Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on poor reviews

Not that I have ever received a weak review myself (Yeah Right) but I wanted to remind fellow authors that reviews are subjective. One person may love your characters while another is unable to relate to them. Rather than taking this to heart and weeping into your wine about it (this too I have done) look for the good bit and use it for promotion if you need it. Most reviewers are kind enough to list a work's redeeming qualities as well as its faults.

In addition, pay attention to the identified problems and use the information to improve your writing for the next book. Negative feedback is not necessarily a bad thing - although it can kill sales - it can also make you face your weaknesses as a writer and move beyond them.

Sometimes poor reviews are just that - poor reviews. A friend of mine was once criticized because her hero had a condom in his pocket as if he were out trolling. Seriously? Many publishers expect an attempt at safe sex to be mentioned. Unless your hero is a vampire/alien/were and therefore - I assume - immune to communicable diseases, he should have a raincoat on. The exception, I have been informed, is some BDSM situations. However, my point is that comments like this are not a reflection on the author so much as the reader's personal taste/issues.

Occasionally, a review will pop up which makes an author wonder if the reviewer read the story at all. Or a book will receive a low rating with no reason or explanation attached. These types of feedback are perhaps the most difficult to handle. An author is left with a black mark on his or her work which may be undeserved and no way to address the problem. While these are disheartening, try to see past them and focus on more positive reviews. There is not really much that you can do about them except remember that even the biggest name authors have had their work trashed on occasion.

So here’s to poor reviews, the authors who receive, and the reviewers who write them. Use them, grow from them. If nothing else, they are an excuse to have a glass of wine and a bitch session with a buddy.


  1. I take reviews as a grain of salt. Some taste better than others, but if they stay small, then I can manage. Or so I remind myself after I get low ratings with no reason at all.

  2. Good discussion Becca - it's definitely a touchy subject for many of us - I had 5's only with my 1st book (which was not so well written) and then my 3rd book out got a mixed review with a 3 and a very poor review as well, although a far better book. It is subjective like everything in life - I do see one can have a well thought out review where they do hone in on some things that don't work and one can learn a lot there. My complaint with the poor review was the reviewer herself was a terrible writer (checked out her books) and the review was three sentences. When I emailed her to ask for feedback on what specifically she could point me at to consider, she refused. So I am of a mind that a poor review can be very useful and well intended and sometimes there are just bad reviews written by poor reviewers.

  3. Now here is something peculiar. I've sent out my book to so many reviewers it's laughable and I've NOT ONE single review. Does my book stink that badly lol Is this the same as having a bad review?? I don't know!! Is a poor review worse than no review at all....it's all a conundrum...

  4. I've had one review on my first book (and none so far on the sequel which was released about a week later)--it was "fair to middlin'" as my mother used to say. But, as you say, reviews are subjective, and I don't think bad ones (or good ones, for that matter) are the be all and end all of a writer's image. Sort of like, "You look gorgeous today!" from one person and from another, "What happened to you?" LOL

  5. Good topic, Becca. I've heard some reviews that trash a book cause sales to rise more so than they would have had the review been glowing. But I believe reviews are always a reflection of personal taste and you just have to hope the reviewer you get has the same taste as you. The important thing is that readers love your style, your voice and your story.

  6. Steph - it's the ones where the cover comes off the shaker that hurt most.

    Lynn, I have had this happen as well with a poorly written review. I hoped readers took that into account. However, I have had a great review which was written poorly as well and I worried it would actually hurt sales. Sigh. I don't think a writer can win with that situation.

    Margaret, sometimes no reviews can simply mean that the work is too long for reviewers to get to or that the book just has not risen to their notice. I may simply be a matter of promotion.

    Judy, lol, I agree. Although they can be painful it is very important to remember the subjective part.

  7. Just remember that some critics are simply writers who cannot write so they take their venom out on those who can. Or they have a personal vendetta.

    Case in point. I received nothing but awesome reviews for Three Days in New York City, but when it came out, right before the RT Convention, it received a terrible review, naturally in the issue that was given out in the RT goodie bag. I met the reviewer at the convention. She picked my book up (I had a stack in front of me for sale at the signing) and tossed it...and I mean tossed it...back at me. "Oh, I already read this and reviewed it for Romantic Times Magazine," she said. "It's about a woman who has an affair. My husband cheated on me. So there's no way I was giving that book a good review."

    I was flabbergasted by her unprofessionalism and was so incensed I wrote to the publisher of the magazine. Her response was that I should be compassionate, that the reviewer in question not only lost her husband to infidelity but her mom had just died.

