Monday, August 8, 2011

Skin So Thin I Bleed...Thoughts on Bad Reviews

 "The biggest enemy of an author’s career is not bad reviews—it’s obscurity."
"You're never as good as your most ardent fans proclaim, and you're never as bad as your worst critics accuse." --Anonymous
"Black Dog and Rebel the best Urban Fantasy love story I've ever read."
--Two Lips Reviews, 5 STAR Review, Awarded BD&RR the Recommended Read Award and the Reviewer's Choice Award

"...everything in the story felt rushed; and the plot was very predictable..."
--A Reader, 2 STAR Review

Bad reviews.

 As authors, we all get them. Whether it's sooner or later, they manage to bite us in our most tender spots and leave us smarting like nothing else.

If you're me, you instantly feel like curling up in a ball, sucking your thumb, and eating french fries as you lick your wounds. Oh, and never picking up that laptop again...well, at least for a day or so...until, eventually, you get over it.

Writing, like any art, is a subjective business, and is tough as hell. I'm convinced that most could not stomach it. As my one-time tattoo teacher, the brilliantly talented Beth Emmerich, once told me: "There are days when I want to say 'Fuck it, I'm gonna go work at a gas station'." It sounds funny initially, but in the end I catch myself thinking that locking up the laptop and strolling into the local Gas n' Sip ain't such a bad idea.

Our books are like our children, at least in a vague philosophical way. They grow in the womb of the mind, nurtured as tenderly as a babe as it is cradled in its mother's belly. If we are good writers, we prune that sprouting tree with care, making sure it leaves our hands and enters the publishing world as polished as bright chrome. We offer it openly, saying, "Here world...take my offering, this piece of my spirit, and enjoy." And, again, if we are good writers, most of the world will do just that.


Since my most popular book, Black Dog and Rebel Rose, went on sale at 99 cents, sales shot up. As did bad reviews...most of them stating that the story felt "too short/rushed" and that the romance developed unrealistically "too soon" (which is really funny, since in the original final draft I had made the heat between Skrike and Rose come to the surface more slowly, and only changed things after a pro editor advised I "speed up the romance" since that's what readers of the genre "wanted"...go fig). And after my initial heartbreak and questioning as to *why* I ever thought about sitting down to create this story, I began to ponder just how bad a "bad" review really is.

Even a bad review (in my lucky case, only 2 star reviews thus far, though I know that first inevitable 1 Star is just around the corner--I can feel it in my bones, like an old man feeling a rainstorm coming on) is still a review. It mentions your work. A wise writer once said that many readers are leery about books with only 4 and 5 star reviews, since that shows that the writer's work isn't really "out there" all that much and circulating through the general public. Where would I rather be: in the magic 4 and 5 Star safety bubble, or out in the open, my heart and soul exposed a little bit more for the benefit of having it reach a larger audience? Gimme a larger audience any day...even though I will bleed more for it.

I think it's easy to feel like you let the reader down. I always feel that way...I have made it my practice to message certain writers of bad reviews to graciously THANK them for their candid opinion, since it may truly benefit me in the end to show potential readers a broader spectrum and give my work more weight. I also do it because it makes me feel better, and takes some of the crushing weight of second-guessing my work off of my shoulders. And I tell said reviewers that they have given me food for thought...because they have. In the end, they will have helped me become a better writer. I rarely hear back from them...maybe they think I'm a weirdo. But in the end, it did me good, and that's what matters.

There is always the little voice me that gets frustrated and starts to scream, "If you don't like quick reads, look at the goddamn page counts before you buy, people!!!" I think that's natural. I'm human, and that is a pretty human reaction. Will I ever become another Jacqueline Howett? Hell, no. The woman was insane, unprofessional, and quite frankly, a bitch. I understand her hurt at getting a bad review; we all feel that. But to go on such a shows a distinct lack of respect for your readers, both current and potential, and does your work (and you) a serious disservice. And repairing such damage will most likely be impossible. But I acknowledge my feelings of frustration...and then I go and have a swig of whiskey (or, in my current pregnant state) a few spoonfuls of double chocolate ice cream, and move on. You cannot guess why someone didn't like some aspect of your work...and it is unfair of you to judge, no matter how thin and raw your skin may feel.

So I thank all of those who took the time to review my work...whether or not you found it worthy in the end. Because, at the very least, it was worthy enough for you to take the time to write about it period, and in the end, that is a gift I am more than happy to accept.


  1. I agree with the majority of what you're saying, and reviewing is subjective. I don't normally review YA or True Crime because it's not my thing, so it would be hard for me to be objective. That being said, as a reviewer, you are presenting yourself as somewhat of a learned person and to go off on a derogatory rant is uncalled for. Bad reviewers should be held accountable, maybe not by the author because that tends to reflect badly. As a reviewer I make it a policy to publicly call out unnecessarily nasty reviews. I can get away with it. So just point me in their direction and turn me loose.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. *Reposted for typo cleanup*

    Hey, sweet Blue!

    Yeah, I agree...there are some reviewers out there who lack tact and grace; thankfully I have only been hit by a truly awful review like that once, and it just so happened to be the first professional review I ever rec'd. Unfortunately, even if a reviewer did not take the most respectful or constructive path, an author must tread lightly, lest we be seen as another one of those "psychos" who is destroying their careers in the manner of J. Howett, who became an overnight celebrity for all the WRONG reasons. I am honored, however, to have fans (including reviewers) who love me and my work, and will stand up for me should the need ever arise.

    I am, indeed, very blessed to have good folks like you in my life. :-) I am glad that I have earned your admiration and friendship.

  4. This is so totally my fear Dani, people not liking my work. I get disheartened and lack the wanting to go further. But I hope I can get past that reaction as you know quite well I will in the near future be putting my heart and soul on the line and out in public to be ridiculed and maybe if lucky loved.
    When I close my eyes I picture myself standing on a high cliff looking down, the world spinning so fast in front of me that I want to clutch and join the fun, yet also want to cower back and hide. I hope I have the courage to jump and risk that fateful fall.

  5. Good post Danielle. A couple remarks. You mentioned "our books are like our children." I had a great professor--Bill Ransom (he cowrote with Frank Herbert on a couple projects)-- who once said, "Sometimes you have to kill your babies." Meaning that we put our heart and soul into a piece, but if it's not good (or if parts of it aren't good), we need to... well, kill them. This reminder has helped me with the times I've received my book back from editors (once I swallow my pride and stop eating the fries).

    I'm not convinced on the 99 cent books for just the reason you pointed out. I think impulse buyers buy the book without really looking into it, ergo, more bad reviews because they didn't know what they were getting. Jury still out on this one.

    Finally, it seems like you are doing the right thing (being grateful to said reviewers and being an adult about it). God speed to you. And remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I read reviews, but if there are mixed reviews (which it sounds like in your case), I'll usually buy it and decide for myself. God speed.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

  6. Apparently I needed to say "God speed" twice in that last comment. Not sure why. I'm probably nervous about this topic, as well :)

    p.s.- your book is still on my log. I'm in the midst of a couple others and getting ready to start teaching again. But I still want to read it.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog


Thanks for your comments!
Have a nice day!