Friday, February 4, 2011

From Raves to Downright Rotten: Girlfriends Talk About Reviews

One of the best things about getting is published is getting reviewed; it’s also one of the worst things. Here's what we know for certain: If you’re an author, you can never please everyone.

Taking the Good With the Bad

Anticipating how your novel will be reviewed is somewhat akin to the olden days when we waited for our pictures to be developed. We couldn't wait to see how they came out- if they were as good as we hoped, and maybe, maybe, even better than we hoped. Of course taking a photo and writing a 100,000 word novel don't compare in terms of effort, but you get the picture, lol.As for how I've handled reviews- the good, the bad and the ugly? I'm human. The amazing ones keep me going for minutes. The harsh ones can put me in a fetal position for hours. And the ones that are wonderful but maybe have a knock or two? Call me a fatalist but I only dwell on the negative comments. They sting. What can I say?Do I learn anything from reading my reviews? Very much so. I often discover what my book was about, lol. Sometimes I agree with the constructive criticism and vow to do better next time. As for the awful reviews? Mostly I attribute them to those who have zero sense of humor and surely need more fiber in their diets.

Saralee Rosenberg

Forget the Bad Ones

I used to read reviews but then I decided I could have 20 fabulous ones and one nasty one and I'd let that nasty one resonate with me so I just decided to not read bad ones.

Jenny Gardiner

My Theory On Reviews

My theory about reviews is, if the review is good, the reviewer is obviously brilliant and discerning. If the review is bad, the reviewer is clearly an idiot and should be ignored.

Judith Arnold

Too Much Vomit

I usually do read the reviews (can't help myself!) but the funniest one was the first blog review that came out for Dating da Vinci in 2008. The blogger went on and on about there being too much throw up in the book. I had to sit and think about it, and there were three vomit incidents, all by different characters in the book. I guess because I'm a mom, getting sick is a part of life, but obviously the blogger didn't like it. The lesson is you just never know what will stick with a reader, even if it's something that's minor.

-Malena Lott

Keeping Your Sanity

I used to read reviews, but I eventually had to stop in order to stay sane while writing my second novel. The bad reviews intimidate me and the good reviews intimidate, so why read either? I also don't look at my sales numbers, but that's an answer for a different round-up.

Ernessa T. Carter

Finish It First

My first book On The Verge came out in 2002. I remember checking constantly for my Amazon ranking and reviews. People either loved or hated this book. It's easy to anonymously hate. Anyway, nine years ago my skin was thinnner. Someone wrote a terrible review about how awful the book was and how she only got to page 50 before she stopped reading. I couldn't believe she would write such a negative review (and lower my star ranking!) without finishing the book. But there was her profile and her wish list on Amazon, so I checked it out. Most of the books on her wish list were guides to NYC. I got it into my head that she might have been jealous of the life my characters were living in the big city. What can I say I make up stories. Anyway, I wanted her to understand that I was a real person with real feelings. So I ordered one of the NYC guides and sent it to her as a gift with a note that said "I hope you get past the first 50 pages of THIS book before you decide to review it." It's slightly Fatal Attraction, but it made me feel a lot better. Hopefully, she thinks twice before ripping something to shreds online. I know that now that I have been on the other side, I do.

-Ariella Papa

Weeding Out Lightweights

When I read a bad review of my book I understood why a writer must endure the excruciating difficulties dealt by hostile critique groups, agents, and editors we all encounter on the road to publication. Early setbacks weed out lightweights and prepare those who persevere for the ultimate test of literary survival--the Bad Reviewer!

Cindy Jones

A One-Star Amazon Review

I usually do read the reviews--good, bad, and ugly. The snarky ones make me mad, of course, which is why I think wine was invented, but while a negative review stings, if it's thoughtful, I'm okay with it (well, maybe not okay, but I can handle it without feeling the need to harm the reviewer). I mean, even great books get some bad reviews. You can't please everyone, nor should I try to. But, the ones that make me nutty are the ones where I question whether the person even read the book . . . or where they seem like they have a grudge . . . or didn't get the book at all.