    I'm a very kind person but that was just no excuse. She could have destroyed my career. Three Days was my first book, and I was basking in the glow of that and the RT convention. Did she effectively cost me sales? I'd like to think No, but....

    So here's her review. Now keep in mind that this woman writes for a very powerful magazine. Do you think this is good writing? And if you've read my book, this is so far from the plot it's ridiculous. All her review taught me is to ignore critics. Three Days went on to be a best seller and even attracted Hollywood attention.

    by Robin Slick

    Genre: Erotica, Erotic Fiction

    RT Rating

    After having phone and cyber sex,
    Elizabeth agrees to spend a few
    days with Richard in New York City
    to play the tantalizing "games" they
    have discussed in their conversations. Elizabeth is extremely nervous. While the sex is great, the more Elizabeth is with Richard the more
    confused she gets about why she
    is even there.

    Elizabeth doesn't actually like Richard as a person, and the great
    sex is the only thing that keeps her
    with him for the duration of her visit. She seems shallow and is unappealing and her motives are confusing. (May, 96 pp., $4.00)

    Reviewed By: Jill Brager

  8. I've been given stellar reviews and I've been told they wished they'd put my book down on the third page but suffered through the rest (that book went on to final in the Eppies). In both circumstances, sales were the same. I see reviews more as validation, but I get that from readers too. I'll keep writing regardless of reviews. seems lately it's harder and harder to get reviewed anyway. (and that isn't the part of our ... um ... stories we want hard ;))

  9. Very good advice, Becca. I know how it must hurt to have your baby rejected or given a bad review, but authors must learn not to take this personally. Just look at all those best selling authors who have been rejected or given bad reviews. It's really part of the process.

  10. Oh my gosh, Robyn. I think you win the prize for harshest experience. Most of us never meet our reviewers, but this does go to show that reviewers are human and therefore subject to moods, likes, and dislikes.

    I remember reading a novel to review far too late at night. I kept finding errors in word choice that were bugging the crap out of me. I finally put it down at 3AM and tried again the next day. It is fortunate that I did. Once I was no longer half asleep, I realized that the author was from the UK and all her word choices made perfect sense. I would have felt terrible had I written the review the night before.

    KyAnn, I am glad to hear that bad reviews haven't affected your sales.

    Writing really does become a child to be protected and cared for. Distance is not always easy.

  11. Hi Becca -- great topic, and one to which we can all relate, unfortunately. My very first review for my very first release was not very flattering. It really messed with my head. I decided then and there not to read reviews. Why do that to myself? Ironically, my second review for that first release was five hearts from The Romance Studio, and was brought to my attention by my friend and CP, lol. Now she sends me all my good reviews. Every once in a while I come across one myself, but I don't go looking. As you said, it's all subjective, and it's not worth the heartache of reading the bad ones.

  12. This topic is getting a lot of cyber time these days! It's a good one. Everything about this business is subjective and it's shocking how much rejection authors have to live with! I think the best advice one could give is to try to accept the review professionally. Publicly thank the reviewer for their time and make sure you point out some really positive things other reviewers have said about your book to try to take the edge off the negativity. Then get out the wine and dial up your favorite author pal.

  13. Thanks for the interesting comments ladies. I have enjoyed the day.

  14. As a review site owner, I can tell you it's hard to find reviewers who stick with the program (we're all busy with our own lives, this I know) and sometimes our reviewers write something that makes me cringe. I've even gone so far as to email them and ask, "Are you SURE you want me to post this?" However, co-owner Kate Richards and I both ask all of our reviewers to be very fair. And I have repeatedly said to the reviewers if they didn't like a book to simply not write the review.

    Having said THAT...as an author, I agree with everything Becca said. Publishing your baby is like standing in Times Square nekkid...the whole world sees, analyzes and forms an opinion about what kind of goods you have. Yikes! Makes me not want to write sometimes! However, as with most authors, I have to write, it's a big part of me. If people don't like it, it may hurt when they tell me, but I won't stop.

  15. Darah, you are right. The readers are the ones who matter and I actually think that ratings on book sites have a greater impact than actual reviews sometimes.

    Val, making time to review is almost impossible some days. I appologize for my slack. You need to keep writing. I love your work.

    Helen and Margie good advice both of you. Ignore the bad reviews or react to them in a positive/professional manner and move on. Tough to do sometimes. That's when silence is the better part of valor.

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

  16. Wonderful topic, Becca. I could post about this forever, but will try to condense.

    I can't believe what I've seen from reviewers on the Internet. It's almost as if some believe they have anonymity now and write things they'd never say to a person face-to-face.

