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message 1: by David (new)

David Fernau (DavidFernau) | 79 comments As an active book reviewer, and active Twitterer, I hear a lot about negative reviews and what authors should do with them. I'd like to discuss two types of negative reviews, and my thoughts on them.

The first is what could be called the "trash" review, where the reviewer says, in essence, there is nothing good about this book at all. Now, I've been reading since I was a young child and can count on one hand the number of books I've encountered that fall into that category. There's almost always something praiseworthy in the vast majority of books, and if we're fair and honest, we should point it out. I'd say an author should just ignore these reviews.

But there's also the "brutally honest" review, where the good and the bad things about a book are honestly discussed, and places where the author fell short are brought to light. I happen to be reading a book right now that falls into that category, which is probably why this topic is on my mind at the moment. My summary of this book (which I'm not gonna reveal here yet, but you can find it if you know where to look) at this point would be, "great idea, could have been executed better." My website gives points on a 1-10 scale, this one will probably land around a 7.

Now, some authors would immediately toss out the criticism, and I've even seen authors verbally attack reviewers that point out the flaws in their work. Since this author and I follow each other on Twitter, I'd be very disappointed if he did that to me. But my sense of him is that he'll do the right thing, which is to consider my criticism, which is offered as help in improving, and use it to make his next books better.

Okay, I've rambled on long enough. Your thoughts?


message 2: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
Criticism is hard to take as a writer. I try not to be too harsh when I review books and try to find something redeeming in it. Still, there are times when I end up a little grumpy that I invested hours of my life into a book I didn't like. I think the more reviews I get for my books, the more I can take criticism for what it is, an opinion. I think reviewers do need to be fair and kind since there is a person out there who spent a portion of their life to write the book. At the same time, writers do need feedback to improve. It is a tough balance, both as a reviewer and as an author.


message 3: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Schwabauer (danielschwabauer) | 2 comments I may sound a bit cynical here, but I think authors and reviewers tend to have blind spots when it comes to honest criticism.

Most authors identify too strongly with their work; they see it as an extension of themselves, which is understandable. The problem is that they look to reviews (and peer critiques) for personal validation. They often want to be affirmed as they /are/ rather than encouraged to continue developing as a writer. So a negative review is treated as a personal attack that has to be rejected utterly.

On the other hand, sometimes reviewers who believe they are “just being honest” don’t realize that it is much, much easier to point out the flaws in someone’s work than it is to point out the strengths. Sure, it’s easy to say nice things. But it’s difficult to find those qualities in a book that the author may not be aware of, or the talent that is not yet fully developed but is latent and untapped. So “honest” reviews are often too negative and don’t give really fair perspectives to a growing writer. It’s much easier to say that a soup is too salty than it is to detect every ingredient in a perfectly balanced minestrone.

I don’t write many reviews, and those I do write are generally positive. I figure that a book I hated was probably not written for me. And I typically don’t finish a really lousy book. If a book is excellent I try to give all the reasons it worked for me and point out anything that didn’t.


message 4: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
Daniel wrote: "I may sound a bit cynical here, but I think authors and reviewers tend to have blind spots when it comes to honest criticism.

Most authors identify too strongly with their work; they see it as an..."


I think you have some really good points! I have had to learn to not take criticism too personally, but I do find myself obsessing about criticism that hit very insecure spots in me as a writer. As an artist, part of yourself goes into what you create. Insecurity and a need for validation is a very real part of throwing art out to the public. Still, once it becomes public, criticism is inevitable.

As a reviewer, it definitely is much easier to criticize. Still, we read books because we enjoy them. It is good to keep in mind that often we do go back to "mediocre books" because they were fun and we did enjoy something about them. Sometimes I get depressed reading all the reviews on Goodreads because one would think no good book exists.


message 5: by D.M. (new)

D.M. Dutcher  | 22 comments The first is what could be called the "trash" review, where the reviewer says, in essence, there is nothing good about this book at all. Now, I've been reading since I was a young child and can count on one hand the number of books I've encountered that fall into that category.

Keep in mind most books you have read have professional writers who have editors do one or multiple passes over the manuscript, and who have beaten out a lot of people to get the right to be published. This changes in the indie space, because a lot of people can just publish at will, without the restrictions of a vanity press.

