3/31/11 — What to Do with a Review

I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the topic of negative reviews lately. This was set off by one author’s inappropriate public reaction to a review.  It was not even a particularly bad review, and it has cost her dearly — whether she fully realizes it or not. There are more than enough links to the site and it will probably be immortalized as the top result for a generic search like “bad review meltdown” for a long time. That is the curse of the Internet. That overreaction will never go away. Years from now, if she wants to be taken seriously, that poor professionalism is likely to turn up and ruin it for her.

Of course, no one likes a bad review. I had one for The Blood that Binds that I felt was entirely unfair and vitriolic. I went ballistic over it. It was my first book–my baby. I cried. I groused to friends and family. I’ve held a grudge for a decade, but I kept it off the net.

When I was editing some of that first book  to be included in The Luckless Prince, I read that review again…and do you know what? That review had changed.  This time, it actually had valid, useful points that helped during the edit. I still didn’t agree with everything the reviewer said, but time and distance granted me perspective enough to realize she might not have been totally wrong.

A second reviewer objected to Prince Roland’s vacillation, running hither and yon and back again. With this in mind, I strengthened his motivation for each leg of his journey, and it made a positive difference. Roland is a more sympathetic, likable character when he behaves rationally.

So, what do you do with a review? If it is a good review, thank the reviewer and link to it proudly. If it is a bad review, accept the lumps and move on. Making a spectacle of yourself is the last thing that you want to do. It will win you few friends, and sell even fewer books in most cases.

That still leaves the question of the genuinely destructive review, If this happens to you — whether it’s caused by a technical glitch, a sloppy reviewer or a jealous peer — you may feel compelled to take action. How do you deal with a review that’s beyond unhelpful, perhaps even damaging to your career? If it is actually potentially going to cost you money, as opposed to just something you don’t agree with, what do you do?

About RieSheridanRose

Rie Sheridan Rose multitasks. A lot. Her short stories appear in numerous anthologies, including Nightmare Stalkers and Dream Walkers Vols. 1 and 2,  and Killing It Softly. She has authored twelve novels, six poetry chapbooks, and lyrics for dozens of songs. She tweets as @RieSheridanRose.
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2 Responses to 3/31/11 — What to Do with a Review

  1. Newell Rose says:

    PRIVATELY. LOL. The first and foremost rule of professionalism is to avoid open confrontations and it is more and more true in the Internet age.

    First, get your own head straight about what’s inaccurate and what is merely a different perspective. Send it to a writing buddy or friend, or editor. If it’s really bad, your publisher may take the whole issue off your hands and you end up with clean hands.

    Once you’re sure you have a problem, there’s some good advice in a very old book. Send a private message, specifically outlining the problem and asking them to correct it. If they don’t respond to you, and you have a publisher, then it’s your publisher’s business as much as yours. Let them help.

    Never ever take the issue public, except as a last resort.


  2. Jim Reader says:

    In any circumstance of negative criticism – warranted, unwarranted, complete and total bullshit or the Truth straight from the lips of God – scream vehemently, string obscenities together in new and exciting ways, curse the reviewer’s family line back to their first primate ancestor who came down out of the trees with their thumbs up their butts, scare all household pets and cause the plants to wilt as well.
    Then write your response.
    Pour all the invective and hate and bile and hurt feelings into it you can. Sling every bit of mud, call them every name in the book… in short, let your inner child have its fit.
    But write it in crayon, on paper bags from the grocery if possible.
    Don’t even contemplate putting it on paper and sending it – certainly don’t think about doing so electronically where it will be with you always, even unto the end of the Interwebs.
    Then sit down and continue working on your next story/poem/novel/whatever.
    Now, if it’s that potentially professionally damaging review… do all of the above, and then ignore it. If you must react in some fashion, because sometimes, you just Can Not let it lie there – human nature being what it is, encourage Very Trusted members of your fan base to take up your cause, politely and calmly, and always with the attitude “That’s your opinion, and you’re certainly welcome to it, this is my opinion.”
    I agree with Newell, let your publisher, should you have one, help defend you. I wouldn’t advocate communicating personally with the reviewer at all – if your publisher’s words, or one of your fan’s words, are twisted around and mis-used by an asshole, that’s one thing, and each has their own inherent defense/disclaimers. But if your words are the ones that get twisted and bent…
    Rise above it all, with hands (at least superficially) clean.
    Just MHO, opinions, assholes, you know the rest.


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