    The hardest ones to take are those from reviewers with low scores and blatant misinformation. Recently one of my reviews opened with, "This book is about a paranormal being called a (insert profession here)." I knew I was in trouble. These people are and never have been paranormal beings, but ordinary individuals who once lived in Europe. The reviewer wrote six paragraphs of what she hated about the book and cited many passages and observations that were just outright incorrect. It's obvious she knows nothing about 17th century history, so why didn't she pass on the book. And this is a recognized review site.

    Another one recently wrote a review on one of my male/male novellas and cited that the book was a male/male with mmf menage scenes. I've never written a menage scene in my life and there were no females in the novel.

    Authors have been bullied into believing if they say anything at all about the review, they will be met by a lynch mob. We've all seen it happen to several authors on Amazon and Goodreads.

    I think that's wrong. Authors should inform the reviewer of the mistake or the misinformation cited, politely of course, without the threat of career suicide hanging over them if they dare to speak up.

    I've had the privilege of enjoying many wonderful reviews and believe for the most part, professional review sites are under-appreciated and over worked. And most of their reviewers conduct themselves fairly and professionally.

    We've seen a rash of authors suddenly hang out a shingle and call themselves a review site. Writing in the genre does not make them experts, and I can't help but wonder how their review could be unbiased and fair whether it's a good review or a poor review.

    I'll get off my soapbox now and hope we see some changes in this arena in the future. With the explosion of ebooks on the market, it doesn't say much for the industry when electronic snark rules the Internet.

    The definition of the Golden Rule which some reviewers should remember before pounding the keyboard:

    The Golden Rule is an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. It is also called the ethic of reciprocity. It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights. A key element of the Golden Rule is that a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group, with consideration.

    Happy reviewing,

  17. Hi, Becca,

    I'm a bit late to the discussion :) but I wanted to thank you for your post and also all the wonderful authors who took the time to comment. This is something I'm struggling with. I haven't had bad reviews, but I haven't had raving ones either.

    It's a bit of a shock to the system when readers love your books and reviewers just don't seem to "get it".

    I haven't had many reviews but I think part of the problem is review sites have tons of books to review, therefore they need time. My books have all had short release dates, which means I'm lucky to get any reviews at all.

    As a reader, I've read bad reviews of books I thought looked good. Thankfully I never let the reviewers' opinions sway me, I base my buying choice on the blurb and the book excerpt. This alone tells me whether I'd like to read the book.

    As an author, however, I do worry that they are readers who do rely on a reviewer's opinion as a deciding factor in buying books.

    You are so right when you say reviews are subjective. I've bought a book in the past because it got tons of great reviews, and I have to say I was disappointed. So I've concluded that what the reviewers like the readers may not and vice versa.

    Great discussion.


  18. No worries about popping in late Monique. I am glad the discussion was helpful. Even a moderate review can be painful if you love your work. This group has reassured me that reviews will not make or break book sales but they can certainly bruise the ego. :-D Perhaps reviewers are a bit like film critics who look at the mechanics of the film rather than just enjoying the story. Thanks for dropping by.

  19. I have been following this post and I am now ready to comment.

    Steph "I take reviews as a grain of salt." I think this is the only way to take any review. They are after all only one persons opinion.

    Lynn "When I emailed her to ask for feedback on what specifically she could point me at to consider, she refused.
    I think that any review site, when asked by the author to give feedback should be willing to do so.

    Margaret "I've NOT ONE single review"
    With the # of books that are released every week there are a lot of sites that just can't handle the quantity. There are some, however who prefer to accept author submitted requests over publisher requests. Good luck.

    Darah "I believe reviews are always a reflection of personal taste and you just have to hope the reviewer you get has the same taste as you"
    I agree. A reviewer should only accept a book if it is one they would have purchased themselves for pleasure.

    Robin "Just remember that some critics are simply writers who cannot write so they take their venom out on those who can. Or they have a personal vendetta."
    I also agree that SOME critics are doing it simply so they can be a part of the industry. It is sad but true in many cases, not only with books.

    Margie "Publicly thank the reviewer for their time and make sure you point out some really positive things other reviewers have said about your book to try to take the edge off the negativity."
    This is true with anything in the industry. Reviews, rejection letters,, etc. One should never publicly bash an industry pro, it could have negative effects.

    Annony "The hardest ones to take are those from reviewers with low scores and blatant misinformation."
    Any proffesional site should be willing to take another look at the book, if there was misinformation, they should offer an appology and post another review.

