Guest Post: The Bad Review

by Mary Rosenblum

Mary Rosenblum

I want to address an issue that has cropped up several times recently with some of my client authors.

This is the Bad Review.

You know, we don’t teach writers about reviews and reviewers and we should. Everybody thinks of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing as a standard. If it’s ‘good’ editors and readers will love it! If it’s ‘bad’ nobody will publish the story and readers will hate it. Alas, that mean that many authors who had a really good story felt like failures when they couldn’t sell it to a publisher, when it was a matter of simply not suiting the publisher’s target audience. The quality of the book was excellent, the publisher felt it wouldn’t get the huge numbers of sales they needed in order to show a profit.

Self-publishing has let authors take their stories directly to readers and they vote with their mouse-clicks. You either sell or you don’t, but we all know that it’s a bit of a slow process at first, that self-publishing is all about the long tail. Meaning your sales are probably not stellar at first, with only one or two books out. So, the feeling of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ gets put on hold. Gotta wait to see how many people like it…

Enter the reviewers.

We love Authority. Authorities Know A Lot. Authorities Pass Judgment and They Are Gods. Reviewers Are Authorities And Therefore, They Are Gods.

Really? 

You know what? That has never ever ever been the case. Reviewers are people who are willing to read lots and lots of books quite quickly and write down a judgment about the quality of that book to meet a regular deadline. You know what skills are involved? You must be able to read and you must be able to write a relatively coherent commentary and — most importantly — do that on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, reliably.

See anything missing? How about a ‘standard of excellence’ or some other measuring tool so that you can effectively winnow ‘good’ from ‘bad’? Don’t see one, do you? You can become a reviewer. You should become a reviewer. It’s a great way to meet new potential fans. One of my clients, from prison, has become a regular reviewer for a large circulation magazine.

Reviewers express their opinions. Their opinions. Remember that lacking ‘standard of excellence’? Keep it in mind here. Some reviewers only review books they like, others review books they don’t like. And the reasons they don’t like them may have nothing to do with lots of other people liking your book. Mr. Reviewer may hate cats and is disposed to pick holes in any story that features a cute cat as a player. So your cozy mystery with the Miss Marple type sleuth who owns a cat gets picked to pieces. Will Mr. Reviewer come out and say ‘I hate stories with cats’? No, of course not. How unprofessional! But he got even with you for putting that silly feline in there, didn’t he? He called your cozy mystery weak, with an obvious ending.

And it really isn’t weak and most readers are surprised by your clever ending.

Should you slit your wrists?

Messy and really, a waste of perfectly good future books, in my opinion. Relatively few readers read any one review. Really. Yes, it seems as if you have just been put up on the six o’clock news stark naked, but that’s just your perception. If every reviewer comments on your weak plot, I would sure pay attention! But that one snarky or nasty review isn’t going to hurt you. Really it will not.

The nastiest review I got, one where the reviewer strongly implied that I was an exploitive white writer using native culture frivolously, won the top award in its genre later on. Take that, snarky, nasty reviewer who clearly didn’t bother to even read the end of the story! Bleah!!!!

Did that sting at the time? Oh, you BET it stung! And that accusation of racial non-political-correctness was not a good thing to have kicking around, career-wise, either. I was furious, hurt, ready to kill the jerk…

What did I do?

Nothing.

YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING.

Read that again. Repeat it to yourself. Look at all the libelous ‘news’ in those tabloids you see at the end of the supermarket checkout counter, accusing celebrities of everything from incest to consorting intimately with aliens. Do those celebrities ever sue? No, of course not. To even acknowledge that silliness is to give it weight.

If you comment on a reviewer’s post, you will hurt yourself professionally. YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY.

YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY

The review itself, painful as it seems at the time, will vanish into the murky waters of the online world and eventually it won’t even surface when someone googles your specific title. Sorry, folks. Enjoy the glowing reviews, shrug off the lukewarm ones, and be prepared to live with the snarky and nasty ones that you WILL get from time to time. Readers are not stupid. If you have ten really positive reviews on various sites and one ‘flyer’ who wails that this is totally unreadable, whom do you think readers will take more seriously? Yeah, maybe those are all your friends and you paid them to write those glowing reviews, but probably not all are paid friends. They outweigh the wail.

Live with it.

You have to.

Ahem…I have found that there is a certain…er…comfort in venting some of that hurt and fury in a less personally damaging way than responding in the heat of the moment, online. Breaking something that you need to recycle anyway is one good method. Personally, I like a very sharp axe and some rounds of wood that need to be split for firewood. There is something so pleasantly violent in a well sharpened axe.

I will leave my imaginings to your own imaginations.

But the wood burns nicely in my woodstove and warms the house!

Welcome to the real world of writing and reviews. Hey…it means you ARE a writer, you know!

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An award-winning author of New York published Science Fiction and mystery novels as well as dozens of short stories, Mary Rosenblum began teaching writing fifteen years ago, mentoring student authors through the writing and publishing process. Now, as the Literary Midwife at New Writers Interface, she still helps new authors navigate safely through the process of publishing today, and teaches them how to promote their books effectively in today’s brave new publishing world. This post first appeared on her blog.

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