but it’s more a one-time-reader (I wouldn’t recommend it heartily, but it was ok)
    It’s like a C-, D

    1* – sorry, but that isn’t really a book for me (too many mistakes, not nice plot, illogical, so an absolute NO-GO). It’s like failure in the
    whole line, dismissed, repeat the class

    I can understand, why you feel sad and shit about a bad review, especially when it’s not only a 1-star and one-word-review. But I’m happy, you read it just now and not 4 years ago!!!!

  2. Hah! I ghostwrite romance across the genre spectrum and I find that people that read LGBT themed work are tough reviewers. I know what kind of reviews I get for my words and contemporary score highest and gay themed lowest. Same writer, same way to put together words, same pacing, same quality of world building, same characterization, and attention to detail. Lower scores. Heck, people said a bunch of great things about Ostakis but reviewed it at four stars. I’ve come to accept that some days “it’s not me, it’s you” when it comes to reviewers. Nothing to be done about it. Just keep writing and improving.

  3. I have had some reviews that hurt, and seemed intended to, but I’ve also had some that provided valuable critique. I want to improve with each book, so knowing my weak points helps me achieve that goal. Beware, though! One reviewer gave such an extensive, well-thought-out critique that I asked them to beta for me, and point out these issues when I can still fix them. We have been each other’s betas now for about seven years. Yes, I know. I’ve been told only I could turn a negative review into a life-long friendship. Two sayings from friends have helped me tremendously: “Nothing is so good that someone won’t hate it, or so bad someone won’t love it” and “they’re not your target audience.” Write what you write, in your own unique voice. Oh, wait. I’ve actually acquired more than one beta/friend/crit partner like that. Talk about turning negatives into positives!

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