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Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Reviews

by Deborah Raney

One of the hard things a published writer must learn is to toughen up where reviews are concerned. I hate bad reviews, whether from professional critics or ordinary readers on amazon.com. I especially hate them when they aren’t as much about the book, as they are about demeaning an author’s beliefs, religion, ethnicity, or personality. But bad reviews are a fact of the writing life, and there aren’t many multi-published authors who haven’t had at least one or two.

I’ll never forget my first scathing reader review (for Beneath a Southern Sky…and it’s still up on amazon.com, along with several others, if you want to weep along with me!) That review nearly paralyzed me for a few days. It didn’t hurt so much that someone didn’t like my book (okay, HATED my book). I’m well aware that the type of book I write isn’t for everyone, and there are many different tastes in genre and style. What hurt was that it sounded like the reviewer didn’t much like ME!
Silver Bells
When I go back and read that review now, I can be much more objective. I realize now that the reviewer probably has never met me. I don’t think he/she meant the words as a personal affront. But I can also still, after more than a dozen years, remember the deep pain I experienced when I first discovered that review. I actually broke out in a sweat and started shaking-and I’m not usually an excitable person. I shed some tears over that person’s words, and I have a feeling he/she would be surprised to know that.

But I did something else after receiving that review. I removed an amazon.com review that I had written months earlier for a book that made me angry. No, it wasn’t wrong of me to post a review respectfully outlining why I disliked this book. But I had made the same mistake I think my reviewer made-I made my review personal, commenting on the author’s personality, not just his writing. I didn’t even know the man, but like my reviewer, I failed to acknowledge that this author was human and had feelings.

My terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad review (and there have been plenty of others since) gave me two important things: a thicker skin for the inevitable bad reviews to come in my future; and a softer heart for other writers, who are real, imperfect people. Just like me.

Deb Raney Sept
DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, </emA Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career. Her 23rd novel released from Howard/Simon & Schuster in May 2013, and she is currently working on a five-book series for Abingdon Press Fiction. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas –the setting of many of Deb’s novels–for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.

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8 Responses to Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Reviews

  1. Thanks, Deb! I needed that. I’ve received a few bad reviews as well, and the do sting and shake my confidence. I’m with you. I never want to do that to another author. I only post reviews of books I enjoy. If I don’t care for a book, I keep quiet. Most of it is personal preference. I’m sure there are others who love it. So why be discouraging?

  2. Ian says:

    Wonderful post, Deborah. Reviews are challenging for we authors. I was shocked with one of the first reviews I received and I ranted for a little while. Then I prayed for the reviewer’s blessing and it was amazing how this softened my heart.

    It has also changed my own perspective regarding writing reviews. I’m now very conscious of the author now as I write it. However, I’m still grappling a little with how to provide constructive feedback and not sugar-coating my reviews.

  3. Good point, Carrie, about personal preference. I try to remember that if I’m reading a published novel, some professional publishing team deemed the book worthy to be published, and they know their audience better than I do.

    Ian, I always allow myself a little time to rant, too. But yes, there’s usually something I can take away from even the harshest review that will make future writing better (or that will make me a better person).

    That said, I’ve always felt that once a book is published, the time for “constructive feedback” is past. Except for minor typos, etc., that could be corrected in future printings of the book, it’s too late to change anything in that particular novel. So in my own reviews, I aim more for what I did like about the book, and if I even mention what I didn’t like, I try to tie it to my own personal preference.

  4. Ane Mulligan says:

    If I have a negative to say about a book, I always sandwich it between positives. It’s one reason I prefer to give a blurb about a book instead of a review.

  5. Good advice, Ane. On my agent’s blog today, there’s a post about how to write a negative review. Good timing. :) http://stevelaube.com/blog/

  6. Thanks for sharing, Deb. It’s funny how if we receive 100 good reviews and one bad one, it’s the bad one we remember. If there is something I can actually learn from it because the reviewer mentioned something specific, I don’t mind it too much. But one I remember said my book was about “nothing,” just meaningless words on a page. That’s not helpful and can only be read as being hurtful. I wonder if these reviewers have any idea that the authors actually read them.

  7. So true, Cindy. I’ve never forgotten most of my one-star reviews. And I’m always surprised all over again when I read the five-star ones because I’ve forgotten. Sad that we do that to ourselves, but it’s true.

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