About author, Pauline Wiles: British by birth, Pauline Wiles moved to California eight years ago and, apart from a yearning for afternoon tea and historic homes, has never looked back. Her first novel, Saving Saffron Sweeting, was published in spring 2013. When not writing, she can be found getting the steps wrong in a zumba class or calculating how many miles she has to run to justify an extra piece of cake. Her ambition is to sell enough books to cover the cost of flying herself and a reader to London for tea.
The Five Stages of Dealing with Bad Reviews
I’m not for one moment suggesting that receiving bad reviews is equivalent to losing a loved one. However, I have noticed a tendency in myself and others to progress through certain stages when our precious writing is cruelly criticised. It occurred to me that, just as grief often has five stages, so too does our journey through the dark valley of negative reviews.
This is the stage where you can’t quite believe the words you’re seeing on your screen. You gasp, look away, peek through your fingers, search for the missing “only joking – I loved this book.” You double check the review is meant for you, and wonder if the reviewer simply pasted their comments in the wrong place.
You go away and eat half a pint of ice cream, convinced there must be some terrible mistake. Your insides feel like they’ve been scooped out, too.
Nope, you find the reviewer is definitely talking about your book and he/she definitely hated it. How dare they? Do they simply dislike this whole genre? Didn’t they “get” that a certain character was supposed to be ironic? They obviously didn’t read it carefully enough. They clearly don’t appreciate good storytelling. What right do they have to point out one tiny typo in your whole book, when they’ve spelled 3 words wrong in their single paragraph?
In a minor fury, you begin googling this person, looking for their photo, their other reviews, their Twitter indiscretions and other evidence of an exceptionally low IQ. You entertain graphic fantasies of getting even.
For the wounded author, this is a dangerous phase. I’m assuming you resist the temptation to discover where your reviewer lives and show up with a bucket full of stink-bombs. Instead, you begin to craft your written response to the arrogant twit who tore your precious book to shreds. You spend a whole day’s writing time composing the most bitingly sarcastic prose you’ve ever penned. In your rebuttal, you defend your genre, grammar, antagonist, protagonist, plot and possibly your proofreader. You correct every erroneous assumption your reviewer has made, and make a detailed account of every single point where they missed the, err, point.
Do not, whatever you do, post this response anywhere public. If you must, share it with a close writer friend and wallow in their certain sympathy. Then, proceed straight to the freezer, eat the remaining half pint of ice cream, and await stage 4.
With great weariness and reluctance, you begin to wonder if your reviewer is right. Maybe your protagonist is irrational and unlikeable. Maybe your use of the past-perfect is pathetic. Maybe your plot was lame. Maybe your six months spent on beta reading, editing and proofreading was slapdash. Maybe… you should just forget this writing lark and go back to your wearisome day job. You should have known you’d never be any good at this.
Don’t panic, dear writer. Dig out a few reviews from people who loved your book. You’re almost ready for stage 5.
A little time has passed. In the interim, you’ve also received some positive feedback, and you are now able to see your persecutor’s review as just-one-opinion. You know your books can’t possibly appeal to everyone, you take comfort and strength from the readers who love you, and maybe, just maybe, you identified a constructive nugget in the harsh words you received. Your skin is a fraction thicker, you accept that criticism goes with the job, and you are ready to continue your writing. Recalling the emotions you felt, you begin to craft a scene where your heroine receives a painful shock. In the midst of her horror, you type a nice line about her feeling like she’s been hollowed out with an ice cream scoop.
Pat yourself on the back: not only have you survived a bad review, you’ve harnessed its power and turned it into something useful in your next book. Now, take a break to go and buy groceries. Something tells me you’re all out of ice cream.
Website Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook Goodreads Twitter
**Click HERE to buy “Saving Saffron Sweeting” on Amazon!
Thanks so much for having me today!
Lizzie Lamb says
Hi Pauline and Isabella, this post certainly has a resonance for me. I little thought that people would leave nasty reviews just for the hell of it when I first published Tall, Dark and Kilted. Now I know its all part of the rite of passage for an author and that better known writers than me have received similar treatment. I’ve learned to roll with the punches and to never, ever, respond. A great blog post and one I have printed off to keep for whenever the “trolls” come out from under the bridge and strike. Happy writing, ladies.
Isabella Louise Anderson says
Thanks for stopping by, Lizzie! 🙂
Thanks, Lizzie. Am super flattered to have been printed out!
Shani Struthers says
Hi ladies, thanks for this blog post. I haven’t received a bad review yet (book isn’t out until 2nd July) but I am dreading them. However, posts like this help to put it all in perspective. You can’t please all of the people all of the time and, as Lizzie says, you just gotta roll with the punches!
Joanne Phillips says
Hi Pauline – and great site, Isabella, glad I found it. Well, whenever an author blogs about bad reviews I always go and have a look at the reviews for their book to check out the bad ‘uns for myself. And you, my lovely, don’t have any! Nothing but 4 & 5 stars all the way – which is exactly as it should be because SSS is a brilliant book. Still, I suppose it will come one day, no matter how fab the book is, and you’ve got a head start in dealing with it. It is exactly the way you describe – I remember feeling just that way when I got my first 1 star. I don’t have many, thankfully, but now I just shrug and say: Whatever. They didn’t like it, boo hoo. Stacks of people do. It’s about developing a thick skin, but remembering to listen to criticism just in case there’s a tiny nugget of advice you could learn from and become even better 🙂 Someone once said to me that when you get a bad review it means you’ve managed to reach out beyond your target readership. Which is great! 🙂 x
Jo, I was lucky: the one really painful review I’ve received to date for SSS was sent to me in a private email. It hurt like heck nonetheless and I definitely went through all the stages above. I am bracing myself for more…
Jackie Bouchard says
Great post. I’m trying hard to be at the “acceptance” stage. Have gotten two 2-star reviews – but they complained about exact opposite things, so all you can with that is laugh! Have had kind of a mean 3-star one though. 🙁 I am kinda dreading the first 1-star review, but I’m sure it’s coming. We don’t all like the same things – and most folks just don’t realize that these books are our “babies”!
That’s really funny, that they disliked different things! I just cling to the reminder that no work of an artistic nature can possibly please everyone…
Julie Valerie @JBValerie says
Great post, Pauline! I can’t write a review without thinking about the person behind the book. Every book represents someone’s very, very hard work. I think if you can’t say something nice… don’t leave a review. Then again, I also heard that if Amazon realizes I give a lot of 5-star reviews, they’ll start taking taking them down. How’s that fair? If I give a 5-star review, I want that sucker to stay up! I like to champion authors as much as I do books.
I hadn’t heard that about too many five star reviews… interesting. On the whole, if a reader really doesn’t enjoy the book, I want them to feel free to say so. But obviously, I’d rather they were kind and constructive in their comments 😉