My funniest review story actually happened at a book club I visited. My book had been out for over a year so I'd been really surprised to see a new review up on Amazon. I read it and it was my only 1 star review. She was clearly disgusted with my book. And, it was the only review the person had ever written for Amazon. Anyway, I laughed it off and then a couple nights later went to this book club. Most of the women there were really fun and excited to meet me. We were having wine and snacks, but I noticed that one woman there not only wasn't saying much, but was bordering on being hostile. Several of the women asked me to sign their books, which I did, but she hadn't even brought a book. As the discussion started to wind down, one woman asked how I handled bad reviews. I gave my stock answer, all blah blah blah about enjoying the good ones and shrugging off the bad ones, and then, for some reason, I started kind of laughing about this one-star review that had just posted on Amazon. And as I talked the hostile woman got a very funny look on her face and I realized she had written it. I added that everyone had a right to his or her own opinions . . . but she couldn't get out of there fast enough. I doubt she expected me to see the review.

It was pretty amusing.

Judy Larson

Worst Review So Far

My publicist got word that my first book, Circles of Confusion (which went on to win several awards), was going to be reviewed in the LA Times. This was before the days of the Internet, so I excitedly called a friend in LA and got her to agree to fax up the review to me as soon as it appeared.

I should have been clued in when the cover page bore a single word - "Critics!" The review was scathing. At one point the reviewer claimed it had made her homicidal. All I could think was that my friend - and millions of strangers - had seen it.

I've never had a worse review. Now, something like 10 books later, I am much more able to let the bad ones roll off me.

April Henry

Personal Attacks

Try as I might to avoid looking at reviews, I can't help myself. It's like telling someone not to stare at the sun because they'll go blind, which only makes you want to look at the sun even more. With every new book, I have the same conversation with my writer-friends, and we urge each other, "Let it go. Don't even peek. It's not worth it. You don't need the validation and/or grief." The reviews I like the least are the ones that feel like a personal attack. The kind that say something like "the author didn't even seem like she was trying" get my goat the most, because I know how hard I work on every book and how much of my life was taken away from other things in order to get the story right. That's when venting to pals comes in handy! Even books written by the biggest best-sellers on the planet get savaged as well as praised. It's just part of the business. Not always a comfortable part, but that's the way it is. Oh, and chocolate helps with bad reviews, too. Lots of chocolate and maybe a margarita. ;-)

--Susan McBride

Nothing A Lot of Chocolate Won’t Cure

I think reviews are a really good excuse to buy yourself a treat from Ghirardelli or Godiva. Seriously, once a book is "out there," it's no longer only yours. You share it with anyone willing to pick it up. And those people who pick it up will react to it just like they do to everything: Some will look only at what they hated in the story. Others will hunt for every detail they loved. Some will be fair and balanced and make a serious attempt to be even-handed in their assessment. Others will rave in delight...or rant with absolutely no filters. So, I deal with reviews by trying to remember this. (And by giving myself chocolate treats, LOL.) And, also that the reviews tend to tell you more about a given reviewer's outlook on life than they do about any author's book.

~Marilyn Brant

A Test of Civility and Humor

Reviews can be a difficult test in terms of your civility and sense of humor. I’ve found that with good reviews I waste energy admiring myself. A bad one can steamroll my entire day. Whether it’s a professional review, blogger, or Amazon, none will affect the way I write—that’s what agents, editors, and a good critique group/partner are for. That said, I did read a blog review of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER that began, “I never EVER read books with a romantic interest or plotline. I end up throwing them across the room before chapter three…” Gee, can I shuffle a little closer so you can throw me directly under that bus?

Laura Spinella

Just So Long As They’re Talking About the Book

The new world of Twitter and GoodReads and even Amazon means that the author has more “opportunities” to hear what people think of her books than ever before. So in addition to the industry reviews, we now have access to actual reader reviews; if you’re lucky, TONS of reader reviews. I always tell myself that ANY review, good or bad, is a positive thing; it means people are at least talking about my book, which of course is what I want. I also always tell myself that if I truly believe the good reviews – the ones where I’m reassured of my brilliance! – then I also have to truly believe the bad reviews, as well. Don’t I? It’s easier said than done, however. No doubt about it, some reviews can sting. I think I’ve learned to shrug off the bad ones while not letting the good ones go to my head too much. It’s a balancing act, as is everything in life. Again, I just try to hold on to the fact that people are talking about the book. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying; only that it’s part of the conversation. That’s important to me.

