Thursday, May 1, 2008

Handling a Bad Review

After making my first post, I did some research on reviews. In the span of three weeks I got four good ones, one medium one, and one I would consider "bad." That still puts me ahead, if you average them all together. Of course, most writers--myself included--can have twenty-five stellar reviews and only one negative one, but it's the negative we dwell on every time. As I said in an earlier post, I do my best to take bad reviews with a grain of salt, the "live to write another day" approach. It never dawned on me that there are some writers out there who take negative reviews so personally they'd actually threaten the life and family of the reviewer. After my Net search yesterday, I've learned that isn't the case. I don't want to go into the details here because there are far more knowledgeable sites out there that can explain it better than I, but Google the words Amazon reviewer Reba Belle (no relation to yours truly) and see what comes up. The short of it is, Ms. Belle gave a three star review (three stars, mind you) to a book by a paranormal romance author, and the author went after her, going so far as to get Ms. Belle banned from ever posting to Amazon again--although she's still welcome to shop there--and claiming she'd hired a PI to track down Ms. Belle, her husband, and even her children. The Dear Author Blog has the whole story; it reads more like the opening of a romantic suspense novel than real life.

As I read this, I couldn't help but think about life from the reviewer's side of the coin. In the bad review of my work mentioned above, the reviewer held nothing back. She thought my main character was an unsympathetic moron and my prose was stilted and formal. I don't think any of us want to hear that, but it takes more guts to tell someone they suck than to sing their praises. Did I agree with the review? Nah. This main character happens to be one of my favorites, but she made her point well, was well spoken, and I got what she was saying. Even if the review had made me mad, it never would've occurred to me that I should go after her, or even try to defend my story. Once I finish a piece, it's out of my hands and up to the reader whether they like it or not. I hate catfish, and if someone tried to make me eat a big ol' plate of it, I'd be spitting mad. What right do I have, then, to force feed readers my point of view?

So how do you handle a bad review? One article I read on the subject suggests either growing up and getting over it or getting out of the business. Another POV in another article suggests brooding over it for days and allowing the hurt and anger to run its course. I think both of these views represent the extreme. There's got to be a happy medium. Personally, if I'm bummed about a bad review, I take a close look at what the reviewer is saying--see if I can see his or her point. Also, I try to consider the tone of the review. Is he talking about the story, or does he say derogatory things about me as the author? If it's the former, then I have no beef because that's what an unbiased reviewer does: tell it like he sees it. If it's the later, then I know it's personal and I move on.

Another thing that helps me put it into perspective is to go to sites like Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, etc, and read the reader-written reviews for some of my favorite authors' novels. In almost every case, mixed in with the four and five star raves, are ones and twos written by readers who just didn't gel with said novel. These people are on the NYT Bestseller's List, have sold millions of copies, and have in some cases been in the writing game for years, and yet not everyone likes what flies from their pens. Helps me to realize just how subjective a review really is. And it also helps me appreciate reviewers brave enough to give their opinions, especially when they're in the minority.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm fairly new to the writing game, unless we'recounting fan fic. lol

That said, I've not really had any reviews, as such, since the two things of mine that have been accepted for publication won't be out until later this year (probably).

I have, however, had loads of experience with replies and comment on the fan-fic I've posted here and there, some good, and some bad.

Itmay very well be different when a review for a published story/book/whatever is bad. I guess I'll find out eventually. But as I said, I've had loads of both good and bad with regards to the other things I've written, and...

This is just me, of course, but everybody is entitled to their opinions, and when you break it down, that's what a review is. Just like you said. It's someone's opinion.

Because reviewers are by their very nature considered to be authorities, it's easy to assign more importance to their words than to the words of, say,a friend who happens to be another writer.

There's always that little voice that says 'well, so and so likes me, so they're being nice'. And maybe that's true, to some extent, although I actually trust my friends to be completely honest with me, and as far as I can tell, they have been.

Still, reviewers have that title. That assumed skill and capability to look at a story impartially.

Still, it really IS all opinion.