    "We've seen a rash of authors suddenly hang out a shingle and call themselves a review site. Writing in the genre does not make them experts, and I can't help but wonder how their review could be unbiased and fair whether it's a good review or a poor review."

    Are authors not also readers? What makes an expert? Saying this is like saying that an author should not own and run a publishing company. Authors are the ones out there in the trenches so I think they are the best to try to IMPROVE what is out there that they feel isn't working.

    Why does one become an author? They love books.
    Why does one become a reviewer? They love to read.
    While there are sites out there whose practices of posting scathing reviews seems to garner traffic to their site and generate buzz, there are also site who seem to post nothing but glowing reviews for every book. I prefer the site who run in the middle. They post what they like, good or bad, because it is their oppinion and as a consumer of ANY PRODUCT, we should take the information and make our own conclusions. :)

  20. Great topic! The reviews I don't care for are the ones where the book is marked down with no explanation given in the body of the review.

  21. Wow! This seems to be a topic with some meat behind it. I am very pleased with the responses. As a reviewer, editor, teacher and author, I feel like I am sometimes torn by my different roles. I would like to say that we should all expect the best intentions from one another. As authors we should assume the reviewer attempted to be unbiased and reviewers should try to do so.

    As for sites which are all negative their appeal is like that of the soup natzi - okay showing my age- the negativity sells so it is intentional. The site which is mostly positive propably picks and chooses the book reviews they actually post or their reviewers actually read books and authors they expect to like. This isn't a bad thing. It simply means that negative stuff doesn't get passed on which though misleading can be a good thing.

    I hear you all about ratings/reviews with no explanation. These help no one and are simply painful for all involved. The ones which slam a book about things not there are just rediculous. Such reviews should be brought to the site managers attention and removed. I would still caution professionalism even in extreme cases. I know sites that will openly mock an unhappy author.

    Good luck to you all.

  22. I've had reviewers mark down one of my books because they did not like the GLBT content. It was a m/m book. And another say that the words used for the male anatomy was euphemistic. I never realized the C word was considered an euphemism. I thought those were words like "love knob" or "tallywacker". But I have had reviews for the same book which have praised the language, flow, pace, characters.

    I've had one review knock a book because pre book start the hero had and affair. And they broke up. But they found their way back together through forgiveness and fighting for love. The book was about relationships and redemption. But the reviewer couldn't get past the affair.


    No two people read the same book. Each person brings their own experiences to the reading/subject matter.

    I am also a reviewer, when I have time. The review sites I have reviewed for, past and present, all had a policy if the book was objectionable to you, you couldn't get through it or whatever that you return it or simply not review it.

  23. This was on my mind earlier today so when I saw your topic, I had to read your post.

    I have a book out right now that has a lot of good reviews and some poor ones. It seems to be selling well, at one bookstore anyway.

    I'm trying to remember reviews are subjective and not get upset about less than stellar ones.

    I know someone who recently got a good review, who cried because she thought it was bad.

  24. "We've seen a rash of authors suddenly hang out a shingle and call themselves a review site. Writing in the genre does not make them experts, and I can't help but wonder how their review could be unbiased and fair whether it's a good review or a poor review."

    Kate Richards and I co-own a review site. We're both authors. We never said we were experts in any genre, we simply decided to start a review site with a couple of different twists (to go where no romance review site had gone before, LOL). Unless a review site is full of editors and English teachers, none of the reviewers are probably going to be highly trained professionals. IMHO, a review site is only one small tool in an arsenal of marketing tools at an author's disposal. It's not the be-all and end-all of an author's career and any "author" or review site owner who thinks their site is going to make or break an author is blinded by their own ambitions. And authors who get reviews should take every review at face value. Because that's all it's worth. ~ Valerie Mann

  25. Now reviewer should accept ANY book for review if it isn't a genre thye would buy or the blurb doesn't interest them. They should treat it as if they were buying the book for their own reading purposes and only take books they would be willing to buy.

    If you don't like erotic...DON'T REVIEW IT
    If GBLT isn't your thing...DON'T REVIEW IT

    If you love a genre, see a blurb that you like, take it, but if there is content in it that you find objectionable and there wasn't a warning about said content, I think it is the reviewers job to say something in a TACTFUL way so that others are aware and can take it into consideration when making a decision about spending their money on a book to buy.

    When buying a car we look at reviews, blue book and speak to friends who have that type of car. A review site is the same kind of tool. And that is all it is...a tool.

    No Review Site should make it their goal to slam or belittle anyone. It is their job to give as honest an opinion as they can on how they felt about the book.

    I think some go above and beyond and some just skate by. Find a site that you like. One that seems to offer honest and fair reviews on what they review.

