The Sting of a Negative Review

Katy and I have been in Hood River, Oregon at a writing workshop this week. Yesterday, during dinner with a few other writers, the subject of reviews came up. Here are the questions that were raised, followed by my answers.

How difficult it is to read someone's deconstruction of your work?

Totally depends. If the reviewer didn't like the book because of incompatible taste, those are the easiest to shrug off. They might dislike my characters, my writing, my world-building... it can hurt a little to read, but I understand. Plenty of books let me down. That's the thing. I'm a reader, too. I totally get what it feels like to be unsatisfied with the reading experience.

The reviews that really hurt, if I'm being honest, are the ones that resonate and bounce around in my head long after I've read the review. Usually when that happens it's because 1) I have been attacked or offended on a personal level (rare), or 2) the reviewer has isolated a weakness in the book that I actually agree with (more common.) This latter category is the worst because, while I'm far from perfect, I am a perfectionist. Being reminded of my failings is miserable. It can be very hard to shake...which brings me to the next question.

Does reading negative reviews get easier over time?

Yes. Reviews are like bee stings. At first, there was a lot of pain. A lot of "what did I do to that bee?" Then I became allergic and it REALLY sucked (this was when I become obsessive about reviews around the launch of my first book.) Then I read so many that they lost their potency, and I developed natural immunities. It still sucks to be stung, but for the most part the hurt goes away pretty quickly.

How do you deal with it?

The best thing? Don't read them in the first place. Second best approach: set yourself up so that you won't dwell on what you read. If I'm going to read a review, then I try to have a plan in place for immediately afterward. That way if it's a bad one that hits me like a 2 by 4, I can still get myself doing whatever it is I had planned. I'm less apt to stare blankly at the screen, or threaten to throw in the towel.

Being reviewed is part of being a writer. I've learned that the second my manuscript goes to print, it's no longer mine anymore. It belongs to the reader, too. And while I've focused on the negative side of that here, the reality is that it can be, and most often is, incredible to see that people are reading and talking about your books.

Bee stings hurt, but once you've gotten through one or two, you know they're survivable. And would you ever stop walking through gardens for fear of being stung?


Such great perspective, Veronica! I really enjoyed this. <3

I'll remember this- thanks! "The book belongs to the reader."

Ohh, Oregon! That view looks amazing. Good spot for writing. :)

Reviews are scary even for us readers/reviewers. If I read a book that I don't like, I feel terrible rating it negatively. Reviews are supposed to help future readers decide if they want to read it as well, but all my reviews are about the things I like in reading. It's hard to believe that someone would skip on a book from reading one of my reviews, or even if they would go out and buy a book after reading a rave review. The word of mouth, even through the blogging community, still surprises me.

The only reviews I can't stand sometimes are the DNF. The Did Not Finish reviews bum me out. You can't finish the book? Really? I can imagine a lot of books I had to struggle through, and they turned out worthwhile making it to the end. I understand that reading for fun doesn't mean you have to finish it or else... but DNF shouldn't even be a review style. Reviewing a book should be about the whole, not just what you could sit through.

Anywho, thanks for sharing, V! Hope you and Ms. Longshore are writing up a storm! :)

Glad you liked this, Carol and Kathryn! And Sallie! Great to hear from you. I hear what you're saying about DNFs. It is a little frustrating. I mean... imagine someone reviewing based on 10 pages? Or even 50? There is a certain unfairness in that. Hope you are well!

I think DNF reviews can be very helpful. It tells readers why you couldn't finish the book, like you just weren't hooked even after 200 pages, it was too slow-going, you hated how it kept shifting between 20 narrators, one chapter at a time, the narrator was obnoxious, etc. I've become more discriminating lately, and haven't finished a couple of books I probably would've pushed myself to finish no matter what 10-15 years ago.

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