S.G. Browne

The Writing Life: Ouch! When Reviews Go Bad

For the most part, it’s a bad idea to read your reviews. One, they’re just someone’s opinion and not necessarily indicative of the quality of the work, good or bad. Two, writing, like any art, is subjective. As a writer, you have to remember that and not take anything personally. And three, it’s much too easy to get caught up in what someone says, whether it’s positive or negative. But as any writer can attest, no matter how glowing the reviews, a negative review has a way of embedding itself in your DNA.

Not that I don’t read any reviews. I give a look to those from places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and The Washington Post in hopes of a good review that yields a nice, juicy blurb.

Those are always fun. And I’ll read reviews on blogs that have requested a review copy or for which I’ve authored a guest post. As for the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and random blogs that show up in my Google alerts? I do my best to avoid them.

But sometimes, you can’t help it.

While checking online for local bookstore locations where I might be able to swing by and sign stock copy, I came across a reader review about Fated that gave it one star and included the following gems:

Could it be the worst book ever written?
Completely mindless.
Worst use of $$ I’ve ever spent.

Ouch. But at least they read the book to the end because they didn’t believe it could be that bad all the way through.

Aah, another satisfied customer.

And then there’s the blog that listed Breathers as one of the most disappointing books of 2010 (even though the book came out in 2009). For the most part, the blog explains in detail why Breathers failed to live up to expectations, then finishes with this:

As a result — and due to Browne’s at-best serviceable prose — Breathers fails to elicit either laughs or sympathy. It’s horrifying, but not, I suspect, in the way that Browne intended.

Can I have some salt with that knife wound?

These are just a couple of examples of the criticism that authors expose themselves to when they get something published. That doesn’t mean we have to believe it. Or take it personally, which isn’t an easy thing to do. The trick is to try to have a sense of humor about it and realize you can’t please everyone. But if you please yourself, then you’ve done your job.

And if that doesn’t help to make you feel better, you can always respond to your bad reviews like this:

Filed under: Breathers,Fated,The Writing Life — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 3:55 pm


  1. How could anyone that read these books give them bad reviews?
    I recommend Breathers and Fated to everyone I know.
    I like the response that you posted. :)

    Comment by Helen — February 9, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  2. I appreciate this humor-laden post, particularly given another infamous post today…

    Comment by Benni — February 9, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

  3. Infamous post? What infamous post? I’ve been writing and am once again completely out of the loop.

    Comment by admin — February 9, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  4. And thanks for the comments, Helen and Benni.

    Comment by admin — February 9, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

  5. Two thumbs up for not taking it personally! Yes why is it that you can get ten compliments but the one insult sticks in the mind!! Human nature? Mean people suck! :) love ya!

    Comment by slinky — February 9, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

  6. Someone tweeted me something today that said, “Authors, remember, reviews aren’t for you, but for other Readers.” That really resonated with me because I write quite a lot of reviews on GoodReads and my audience is never the author, even though almost every author is on GoodReads and can find the review. I think part of the reason people get so hyperbolic is because they aren’t even thinking of the author as a living, breathing person and are just trying to elicit a response for another reader.

    I guess it wouldn’t hurt for us all to think of the author more, but on the other hand I’ve noticed some authors on social networking sites who just spend too much time watching their reviews. It turns me off. Shouldn’t you be writing instead of obsessively looking for accolades/trolls? I’ve had an author contact me about a review I put about her book. It didn’t make me like the book more or less, and seemed to me a waste of energy.

    Then again, who doesn’t love some accolades, or to stick it to jerks on the internet.

    I don’t know, it’s a conundrum to me, if I wrote a book I don’t think I would be able to resist checking Amazon hourly unless someone shipped me to a desert island.

    A very thoughtful post, I appreciate your outlook.

    Comment by LibrarianMarian — February 9, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

  7. Here’s the infamous post: http://www.authors-helping-authors.com/2011/02/authors-beware-of-unprofessional.html

    Comment by Benni — February 9, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  8. Note: The post has since been edited, but you may get a gist of what was originally in it if you read the comments.

    Comment by Benni — February 9, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  9. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Marian. I don’t think the reviewers need to think about the author more. They have to be honest and share their opinion. Yes, some of them can be brutal but as authors, we need to understand that it’s not personal. We need to be like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade and listen to Sean Connery: “Just let it go.”

    Comment by admin — February 9, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  10. Thanks for the link, Benni.

    Comment by admin — February 9, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  11. I can only hope that one day I’ll get to avoid reviews. :) Smart thinking.

    And I’m totally stealing the bird picture.

    Comment by Melanie — February 10, 2011 @ 3:34 am

  12. I’m always in awe of those that release their creations into the world, because once you let them go they’re really no longer just yours and every one they touch is going to form some sort of opinion, either positive or negative about it.

    Seems to me you’d need to be really thick skinned to survive, especially early on when you’re struggling for a break and the rejections are at their maximum levels.

    Comment by Aaron — February 10, 2011 @ 11:22 am

  13. Thanks for the thoughts, Aaron.

    Comment by admin — February 10, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  14. I don’t know how anyone can find your writing bad or even boring. I jist discovered your books recently and love them. I can’t wait for you to write more. They must not have read the same books I did or zombies have eaten their brains . AllI know is keep up the good work.

    Comment by rubi — February 25, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

  15. Thanks Rubi. Not that I was fishing for compliments with this post, but I’ll never turn a compliment out in the cold. Thanks for reading.

    Comment by admin — February 25, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

  16. “Remember, the review on your book isn’t for you, it’s for other readers.”
    A tad self-important, you think?

    Comment by Geezus — March 12, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

7 − two =