What Do You Do With A Bad Review?

I’ve been getting mostly good reviews for my books, so it came as a shock when I noticed that one woman on Goodreads downrated them. She rated more than 100 books, giving all of them five stars except for a couple of 4-star ratings and three 3-star ratings. And guess whose books were all rated three stars? Mine. I couldn’t understand it — first, because most people who have read my books like at least one of them, and second (and the point that really bothered me), if she didn’t like my writing, why read all three? Why not stop after one or two?

I’d never met the woman, only know of her because we have an acquaintance  in common — someone I met because of my books, not a pre-publication friend. “I doubt she read the books,” this acquaintance told me, “she couldn’t possibly have read them and not liked them; your books are fabulous,” which made the whole thing even more incomprehensible. 

Until . . .

I got a really bad 2-star review for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which made those three stars seem benign:

Not a bad story…but but but. I love post-apocolyptic stories – but a common mistake authors fall into with it is to immediately lose the sense of horror – their characters hardly react to dead bodies piling up around them – Bertram did this from the get-go. And this book was so badly edited that it is astonishing. Someone made the author chop this up without any concern for the reader’s ability to follow the story and understand the characters…fortunately, I didn’t care enough about any of them to worry about it.
Made me doubt myself.  Did I lose the sense of horror? But I never intended there to be a sense of horror (or at least not a sense of ghoulish horror). Nor did I intend to write a postapocalyptic story, which shows you the danger of genre expectations. The whole point was the lack of  bodies. After the first dying, when people died in their cars causing a city-wide traffic jam, people stayed in their houses, so that is where they succumbed to the red death. The only way my characters knew of the continued dying were the orange fluorescent markings appearing on the doors of houses where people had died. To me, that was even more horrible than bodies piling up — just this one simple reminder that people were still dying. Even more horrific was the silent city with soldiers patrolling the streets. That would spook the hell out of me! And no, people would not continue to react to the horror. They would become inured to it. It would become the new normal. And how could the reviewer have missed the hellish scene when two of my characters discovered what was being done with the dead human bodies . . . and the bodies of beloved pets?

Besides, the story was seen through the eyes of a soul-dead nurse, a gung-ho reporter, a self-centered, world-famous actor, and a woman who had that star in her eyes. Would any of them have continued to react to the dying? I doubt it. Still, I did wonder. Should I have shown more bodies piling up?

Then . . .

I was out walking along a residential street yesterday, and there was not a single other person in sight. Not a single vehicle on the road. And I knew I was right. No one would see the bodies if all the people in those houses suddenly died. And maybe they had expired — I had no way of knowing.

So, what does one do with a bad review? Blog about it, of course!! 

13 Responses to “What Do You Do With A Bad Review?”

  1. RFW Says:

    Hang in there. I just read that even a bad review in the New York Times can boost sales – any publicity is good publicity.

  2. Jan Says:

    So, my take on this reviewer’s view of the reaction to horrific death is 1) he/she has not compared this type of scenario with real-world ones in which soldiers in wartime are inured to death all around them, 2) the possibility that the living characters were blinding themselves to death, indoors and outdoors, as a self-protection mechanism, and 3) it is not a mistake to lose the horror of a horrible situation – real people do this to survive.

    Ack, this touched a nerve. Guess what? I stopped reading reviews after a fellow author friend gave me a 3-star. When I asked why, the reply was, “It just wasn’t my type of story.” Hmm. There’s a lot to say about writing a mediocre (3-star) review for a genre you don’t care for, but that’s another soap box for another day.

  3. JP Lane Says:

    Hi Pat, if I’d ever had the chance to review Hemmingway, it wouldn’t have been very complimentary. In the final analysis, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? Write on!

  4. Fragrant Liar Says:

    Absolutely, blog about it. That should take some of the sting out because you’re being proactive about it, not hiding in supposed shame.

    I don’t know whether the reviewer read or didn’t read your work, of course, but I wouldn’t take it too much to heart. You can never please everyone. I know if I got 2 stars after the 3 and 4s, I’d be upset too, but I also know you can’t let it get the best of you. Keep doing what you do, writing stories that you love, that are engaging to readers, and regardless of how these books fare, your next books will just keep getting better and better. Writers always get better with time and practice.

    Best of luck, and chin up!

  5. Other Lisa Says:

    Heh, well, if you want to feel better, check out some of my ONE star reviews! And not to brag…well, okay, a little…I made some mainstream media “Best of 2010” lists.

    Not everybody is going to like what you do. Some people have an axe to grind. And others are just plain angry and looking for something to take it out on.

    It still stings at times.

  6. lvgaudet Says:

    The best thing about writing, reading, and reviews is that taste is relative.

    I don’t decide whether to buy a book based on a good or bad review. And I don’t even bother with the catch-phrases on the cover.

    What one person likes or hates about a book isn’t what the next person will like or hate about it. And if the biggest complaint is something like the lack of bodies piling up with the shock and horror over those bodies, then the reviewer wouldn’t like other books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I believe was a best seller too (it did get the Pulitzer prize). That one didn’t have bodies stacked either. The horror lay in the lack of bodies and occassional contact with the few other living people.

    This reviewer may have been looking for something different in a post apocalyptic story, something with dead bodies piling up everywhere apparently.

  7. gabixler Says:

    Well, I told you already what I would do…go on the attack!

    I’d need more details, but I would challenge the 2 and question the 3’s…

    Yes! Blogging about it is a good start…but I want to see the reviewer for the 2…I want to see other reviews by that individual…and I want to challenge her to a duel (all on behalf of my own reviews, of course) it has nothing to do with you, the author…LOL

    Anyway, How come I can comment, but can’t “like” this on your blogger…strange…why do I have to have an account…

    See, how easily I can start making negative comments? But then, you already know…my guess? They aren’t professional reviewers! I happen to think I am…LOL…

    And believe me, it is NOT easy to give a bad review if you are a professional…you’d better believe you should have a damn good reason…other than personal opinion!

    The grading of 3’s…my guess is related to the stupidity of grading…and yes, I’ve written about it. If you want to say, I liked this book better than that book…an immature, unprofessional reviewer starts grading like in school.

    A professional reviewer bases comments on a minimum of professional issues … only after those do I talk about my personal opinions. Frankly, I prefer J.D.Robb books over everything else I read…including yours…She touches me in many, many ways and I love her….if I were grading, I’d give her a 25…get the point…

    What a ridiculous way to compare personal likes and dislikes…And, again, reflects that this individual is NOT a professional reviewer in my opinion. If I can’t tell you why I give you a lower grade without getting into my Personal Preferences…then…

    Oh well, you got my reviewer juices flowing…better stop for awhile…LOL

  8. Cheryl Haynes Says:

    You did the right thing. You blogged about it!

  9. Wanda Says:

    Realy there’s nothing you can do about a bad review. Reviewers give their opinions and that is all they can do. It’s too personal to be taken seriously. Even the good reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. The real thing is do you like your book? Are you happy with the way it came out? Did you learn something in the writing of it?

    Even professional reviewers are just giving their own opinion on the work so unless they’re pointing out punctuation errors or grammar errors or spelling… you get the idea…. what can they say? One person’s flat character is another reader’s fully realized beloved character.

    That’s my take and I speak as a reader, not a published writer. I’m also a reader of your work and I’ve read everything you’ve written and loved all of it.

    Cheers girl.

  10. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    It’s impossible to appeal to everyone. You’ll just drive yourself crazy trying to evaluate why reviewers say what they do. Take it with a grain of salt and put it behind you.

  11. L.C. Evans Says:

    Blog about it. Exactly. In fact I’m planning a blog of my own. With bad reviews, the thing that bothers me the most is when a reader doesn’t “get” one of my characters. These readers seem to skim the surface of a book and apparently don’t have enough understanding of the human character and inner workings to know why a character behaves a certain way or to recognize change when it occurs. It’s all subjective. As for the complaint about characters not reacting with horror to bodies piling up, it’s my belief that sometimes less is more. The best example of this I’ve ever found comes from the book, The Pianist. In one part the author describes how a German soldier sees a small boy running down the street and turns and shoots him dead. The author didn’t go into a long discourse on how horrible that was and how they all felt. He simply relates what happened. In this case, the act speaks for itself. I believe the impact would have been lessened had the author told us how to feel. Yes, bad reviews sting. We all want everyone to love our writing, but they don’t. You have a great attitude, Pat. Thanks for the post.

  12. Karen Cantwell Says:

    Reviews are the hardest part of the writing/publishing process, if you think about it. A lot of people can write a book, and now it’s very easy for us to publish it ourselves — the hardest part is putting it out there for the world to see and thus, give their opinion of that thing, which for us, constitutes hours, days, sometimes years of blood, sweat and tears (well, maybe the blood is a bit over-dramatic, unless a papercut was incurred). Anyhow, I say we’re all VERY brave souls! And your attitude is perfect. Keep writing! 🙂

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