Seven strategies for coping, moving on, and even making the most of a bad review
By MaryGlenn McCombs
Several years ago, I sat in on a panel featuring some of the country’s most successful crime fiction writers. The topic? Bad book reviews.
The panel’s moderator began by reading snippets of comically bad reviews of books by these wildly successful and accomplished writers. Bear in mind: the material was presented in an extremely lighthearted way: the review snippets—which ranged from over-the-top to absurd to downright hilarious—coupled with the wit and good humor of the panelists, made for one of the most entertaining panels I’d had the pleasure of seeing.
Now granted, bad reviews presented in a comical way can be funny, but in the real world, there’s often nothing funny at all about getting a bad review.
I know. Because I had to deliver one this week. And it broke my heart to know just how hurt and devastated the author was.
Suffice it to say: for most authors—and publicists— bad reviews are nothing to laugh about.
However, bad or negative reviews are the reality. No matter how excellent your book is, you are probably going to get an occasional bad review mixed in with the glowing accolades.
The good news? You don’t have to like it. The even better news? A well-crafted bad review could be a real gift.
So what’s an author to do?
First off: Know that bad reviews happen—and they happen to all writers. It isn’t just you.
Second: Keep in mind that it isn’t personal. It may feel personal, but books, like so many other things in life, are a matter of taste. If, as an author, you’re setting out to please everyone, let me assure you that you will be sorely disappointed.
Third: Don’t act. When you receive a bad review, as tempting as it is, resist the urge to respond to the reviewer or (gasp) retaliate…or (gasp and press pearls Southern woman style) try to explain to the reviewer why he or she is wrong about your book. Yes. That happens. More often than you would think.
Fourth: You’re a writer, so write. If you’re hurt, angry, shocked, appalled, betrayed, bewildered, out for vengeance, and need to vent, sit down and draft a letter to the reviewer or reader (a letter that you have no intention of sending.) Don’t hold back. Write whatever you feel. You may find that the act of putting your thoughts into words may make you feel better. Funny how writing can make writers feel better!
Fifth. Think about it tomorrow. Once you’ve crafted your missive, put it aside, and try with all your might to put it out of your mind. In the case of a bad review, wait at least 24 hours before revisiting your letter. If it’s a really bad review, wait 48 hours. You may be surprised to find that time, and putting your thoughts into words, significantly decreases the sting.
Sixth. Revisit. Re-read the review. Is there anything valid in there? Does the reviewer generally like your protagonist but think a certain choice he or she makes in the story is consistent with the character? Are you guilty of telling too much as opposed to showing? Do you have a “writer’s tick” (a word, phrase, even punctuation mark that appears frequently in your writing)? One author I represent finally had to face facts: she had an unhealthy relationship with the em dash and eventually had to break it off. Is there a hole in your plot? I guarantee you it won’t happen with every bad or lukewarm review, but sometimes—if and only if a writer is willing to invest the time—these bad reviews can be a real gift.
Because bad reviews can make writers better writers.
So once the sting is gone, revisit that bad review and take the reviewer’s concerns into consideration. A thoughtful, even if negative, review can provide crucial feedback you will need for the next book in the series, or your next writing project.
One thing I have learned is that sometimes the best reviews are the worst reviews—because those are the reviews that can make writers write better.
So, seventh and final: Do what you do best: WRITE. If you can muster up the courage and strength, write the reviewer a note of thanks assuming his/her contact information is a readily available. Thank them for reading, thank them for their time, and thank them for their feedback. If you thought a review was insightful, say so. If their words, hard to accept though they were, were thought-provoking, say so. Did a reviewer offer criticism that can make you a better writer? Tell them so.
Don’t be the writer who has a reputation of being mean, nasty, and vindictive to reviewers. Sadly, I’ve represented one of those writers—and I am here to tell you, editors and reviewers remember who is nasty. They also remember kindness.
In the end, the harsh words are going to sting—but if you can get past the sting, you may be richly rewarded.
Photo credit: LUMENOSITY
MARYGLENN MCCOMBS, is an independent book publicist who has worked in the book publishing industry for more than twenty years.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Maryglenn serves on the board of the Nashville Humane Association.
Maryglenn is a native of South Central Kentucky. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, Tim Warnock, and their Old English Sheepdog, Majordomo Billy Bojangles. A native of South Central Kentucky, Maryglenn currently lives in Nashville with her husband, Tim.
About City Book Review
City Book Review is the publisher of San Francisco Book Review, Seattle Book Review, Manhattan Book Review, and Kids’ BookBuzz. Since 2008, we’ve been helping readers find their next favorite book. We’re proud to be deeply involved with the indie writers community. We are one of the few national book review magazines to review and promote self-published books. We also work with publicists from around the world to bring you the latest books. To round out our services, we also offer authors and publicists assistance with promoting their books through book review videos, book cover design, blogger outreach, social media marketing, and press releases. If you’re interested in getting your book reviewed by us, please see our How to Get Your Book Reviewed page.
Chris Hayden has been working at City Book Review since 2012, so that makes him the keeper of knowledge. He manages the office and book reviewers (all 200 of them!), which is no small feat. If you’re looking at the book reviews here, you’re seeing them because he sent the books out for review. Without him, this place would fall apart, because no one else in the office knows how to use the postage machine. Two words: job security.