I used to read indie Christian spec fic pretty seriously. Not solely as a writer, but as someone who grew up reading Elwood, Lawhead and White in the 90s, and who liked the genre. So many of the indie books I read were...well, trash. I'm not saying this like i'm superior; my own failed for many reasons (no marketing, bad cover, weird subject matter, no audience, not getting it in front of test readers), but when you buy a book that isn't even formatted correctly, or reads like someone uses English as a second language (both real examples) you get a little worried.

The worst thing for these books is that they do have positive reviews sometimes, too. Those are even more condemning that any negative ones, because you can tell the people never actually read the book.

I really would recommend either finding people who will be honest with you about your novel (not fellow authors!) or if possible hiring a freelance editor who can be honest. Negative reviews then are something that can be dealt with, because they will usually be about stories, characters, and things people can disagree with. You don't want to get one that tells prospective buyers the book is literally unreadable.


message 6: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
D.M. wrote: "The first is what could be called the "trash" review, where the reviewer says, in essence, there is nothing good about this book at all. Now, I've been reading since I was a young child and can..."

This is a great comment that made me think. Just today I was watching an ACX video about making audiobooks, and the teacher said not to trust books that have all 5-star reviews because they are probably fake. He preferred books that had mostly 3- to 4-star reviews with some 5-stars scattered throughout.

I had mostly thought of fake reviews as being something that paranoid people talked about, and Amazon was witch-hunting over. The more book reviews I do for my blog, the more I actually see books do this. I have a policy that I write an author and tell them I can't do a review if I feel like I can't recommend the book. Some of these same books will have tons of 5-star reviews which baffles me. It's hard to get a 5-star review from a stranger!


message 7: by D.M. (new)

D.M. Dutcher  | 22 comments Well, for Christian writers I don't think they are "fake" per se. I mean they don't buy them or do them for money. That is an issue with others, because people will use that to try and gain enough notice to get normal, organic reviews for their book; if the book is good enough the cheat sort of works, if it isn't blatant enough. The teacher you mentioned is right. I really don't want to think Christian writers specifically would do that.

The reviews tend to be "five stars for solidarity" with Christians. Because the work features Jesus, five stars. To be fair there is so little done specifically for them in the arts the impulse is natural, but it doesn't help anyone if people do that. And its tough because there aren't many readers to give honest feedback for Christian spec works, so too many of them hit self-publication setting themselves up for bad reviews or "solidarity" reviews.

It's really rough. I'm not angry at people who do this; if anything that they try despite Christian culture turning their back on spec fic is worth commending. Its just such a vicious circle though.


message 8: by Steve (new)

Steve Pillinger | 514 comments Mod
D.M. wrote: "The reviews tend to be "five stars for solidarity" with Christians. Because the work features Jesus, five stars ..."

You're right, D.M. I received one review of my first (and only) book which had quite a negative tone overall, but the reviewer was a Christian so he gave me 5 stars! It felt unreal.


message 9: by Peter (new)

Peter Younghusband (peteryounghusband) | 66 comments D.M,

Can you explain more about what you mean by,
"The reviews tend to be "five stars for solidarity" with Christians. Because the work features Jesus, five stars".


message 10: by C.S. (new)

C.S. Wachter | 327 comments Dear moderator, please feel free to delete this post if I've overstepped my bounds.

Having indie published my debut novel in February of this year (2018), followed by two more (one in the spring and one in the summer) and with the fourth due out in a few weeks, reviews are very important to me. I have been blessed with basically good reviews (even five stars from strangers). What I've had a hard time dealing with though, is not constructive criticism per se, but criticism that is worded in a harsh manner. Weeks after reading one particular review, I still wake in the middle of the night with the reviewer's negative words circling in my mind, and I wonder if I should just give up, pack up my books and go home. I know I am allowing this one review far too much power over me, but I'm having a hard time developing the necessary tough skin I need if I'm going to continue writing.

Anyway, I am learning to accept that reviews are subjective opinions. (I know the reviews I write are nothing more than my own opinions.) I shouldn't be surprised when one person says my writing is strong and compelling while another says I am repetitive or explain too much.

Okay, I've allowed myself to put this out here because I needed to vent and share what I'm feeling. I will get past this and move on. I know this post isn't going to be very helpful to others as it stands, so I'll add one point a seasoned author passed on to me. Don't read reviews.

I hope I haven't offended anyone by my little pity party, but I figured if anyone could empathize with me it would be this group. Thanks for your patience.