Melanie Benjamin

Stymied by Bad Reviews

When my first novel came out I was preparing to go on tour when I got three horrific Amazon reviews in a row. I was so freaked out, I wanted to stay home. No way did I want to go on the road and talk about the terrible book I’d written, Later, I discovered a frenemy had written all three of the reviews. At the time I was furious, but now I’m grateful to her for skewering me right out of the gate. Her reviews were like a vaccine; they were so scathing, I was inoculated against further bad reviews. Now they pretty much wash right over me.

Karin Gillespie


Ellen Meister’s The Other Life Made the Indie Next List for March.

From Laura Spinella: Many thanks to everyone who came to BEAUTIFUL DISASTER’S Southern states and Weston, MA signings! Great pictures and a new blog: Snooki, the Kardashians & John Henry at


  1. What a wonderful blog, Girlfriends! Thank you all for being brave enough to submit your thoughts on reviews. I'm WAY too devastated by bad reviews, which always feel hostile and personal to me, so reading this post was like therapy. I loved it!

    And thanks for the shout-out on the Indie Next List.

  2. If I had to review this blog, I would give it a rave. So interesting and entertaining, not to mention our common bond. Chocolate!!! Onward ladies. Good reviews or bad, we are in it for the long haul. Thanks Karin for another excellent question.

  3. Ah, bad reviews! The truth is you can't please everyone so don't even try. I know I write good books (well, I love them!) so I always chalk up those bad reviews to the simple fact that the person reading it a) just didn't get me, b)doesn't really like chick lit, or c) like to make themselves look important by writing something snarky that they mistake for cleverness.

  4. Maybe it's just me, but with our group opinion blogs reactions and outcomes vary. With this topic, we all seem to be on the same page! Nice to be in such fine company!

  5. As a blogger, reading this post was so interesting! I always try to write my reviews without becoming scathing- I just don't think that is going to benefit anyone. There is something positive to focus on with almost every book I read!

    That being said, I do try to read only the books that really appeal to me, so chances are that I will enjoy them.

  6. Once upon a time there was a respected (by some) reviewer who was asked to read one of my clerical cozies for an online reviewing site he was working for. Sore about being given a cozy, a genre he didn't like anyway, he trashed it, and then made sure to post an excerpt on Amazon in which he said, in so many words, "save your money." I tracked him down and sent him a mildly worded email: "Interesting review. What sort of books do you like?" and he replied with a list of grim-jawed men's thrillers. "Harriet Klausner loved that book," he said. "She gushes over everything. I wanted to put her in her place." I guess he showed her. The Amazon customers saved their money.

  7. I'm pretty used to the idea that as much as some people might love my books, there will always be those who do not. I like to say I've been compared to Swift and shit, depending on who's doing the comparing! At this point, there are only two types of reviewers who bother me:

    1) the ones who don't simply hate the book but actively mock it, inviting all their followers to mock as well - invariably, these are people who long to be published writers themselves;

    2) the ones for whom it's not enough to post their own negative views; instead, they follow the book around the Internet, leaving negative comments anytime anyone else has something positive to say.

    Mostly, when I see a review, whether it's good or bad, I'm just grateful that people read what I write. And as much as possible, I try to live by The Five-Minute Rule: each review, whether good or bad, gets no more than five minutes of my attention and then it's back to work.

  8. I just stumbled upon your website and this fabulous posting via Twitter. As a newly published author, this type of honest reinforcement is SO helpful! Thanks - I'll be passing on the site to others and subscribing.My review for this posting is definitely five stars!

  9. Love this blog!! I'm yet to get a review that makes me think/do either of the above, but the day will come and i can remember the words shared here. (((((hugs for the girls))))
    Thanks, ladies!