    I agree with Ms Mann that unless a site is packed with teachers and editors that the reviewers are most likely not Pro's, they are readers...and isn't that who authors want to hear from anyway?

  26. I am so glad you guys wrote these comments. I seem to have the same problem with what I believe is one seriously disturbed human being. She gave every book I have a one star on good reads, and some weren't even published yet. I mean, all of them. That took some time. Then, I believe the same person keeps tagging my books with 'amazonfail, and the name of a man who writes books on plagiarism. I have no doubt this is one sick individual who has a personal vendetta against me. I believe I helped get her banned from Astatalk for illegally downloading my work, and she's taking great pains to retaliate. If its' not her? Then someone needs to get a life. I can't bad mouth another author. I know how hard it is to write a book. No one should be punished for jealousy and personal opinions. Reviews should be fair and unbiased. But alas we live in a world of unhappy people who lash out at those they dislike. What can you do but enjoy the fans who like your work, and try to write for them.
    Thanks for the forum to vent. GA

  27. Looking at the reviews I have done on Goodreads, out of the 88 bks I reviewed. I rated 38 of them as 5* & 14* as 1*some w/o comment.
    My peeves are marking a bk as a romance w/no HEA, sex w/no reason or relationship & bks that make no sense or w/jumping around.
    Another peeve is bks w/ elements of hard to medium BDSM undisclosed. This issue caused me 2 boycott a publisher & 2 authors due to their attitudes & the blurb had no warning. Relying on a rating system which I read 3 out of the 5 of the suppose categories in it. How am I able 2 judge where they fit. The publisher blamed me because I purchased reading their system as 2 content. I have 10 bks I am unable to read & spending $ I could use elsewhere. The authors r in my unread-not 2 be read folder.
    One infamous one that I read the heroine was married & it was assumed that her husband died. She went on, another guy & raising the kids alone. Later she & the other man ran into 1st husband who has amnesia & remarried with a few kids. 1st wife & “dead” husband decided he would stay “dead” as he could not support the kids w/her allowing no relationship w/the kids. I had a hard time with this as if a person has amnesia & is later is found it needs to be figured out in court w/bigamy & no support for the 1st set of kids. The court might dissolve the 1st marriage & order no support but self help is unacceptable. I am shocked that a publisher put out bk so wrong in how things were done. I know that 4 the sake of the storyline sometimes things need 2 be fudged a little bit but not like this one.
    I buy an anthology that contains stories w/BDSM, I rate them low but states others might like them. I will buy due 2 storyline or a particular author I follow. Might I end up with a mixture. Sigh…
    1 author I gave low ratings 2 some of her bks wrote a book which was great & a reread. She is a hit or miss.
    There is one who I wonder how she got published. Both of the bks I read were bad making no sense & end up in my folder stating read bks - not 2 be read again.
    I read another bk one said to be a romance but it was sex no relationship w/neighbor, sex w/multiple partners where she has no idea why she did this & lies by the 1st regarding her changing & w/behavior 2. This author wrote straight erotic fiction & this was the 1st time she written a romance. I zinged her for wrong category as it is not a romantic ménage. I do not read these bks. I did send her a list of authors who write great ménage for her review.
    1 bk had a 1 night stand w/a guy she meet 1 time who is a were. @ the end, heroine had not seen him 4 1 & ½ mon w/no idea if ever. It is to be a series w/brothers which need 2 stand alone. This is classified as romance but actually straight fiction paranormal heroine is psychic.
    I have read over 30 years I know how a story is to be. I am not picky. I do not want 2 be an author as I am analytical & uncreative.
    I wanted 2 say that about “Sweet Temptation” I have not read it yet but I do have. The weight I had stomach stapling & lost 160 pds. I regained 50 pds but I have maintained 58% loss 10 years. I was @ 160 4 9 months w/a height 5” 8”. I looked like a skeleton & that weight is the higher end of BMI. So limits & charts as how much 2 weigh r wrong. I over the last 2 yrs lost 17 pounds w/out doing anything. If I ate right & exercised it would come off but w/mental & physical issues it is hard 2 do but it will happen. It is nice read about real women & the actual sizes worn in the US not the model type women w/no fat on them.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. rm2h - I missed your post. Sorry. I hope you stop back. I too have a problem with mislabeled books - especially straight erotic fiction labeled as romance. That is the publisher's fault not necessarily the author's but this is what I mean when I say that reviewers need to explain their ratings. That way other readers can avoid or embrace the book because of or inspite of your view. I hope you had a chance to read Sweet Temptation and enjoyed it.


The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews