Monday, May 18, 2020

Rising Above Negativity, Bad Reviews, and Vexing Contest Feedback

“From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
 ~ Isaac Asimov

Gentle Readers and Reviewers, this post is not for you. 

It's intended for the Gentle Author, published or pre-publsihed, who has had his or her heart stomped on in the form of a  negative review or contest feedback.

Reviewers have the right to say whatever they want, express their thoughts, warn future readers against reading such drivel or tell the world the story is wonderful, etc. I'm not disputing the necessity of authentic reviews, and I respect and appreciate the time and thought reviewers put into sharing their thoughts. 

As it's been said, reviews are not for authors.

But reviews do matter to authors, on a professional and personal level. For some of us, acceptance can turn into an idol (tipping my hat to Tim Keller, here). This may be why, for some of us, negativity sticks in our brains, and praise goes in one ear and out the other. 

Before I was published, I received varying types of contest feedback. Some helped me immensely, but a few comments sliced me to the core. One particular letter--handwritten, since this took place in the stone age before electronic entries--sent me outside to cry over my tomato plants so my kids wouldn't see me. (While it's always been important to me that my kids see that dreams take work to achieve, I didn't want their impressionable minds to freak out over my boo-hoo session.)

Reviews and feedback are part of the business, yes. We need to cultivate thicker skins, yes. But that doesn't mean we turn into rhinos. We will all have our moments.

But those moments should not define us.

“Frankly, anybody who's going to kill themselves because of a bad review has no business writing a novel in the first place.”
― Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling)

Gentle Author, it is important to know a few things. Thicker skin, sure. But there's more. 
File:Rhinoceros (4872071091).jpg - Wikipedia
Even thick skin gets owies sometimes!
The first is you are not alone. Look up your favorite authors on Amazon and Goodreads and you'll see the evidence. Famous, household names like JK Rowling, Steven King, JRR Tolkein, and a host of others have negative reviews under their names.

Negative reviews do not keep you from selling books. In fact, it can help. If an author has nothing but 5 star reviews, readers might suspect they are too good to be true, written by family and friends. A few negative reviews lend authenticity to your good reviews.

“It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.”
― Samuel Johnson

Learn from contest feedback and reviews, if they're well-intended. This is a key distinction. Some negative reviews and feedback can be helpful for our growth as writers. We didn't connect the dots in the story or we've been using a word incorrectly? Our pace is slow, our mystery too easy to solve? Good to know for the future. 

But if criticism is not well-intended? If it's mean-spirited or cruel? You can fight (maybe not the wisest choice) or let it go.

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

On that note, it can help to twist your perception. I made a decision to view poor reviews with humor, if possible, and to look at the overall picture.

One review I received recently didn't like my story at all. She could barely finish it, she said. Ouch. But other people did finish, and I didn't even have to pay them. 

Focus on the positives, weigh the feedback, and make the choice how you'll handle the slings and arrows that indubitably come. Remember that you are or are working toward being a professional author, with professional being the key word, and God is our first Audience. We obey by doing our best and being teachable. 

His review of "well-done" is the one that ultimately obliterates the rest, good and bad.


Gentle Author, Reader, and Reviewer, how do you feel about negative reviews?


Susanne Dietze is the author of several romances. You can learn more about her and her stories at


  1. ouch. I don't like them. I agree that a variety of reviews is good for both the reader and the writer. They feel more genuine if they aren't all glowing five star reviews. I admit I always read 3 star reviews if contemplating a book where I'm not familiar with the author. What's painful is not the bad review that means the reader didn't 'get it' and it's more of a reflection on the reviewer's taste or favorite rants, but a review that hits on something the author is worried about. We all feel we have shortcomings in our writing --we are all individuals after all. So when a review hits that soft spot, it can take a lot of self-care to move on. I wonder if editors read reviews of their books. I know some authors don't read their reviews. that might be easier if there are 500 of them instead of 15! Thanks Susie!

    1. Excellent point, Deb. When a review or contest feedback shines a light on our weak spots or, conversely, an area where we've been vulnerable as writers, it can be painful.
      The thing that bothers me most as an author (both pre-published and published) is a mean-spirited comment. During contest days, this was especially hard to deal with since it meant I didn't want to listen to that particular judge's advice. They may have been correct, but a harsh tone, put-down, or snipe made me not want to go any further with that person. I recall another writer telling me and others to "chew the meat and spit out the bones." It's a skill to take what you can to help you grow, and ignore what is harmful or hurtful in someone's comments.

  2. I read, review, and read reviews. And curiously enough I pay attention to the lower ratings and then work my way back up. Personally, I think the "whole star" rating system doesn't do authors any favors. A few years ago, I started putting 3.5 or 4.5 books in my comments sometimes to communicate weaknesses that weren't necessarily game changers (according to Goodreads, three starts means that I "liked" it . . . nothing wrong about that). But I am very analytical reader, so my review scores indicate how picky I am. And I have served as a book judge, which just solidifies how carefully I deconstruct stories. AND I am always ready to justify my ratings if an author asks, and occasionally they do. But it's all good and I respect how much time, and effort, and research goes into every story that I read . . . . writing is hard work and I appreciate those that have been called to the art of story telling.

    1. You are an excellent reviewer and I know I'm not the only author who appreciates all of the time, thought, and effort you put into your reviews, Rebecca! You're right, too, about star and numerical ratings not always being helpful. I've judged several contests (and reviewed books) and it can be subjective. Each person tends to have a bias or a button issue, too. I read an inspy historical that contained some historical errors that bothered me a lot. Other readers couldn't have cared less; if they'd known the errors were there, it didn't bother them. That's just an example of how subjective we all can be as readers! I thought this might be a timely post for those receiving contest feedback (on the Genesis, etc), since many, if not every, author faces this issue at some point or another. Ratings and reviews are not for authors, true--they're for reviewers--but contest feedback is, and authors do pay attention to reviews. Thank you for all you do, Rebecca!

  3. Lovely post, Susie! I'm always amazed at some of the bad reviews for books I loved. I agree with Debra that books with only glowing reviews sometimes seem suspect, though, and not everyone is going to have the same experience while reading a book. Although it's easier said than done, it's wise to keep a sense of humor and not dwell on the negative reviews. I'm sure it's harder when it's contest feedback.

    I'm a reviewer, and I always try to be honest but kind in my reviews. I've gotten more picky with the books I read, so I do most of my reviewing for authors and books I'm quite sure I'll like. This makes it easier to write reviews that are complimentary to the author/book, yet I sometimes point out things as kindly as I can that didn't sit as well with me.

    Like Rebecca, I check out some of the lower ratings on books to see if there's something that might be a game-changer as to whether I want to read the book. Then I read some of the good reviews, too.


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