... Now I sit here pondering whether to hit the post button or just delete what I've written ... I'll post this in the hope that I might reach out to someone who needs to hear he or she is not alone. Sometimes we just need to share our doubts.


message 11: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Salisbury | 220 comments Mod
C.S. wrote: "Dear moderator, please feel free to delete this post if I've overstepped my bounds.

Having indie published my debut novel in February of this year (2018), followed by two more (one in the spring ..."


Thanks for posting this. It's important to remember that someone sits at the other end of our reviews and, while I'm all for honesty, I use the rule of never writing on a computer what I wouldn't say to someone's face. There are ways of giving your opinion on a book, however much you disliked it, without targeting the author personally.

As for how to handle such criticism, I would have to agree that the best policy is to let them go and move on. To my mind, it's a case of accepting constructive criticism, ignoring plain criticism, and being able to figure out which is which. I'm no expert in this yet. I'm still learning to ignore the knee-jerk hurt and look for anything I can do to improve, but I'm trying.

It's hard to separate the two, and made more difficult if the critique is aimed at us as writers instead of our work as finished novels. But don't give up. God called us to write for a reason, and for every person who leaves a hurtful review, I honestly believe there's someone else out there who's meant to read your words and be touched, inspired, and comforted.

Just gotta find/wait for them. ;-)


message 12: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
C.S. wrote: "Weeks after reading one particular review, I still wake in the middle of the night with the reviewer's negative words circling in my mind, and I wonder if I should just give up, pack up my books and go home. I know I am allowing this one review far too much power over me, but I'm having a hard time developing the necessary tough skin I need if I'm going to continue writing. ..."

This article has inspired me to write a humorous essay on how I handle criticism, which isn't very well at all. The first sentence starts:

If stabbing yourself in the chest repeatedly with a dull knife and not dying could be a career, it would be called writing.

The essay just goes downhill from there with wailing and gnashing of teeth. The point though is to laugh at it all for being what it is: just opinions.

My most recent short stories that I just got published were rejected multiple times. My husband keeps telling me that he doesn't even think these stories are my best writing. One person loves it and one person hates it. I throw a fit and then go right back to write like some sick addiction. Take comfort that you aren't alone.


message 13: by C.S. (new)

C.S. Wachter | 327 comments Lara wrote: "C.S. wrote: "Weeks after reading one particular review, I still wake in the middle of the night with the reviewer's negative words circling in my mind, and I wonder if I should just give up, pack u..."

I suspected I wasn't alone and that was what gave me the courage to share. I once told someone, "I've finished my first book. Now everyone can come kick him." I do like your analogy of the repeated stabbing much better. You're right, we need to take reviews in stride and find humor where we can!


message 14: by Stan (new)

Stan | 288 comments Mod
C.S. wrote: "Dear moderator, please feel free to delete this post if I've overstepped my bounds.

Having indie published my debut novel in February of this year (2018), followed by two more (one in the spring ..."


We should all be careful with our reviews. I try to stay positive in reviews. If I have constructive criticism I sometimes write an author directly.

I am sorry that you're haunted by that review. I hope it passes in time.


message 15: by Cortez (new)

Cortez Law III | 89 comments I read you C.S., my group buddy. I've got a few that blistered my skin and seeped into my insides. What helps beyond the cliche thick skin is having a great number of reviews. That's why marketing one's work is so critical to success.


message 16: by C.S. (new)

C.S. Wachter | 327 comments Cortez wrote: "I read you C.S., my group buddy. I've got a few that blistered my skin and seeped into my insides. What helps beyond the cliche thick skin is having a great number of reviews. That's why marketing ..."

Yes. I hear what you are saying but getting reviews is hard. Part of my frustration is I have several people who have 'loved' my books, promised favorable reviews, but keep forgetting to post either here or on Amazon. It's just not a priority for them.


message 17: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
C.S. wrote: "Yes. I hear what you are saying but getting reviews is hard. Part of my frustration is I have several people who have 'loved' my books, promised favorable reviews, but keep forgetting to post either here or on Amazon. It's just not a priority for them."

