It took almost a year before it finally happened to me. That moment every writer dreads: The First Bad Review. As writers, we have to accept that bad reviews are inevitable. No one book can appeal to everyone. Bad reviews are an occupational hazard, but the first time, it stings a little. I read my first bad review with my heart in my throat and a cold, sickening dread in the pit of my stomach. She didn’t like my book… how could she not like my book? *sob* I quickly typed up the following response:
Dearest (Bad) Reviewer,
Firstly, I must congratulate you on your extraordinary ability to remain sour for extended periods of time. I am sure that this must take some effort on your part, maintaining the delicate balance between perpetual bitterness and scathing sarcasm, and for this, you must be duly applauded.
There are a few points I feel I must mention in order that you “up your game” and grow as a reviewer. (YES, dimwit, I AM reviewing your review…stings a little, doesn’t it?)
Spelling: If you, as a reviewer, cannot spell, then perhaps you should not comment. It makes you look like an idiot. Authors use spell check – if you want to compete on an even playing field, perhaps you should do the same.
Criticizing other reviewers: Starting your review with: “I can’t believe how many 5 stars this book received because it is so dreadful” is hypocrisy. If you feel that your review is honest and your opinion matters, then it goes without saying that this rule applies to your positive counterparts. Do not judge them, and we will not judge you.
Abbreviations: Peppering your bad review with OMG’s and WTF’s does not make you clever or funny. It makes you stupid. If we can type out 100,000 words, surely you can manage three or four.
Freebies: If you are too cheap to pay for books and insist on only EVER downloading freebies, then you should never leave a crappy review, because while the book may have been bad, you are cheap. And cheap trumps bad, every time.
Do your research: Read the blurb before the book. Possibly a few other reviews, seeing as you are so quick to post your own. This will tell you whether a book is sad, funny, suspenseful, etc. If forty-seven reviewers have claimed that a particular book reduced them to a snotty, blubbering mess, then the chances are this book won’t have a happily ever after.
Sex: I’m terribly sorry that sex scenes bore you. Sadly, E.L. James’s “anal-fisting” is a hard act to follow. After 50 Shades of Grey, sex will seem boring. While I am sure when you were hanging from the chandeliers last night while your husband burnt himself with cigarettes and did unmentionable things to you that us mere mortals can only dream about – sadly, writing about sex is harder than doing it. As an exercise… have sex. Then write about it in intimate detail and let ten of your friends read it. I bet they won’t have the same earth-shattering orgasm you did.
And finally, I am truly devastated that you will not be purchasing another of my books in future. I did so look forward to another review from you that would make me want to slit my wrists.
It is important to note that while I was defending my honour and bashing furiously away at the keys, a message popped up from Goodreads saying:
OK, you got a bad review. Deep breath. It happens to every author eventually. Keep in mind that one negative review will not impact your book’s sales. In fact, studies have shown that negative reviews can actually help book sales, as they legitimize the positive reviews on your book’s page. We really, really (really!) don’t think you should comment on this review, even to thank the reviewer. If you think this review is against our Review Guidelines, please flag it to bring it to our attention. Keep in mind that if this is a review of the book, even one including factual errors, we generally will not remove it. For more on how to interact with readers, please see our Author Guidelines. If you still feel you must leave a comment, click “Accept and Continue” below to proceed (but again, we don’t recommend it).
At this I realised that Goodreads is comprised of bona fide Ninjas. They know. They know what you are going to do before you even do it. Well played, Goodreads, well played.
I took a deep breath and deleted my open letter, but deep down I needed something. Something to make my heart hurt just a little bit less. So I went searching for 1-star reviews other (far more talented and famous) authors have endured. And I read a bunch. Here are some excerpts of my favorites (I have edited out the names of the books to protect the innocent):
#1 Review on New York Times Bestselling Author
Holy hell. Thankfully I took a day before writing this review otherwise I would be having a vitriolic rant about the questionable judgement of many readers on GR. I am a wee bit horrified by the taste level I’m coming across. But I digress. So what was wrong with TITLE? It would be easier to tell you what was right with it: nothing. Monotonous, repetitive, predictable, unoriginal, mindless, cliche…these are just a few of the words that come to mind. The writing is simply not good. It is monotonous and absolutely lacked a descriptive quality. When there were descriptions they were vague. And don’t get me started on how the author chose to treat sexual relations in the book. Every instance of sex was approached in a prudish manner, which was just ridiculous. NAME’s biological clock was f%#king annoying…
#2: Review on one of the greatest authors of our time:
Wow, truly, truly awful! This is a book I really wish I had never read. Admittedly, it is clearly written to appeal to the fairer sex, but even taking that into account, it’s just really, really bad. The plot is flimsy, the characters are weak and 2-dimensional, the writing is trite and sophomoric. There are all of these thrown-in sex scenes that are just so out of place and ugly and tacky and gross. And then, the epilogue happened, and … wow! That truly was the coup de grace. What a waste of my time. I can honestly say, I hated this book. It’s the worst book I have read in a very long time. So, reminder for myself – never again read a book by this author. His writing is definitely not for me.
I admit that after laughing my head off, I had to look up the word “sophomoric” – it means pretentious or juvenile.
Then there was the reviewer who added a book to the following shelves:
Shelves: dropped-in-the-toilet, the-hate-it-burns, buddy-or-group-read, fat-kitty-judges-you, dafuq-did-i-just-read, is-it-just-me-goddammit, whiny-bitches, kill-it-with-fire, reviewed-2011, authors-i-want-to-stab, lust-at-first-sight, mary-sue, lit-for-the-chicks, romance-contemp, well-arent-you-mister-popularity, facepalm, blame-the-darksiders
I’ve got to say, I admire the creativity. Makes my shelves: “Read”, “To Read” & “Currently Reading” look pretty dull by comparison.
Feeling slightly better, I decided maybe I should call off the P.I. and scrap my meagre attempt at a voodoo doll. And then, I saw it. I heard an angel choir singing and the light of a thousand candles filled the room because my Bad Reviewer once gave James Patterson a 1 star review. She gave me 2 stars. At this point I cracked open the champagne. I mean, how many authors can say they’re better than James Patterson?
My advice to dealing with bad reviews is to remember that you have accomplished what few people can: you have written a book. That is an amazing achievement. I would advise you to not read your own reviews, but I know that is impossible. Like a moth to a flame, we simply cannot help ourselves. You could always best your bad reviewer in a war of words, given that it is what you do, but to quote George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot – they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Put it out of your mind and focus on doing what you love. Do not take the rare bad review to heart. Of course, if all of your reviews are rubbish, throw your book in the bin. And write another.