January 10, 2012

How to respond to a negative review: just don't

This is a post that’s been on my mind for a year or so but for one reason (laziness) or another (laziness) I haven’t gotten around to writing until now. Although the actual incident/s have passed without my noticing, rumblings in the Twitterverse suggest that in the last couple of weeks there have been more reader-reviewer/author run-ins online, and I can only assume it’s because an author has taken offense at a negative review and responded by leaving a (probably vitriolic) comment of their own. Whatever happened, it’s had the effect of making a number of people whose blogs or Goodreads reviews I follow say that they are considering giving up reviewing, which makes me Very Sad Indeed.

As a reader who suffers constantly from too-many-books-not-enough-time and has a book-buying budget of one book per month,* following reviews from people whose taste is close to mine has helped me to find books and authors I absolutely adore that I probably wouldn’t have come across on my own. I also search Goodreads for books I’ve heard mixed reviews for, to help me make up my mind whether to track down a copy and decide for myself. If someone has given the book a rave or a panning I’ll often look at the rest of their blog/Goodreads shelves to see what they’ve enjoyed in the past and decide from that whether our taste is likely to be similar. It’s not a failsafe technique but so far I’ve had more hits than misses. (This is also an excellent procrastination technique – I can attest that the hours positively fly by when you’re stickybeaking comparing bookshelves.)

All books have their share of fans and detractors, this is a universal truth. For every person who loves Pride and Prejudice there is someone whose loathing for it cannot be expressed vehemently enough (i.e. me). Likewise, I have had to accept that not everyone loves My Family and Other Animals as passionately as I do (but they should, dammit!). The beauty of a community like Goodreads is that these views can sit side by side; we can all have our say and everyone’s opinion is equal. The beauty of having a book blog is that it’s your own space to express yourself. But some authors seem to think that this is precisely the downside to online reviews and are unable to resist arguing with less-than-glowing reader responses, a reaction that, frankly, befuddles me.

As a writer one of the things you have to get used to is accepting criticism (constructive or otherwise) and choosing whether to take it on board or let it go. For most of us it’s obvious whose opinions we should pay attention to (our critique groups/beta readers/agents/editors/others with the goal of helping us to produce the highest quality book we are capable of writing) and whose to accept as their right to an opinion but not take to heart. If you can’t differentiate between the two, you shouldn’t even make your writing available for public consumption, let alone hang around Goodreads (or Amazon or any other consumer review site) or Google your reviews.

(And if you choose to take things personally, for pity’s sake don’t vent your hurt feelings online! Seriously, have we learnt nothing??)

Got hurt feelings? Tell a friend, not the interwebs.

ETA: Just as I was about to hit the Publish button I read Veronica Roth's post on the author/reviewer relationship on YA Highway - a very balanced and sensible discussion of the issues, with some insightful comments from bloggers.


  1. i really love this post Aimee

    i have occasionally considered not putting my thoughts out on the net, but then i remember how i too LOVE following what others think of books, which really helps me try and find books that match my taste.

    i am a little scared with all this brouhaha...


    x Nomes

  2. The whole thing's a bit scary. Between SOPA and people being attacked for expressing their opinions honestly, I do worry that in a few years' time we'll be left with a sanitised, sluggish blob instead of a robust, livley interwebs :(

  3. I'm an author, and I've received mixed reviews for my young adult novel. Some of the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Others have been the exact opposite. My immediate reaction to a negative review--especially if the review is well-written and instructive--is to take another look at my book and see where it can be re-edited or where it could benefit from exposure in a good writers' circle. Afterall: books are meant to be read, and reviewers are readers who are willing to reflect on what they liked and didn't like. It's hard to take bad reviews. But we have to take them and learn from them and, as Aimee writes, avoid doing something that's going to further stain the reputation of independent writers.

  4. On balance, I think I'd rather have mixed reviews than loads of middle-of-the-road "it was okay" responses - at least you know your writing's really gotten to readers then!