I have this problem A LOT! I seem to know tons of people who hate posting reviews in general.


message 18: by Stoney (new)

Stoney deGeyter | 134 comments Seems pretty common. People promise reviews because it’s easy and they probably intend to do it, but in the end, most people don’t like writing them. Sometimes, it helps if you tell them, just a single sentence is fine.


message 19: by Cortez (new)

Cortez Law III | 89 comments Stoney has something there. Gentle persuasion to keep it simple is a tact to try too. It is tough, C.S. Be tougher!


message 20: by Bridgette (new)

Bridgette Ehly (weirdthink) | 9 comments I agree it would be wrong to write "everything is wonderful" if you have feedback that could change a writer's career.

Most of us writers have very few people who will give honest criticism of our work before it gets published. Honest (and kind) reviewers like you help us improve that second book of the series. A great suggestion goes a long way!

Having said that, I hope I never run into a cruel reviewer who destroys my star count, but we have to be prepared when we come into the light. Christian writers are especially vulnerable to secular reviewers who have contempt for Christian content.

I used to be a TV news reporter. If the old guy in the newsroom hadn't told me what I was doing wrong, I wouldn't have improved. I hope to get that same inspiration from good reviewers who might see things from a different and enlightening perspective.


message 21: by T.K. (last edited Oct 27, 2020 01:12PM) (new)

T.K. Arispe (tkarispe) | 273 comments I really appreciate everyone's thoughts and comments on this thread. They've really been helping me, as I've just received my first negative review on a published novel and I'm feeling a mix of emotions.

The two-star review was brief, but the only positive comment was that the idea was interesting. Otherwise, the reviewer had only negative opinions of the book.

As I said, I'm feeling mixed emotions, because the book in question was my first book. I wrote it back when I had really no idea what I was doing, and even after two revisions it probably still reads a little rusty. But I was hoping it wouldn't be that terrible. Like, maybe not my best work, but still something you wouldn't feel like you wasted time reading, unless you just didn't like it as a matter of personal taste.

I'm also feeling confused because this book is my readers' favorite. Despite how old and (debatably) bad it is, both my editors love it. My proofreader called it life-changing and said it was the book that helped her enjoy fiction again, and she actually started crying (happy tears) when I told her I was writing a sequel. All of the five-star reviews it has on Amazon are natural reviews from people who honestly liked the book that much.

I guess maybe part of the problem is that I'm the sort of person who wants to take people at their word. It's difficult for me to remind myself that what people say may not be an accurate reflection of reality, and different people just have different ideas of what makes something a quality read. Even when someone is presenting their opinion as fact, it's still just their opinion. (There are lots of people out there who like to think their opinion is fact, apparently.)

I am all for learning where I can improve in my writing, but I do appreciate when it is pointed out to me diplomatically and with a tone of kindness and helpfulness. I try very hard to take that approach when I write reviews, because the last thing I want is to make a writer feel bad about their work or themselves. I know, though, that there are plenty of people out there who don't care so much about courtesy or the other person's feelings.

How do all of you feel about the idea of commenting (kindly) on negative reviews? Because I did that, and now would be a really good time to know whether or not that's a terrible idea. :) Despite my disappointment that someone found my book so unappealing, I wanted to show my professional graciousness and willingness to learn from my mistakes, so I commented nicely thanking the reviewer for pointing out places where I could have done better, and asking them to tell me more about the plot holes they found. (Although honestly, after three revisions I don't think there were very many plot holes to find, and if there were, my story editor should have caught them all.)

I read somewhere that commenting on reviews shows people that you read and care about your reviews, so I wanted to put that into practice, and definitely not make it look like I was ignoring information that could help me be a better writer. (I hadn't commented on any of my previous reviews because they were all by people who I thanked privately, so leaving them an additional comment online might have been overdoing it.) But is it wise to seek additional feedback from someone who very obviously hated your book and only had one mildly positive thing to say about it? Even if what they say can help you on a technical level, is it really worth letting them erode your self-esteem and emotional health?

As a reviewer, I try hard to respect the work that went into a book, and I love loading my reviews with as much positive praise as I can find, even when I do feel the need to also point out things that didn't quite work for me. I generally try to maintain high opinions of others' writing, and even if a book isn't something I absolutely loved, I usually find something to like about it. The only times when I've given something one or two stars is not because of technical quality, but because I found it offensive or upsetting, which are the two things that are an automatic stop-reading-immediately for me.

But I know there are lots of people (I've known plenty of them personally) who focus on the negative when reviewing. I'm not saying I enjoy that, but many people struggle with the bad habits of negativity and criticism and it shows through in their reviews. For them, a review is an opportunity to point out all the flaws, not to give a balanced overview that will help the writer improve and prospective readers make an accurate judgment call about the book. And once most people get the negativity snowball rolling, they find it's on a very steep hill.