Maybe a reviewer won't like my writing style. Maybe he or she will findmy characters superficial or overly pedantic. Perhaps they'll find my plot lines predictable and simplistic.

Or not.

The bottom line for me is... I enjoy what I do with my writing. I like my characters and care about them. I even care-- in an odd way-- about their happiness.

Writing is FUN for me. A pleasure. And there is just no way that I'll let someone else's opinion of what I write affect my enjoyment of it.

It's like that old saying.

You can please all of the people some of the time. You can please some of the people all of the time. But you can't please all of the people all of the time.

At some point, someone won't like what I write. That is their privilege. And they absolutely have the right to share their opinion.

Now, if I end up with six negative reviews and no positive ones, maybe I'll have to take a good, hard look at what I'm doing wrong, but if it's one or two out of an entire group? Then I think I'll go with being happy for the good ones and telling myself that my work just isn't the others' cup of tea, so to speak.

And yes. Even saying you're hunting someone down because they didn't like something you wrote is... well, kinda crazy and weird, although I wonder if there was more to that story.

I mean,would a huge company like Amazon REALLY ban someone from posting ever again just because they only gave someone 3 stars?

I didn't plan on this response being so very long-winded, but you did ask. LOL

Anonymous said...

I think the key point here, is that reviews are subjective.

A reviewer may give a bad review simply because they don't like the name Miranda, and that happens to be the name of the main protagonist in the story. (one would hope not, though.)

As a writer, I have had to learn to take the good with the bad. I love getting reviews, good or bad, even if the bad ones sting just a tad. What's worse for me, is when there are NO reviews at all.

As a reader, a bad review is just as likely to make me go and buy a book as a good one is. I'm just weird that way. ;)

Zathyn Priest said...

I haven't been in the situation where I've had a review other than reader feedback. I totally agree with tistoo and Margaret-Leigh, a review is subjective according to the person who's read the novel. Not everyone is going to like what I write, that's just a fact of life. Not everyone is going to like what I wear either but it wouldn't make me change my dress sense.

Good reviews on books have never swayed me to go out and buy them - I'll read what I think I'll enjoy not what someone else thinks I should read. The same said for movies.

Ultimately if the readers like what an author writes and buys their books, that's the most important thing in the end.

(Having said that...I probably would sulk for a few days over a bad review! lol)

Angelia Sparrow said...

Bad reviews can be useful.
Mixed reviews are harder to cope with.

Everyone hated "Stolen Chocolate Tastes Sweetest." Three reviews, all bad. So, I know not to play with those characters again.

OTOH, when a story is both Joyfully Recommended and not-quite-panned (a tepid three and some reviewer qualms), it's just confusing.

That's when you really have to chalk it over to opinion.

Jenna said...

I was a bit depressed by my first bad review, but I also look at it this way: even a negative review had positive things to say about the novel itself, and that means it can't be completely terrible, right?

I try to take the approach that a bad review is a learning experience and tells me what to look out for next time, though I will also admit to rereading positive reviews and feedback a lot more than negative ones.

I'm like most people: I'd rather hear where I succeeded rather than where I failed. But it's good to know where I've failed.

Jordan said...

I'll have to dissent and say that nasty reviews really piss me off. I don't mean normal-bad reviews; I've had bad reviews that I've learned from. A bad review that says, "Your prose is cluttered with adverbs," or whatever the case may be, is still useful. It stings, but it's nothing to quit being a writer over.

I've got a review on that is so nasty it could peel the paint off my house. I think the reviewer just wanted to act "cool" in front of her friends. Or to take a stab at an author. I'm not really sure what. But now every Canadian shopping on Amazon gets to see her extremely nasty review, front and center, when they shop my book.

I think it's crappy that someone can just do that to an author and have no ramifications because of it.

So I guess I"m thinking of the blistering and nyah-nyah type review as being its own category. It's not just a "bad" review, where someone dislikes aspects of your writing and can say what they are, but someone reviewer time-bomb that just happened to explode on you.