Is it cathartic to vent about things you didn't like in a book? Sure. Is it something you should be posting publicly where the author can and will read it? Probably not.

Oh, and C. S., I'm so sorry you had such a traumatic experience with a bad review. Some people just don't understand how much words can wound, and your severe emotional distress over what sounds like someone's very hurtful words is totally valid. It sounds like you were having a difficult time emotionally processing that review, and I don't blame you. I struggle with that too, which is why I'm grateful for this thread and the kind people in this group.

I know that was nearly three years ago, but I hope you're feeling better now, and feeling confident about your work. One of the double-edged swords of the Internet is that anyone can say anything they want, and opinions are more visible than ever before. It's wonderful to hear from people who love our work, but it's also terribly disappointing to hear just how much some people hate it.

With that said, take courage--even the most memorable and beloved books have had their scathing critics. Just because someone feels a certain way about a book, doesn't mean it's either true, or how most people feel about it.

And good emotional support is always helpful to an author, and to artists in general. That's why I'm so grateful for my editors, who love my work despite its weaknesses (and its their job to tell me those weaknesses), and for the readers who do enjoy my books. I write for them, not to try impossibly to please everyone.

I spoke with my super awesome story editor about the review, and she had this to say (edited for clarity as this was a text message conversation):

"[The book that got the bad review is] not unreadably terrible! Not at all! When I did surveys for [our] church our rule was to never consider the outlier comments - the absolute worst and absolute best ones - because they are always going to come, they are very rare, and they throw off the real experience 99% of people are having.

...

Also keep in mind that reviews are often subjective and more about what they expected out of the book than whether the book actually worked or not. You could still have a solid entertaining story and if someone says 'I really wanted this to be a post apocalyptic romance!' then they will be unsatisfied regardless.

...

Feedback is hard. I always try to let it sit a few days before making any conclusions about my work from them."



message 22: by T.K. (last edited Mar 09, 2021 08:37AM) (new)

T.K. Arispe (tkarispe) | 273 comments I just wanted to add some thoughts based on my experiences with my first-ever book blog tour this week.

I've come to discover that, despite all the literary training and critical analysis in the world, reviews are highly subjective creatures and are still essentially the reviewer's opinion. I've come to see that works for one reader will not work for another. What one person doesn't even notice will stick out like a sore thumb to someone else. Even among fans of the same genre, tastes and opinions can vary wildly.

And, "star" criteria can vary widely, as I'm sure you've seen if you have much experience on Goodreads either reading reviews or writing your own. Some people only give 5 stars to the most jaw-droppingly, life-changingly perfect books they have ever read. Some people give 5 stars to anything that they just really, really liked and couldn't find enough wrong with to want to drop it to 4 stars. Again, it's all up to the individual and what those ratings specifically mean to them.

So far, the book in this blog tour has gotten one five-star review, some four-star reviews, and one 3.5-star review. Clearly, people are having different opinions about the exact same text. And looking at the bloggers, I can see that, despite being fantasy fans, they all have very different personalities and tastes.

So, I've learned to really not take negative reviews that seriously. Yes, you can learn from what someone thinks you didn't do well. But if other people seem to enjoy the book despite the "glaring" errors that made one person thoroughly unimpressed, it's probably more that the book wasn't quite to that person's liking in the first place.

Another thing I've learned is to have empathy for the reviewer, even when you disagree with them. We have all read books we didn't like, and I think we've all read books that a lot of other people raved about but just weren't our thing. I find it helps me to put myself in the reviewer's shoes for a moment. If I read a book that just wasn't hitting any of the right notes with me, I'd be disappointed. As the author, I have to allow that in people. Clearly my work isn't a perfect fit for everybody, and that's okay, because I'm sure those people have their favorite authors who don't write anything like I do. What matters to me is that there are people out there who show that my work does have the capability to be enjoyed.

Another thing that matters to me even more is that, reviews aside, my work helps people, and that's what it's really all about for me. Yesterday I got a super sweet note from a reader who told me that she'd been having a rough week, but she had been reading one of my novels and it helped her get through everything that had happened that week. And that completely made my day. That's why I write. That's what I want the end result to be: lives made better.


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