05 June 2015 by Published in: Uncategorized 7 comments

I had a long discussion with an author the other day about her slumping mood due to having received a spate of one star reviews on her latest book, which caused her to question the direction her writing had taken, whether she was really cut out to be an author, etc.

Here’s my view on negative criticism:

Everyone’s got an opinion. You can’t make everyone happy. You aren’t trying to please the entire world, just those you target with your work. And sometimes, even those folks are going to hate something you write, for a host of reasons, many of which may not have anything to do with the words on the page.

Let’s assume your book’s well edited and written. You’ll still eventually get negative reviews. It goes with getting any reviews at all. I tend to watch the ratio, not the individual reviews, because I’m looking for trends, not one person’s mood any particular day.

If you peruse the bestsellers lists, you’ll quickly find that virtually every book that shifts some quantity gets a lot of negative reviews right along with the positive. Generally speaking, 15% or so one and two star reviews. Some, like the massive sellers (yes, 50 Shades, I’m looking at you), will average considerably higher negative feedback. Does this mean those books are deficient? Sure. To those who thought they were. To everyone else, they were awesome.

Here are some possible reasons for negative reviews: The reader is having a bad day, or read your book in a bad mood, or had expectations that you failed to meet – expectations that might not have been realistic, or that your book was never intended to meet. Or the reviewer simply didn’t like your story, or the way you told it, or the speed with which it was told. They might have felt it was overly wordy, or too sparse, that the vocabulary was sophomoric, or alternatively, that they felt like they needed a thesaurus to get through it. They might have wished for a different ending, or for the characters to behave differently, or any of a thousand preferences that are distinctive to their worldview.

I’ve seen, on the same book, a review condemning a title for its gratuitous profanity, and then the next review condemning it because the characters didn’t speak in gritty or profane enough fashion to be realistic. I’ve seen reviews that declare a book the best thing ever written, followed by one that says it’s the worst book in existence.

People are strange that way.

As an author, you need to look past it. If there’s valid criticism, use it to improve. If someone simply didn’t like the story or the pacing or the characters…or…or…well, maybe the book’s just not for them.

And finally, there are just folks who enjoy tearing down the work of others, whether it’s good or not. I’ve seen plenty of reviews on incredibly well-written, gripping novels, that amount to, “ew, I mean, hero gets into trouble, hero faces hurdles, hero wins, gets girl – give me a break.”

Some people leave reviews to make a point, or to have a forum in which to spout off or spray venom, or to attack other authors behind a veil of anonymity (you can usually spot these easily – they tend to be more verbose, because the writer is writing partially to show how smart they are and how dumb you are). You can usually quickly spot those, and should ignore them – there will always be those who suck. You can’t make it your life’s mission to stop people from sucking. Most will be able to look past those types of reviews and see that the review says far more about the reviewer than the book.

In summary, reviewers are rather like everyone else, in the sense that everyone’s got an opinion they think is incredibly valid, and they’re entitled voice it. Just as all authors now have the ability to put their work into the world because they think they’ve got a compelling book on their hands. You’re not going to agree with every review you get, just as every reader’s not going to love your work.

That’s life. Move on.

And of course, buy my crap!



  1. Fri 05th Jun 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Read this at just the right moment today. Helped cheer me up after some tough criticism. Thanks!

  2. Fri 05th Jun 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Agree that you can’t please everyone. There are books that I love that I’ve recommended to others, and sometimes they don’t care for them. C’est la vie.

  3. Fri 05th Jun 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Here’s my take:
    I’m glad you read my book.
    I’m glad you liked it.
    If you didn’t like it I’m still glad you read it.
    We are each entitled to our own opinion.
    And when it comes to drive-bys– those reviews that read simply: This Book Sucked! or Not Worth $0.99!
    Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. I don’t get involved and I don’t take it personally.
    Beads up like water on a duck’s back. I do not enmesh myself in someone’s negative agenda.
    On the other hand, I did learn a great deal from real good literary criticism early on in my career. I learned to be a better writer. Newbies don’t get much of that, which is a pity.

  4. Fri 05th Jun 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Reader reviews are a lot like other personal behavior you find around town. People can be snotty, hostile, bitter, jealous, critical, what have you. You never know what makes people act the way they do. If you want to improve your writing, focus on the criticism that is honest and well-meant, not intended to make you feel bad. The validity of any criticism definitely depends on the character of the person who is doing the criticizing. If we all care about writing, we want to help each other improve. But if we don’t give a fig about writing and don’t care how other people feel, well then, it’s open house on whoever’s book I happen to be reading. Sad but true. Those folks NEED to be ignored.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 06th Jun 2015 at 10:53 am

      I generally ignore all reviews as individual snapshots, and focus on trends in reviews. I’ll give you an example. I just released Ramsey’s Gold. Right now it has 31 reviews. 28 of them say it’s my best work to date, blah blah blah. One says the reviewer left the review by mistake and never read the book. Two are one stars, saying it sucks a goat dick.

      Now, either all the five star reviews are badly mistaken, or the one stars are, or they’re both right. I tend to view it as they’re both right. One of the low star reviewers felt that I should have gotten to the gold far earlier in the book – which would, of course, have made it a novella, not a novel, because once the question of finding the gold is resolved, that’s kind of the end of the story. But that’s his preference, and he was allowed to air it. The other said they put the book down in the first 50% because it was so slow. Which, by the way, I always get some reviews complaining about, regardless of the pace of the story – it’s highly subjective, which I recognize.

      Point being I look at the overall trend, not the individual reviews. I think that’s the healthiest way to approach it. But to each his own.

      • Florine  –  Tue 09th Jun 2015 at 5:42 pm

        I agree with you Mr. Blake you can’t please everyone. I personally enjoy your books very much. Continue doing a great job. I do have one complaint but it’s not your book it’s me. I have an e-reader and I can’t seem to download your free book Jet but I’ll probably buy it soon so no problem lol. Thanks

  5. Zarayna
    Sat 06th Jun 2015 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for this topic and helpful comments.
    Earlier this year, I put a couple of ebooks on Amazon and asked friends, acquaintances, whoever, to read and leave a quick review.
    I assumed that, as my friends, they would be happy to reciprocate the many favours, I had done them even if they were not great readers.
    I discovered that some could not read; that some delighted in the opportunity to put me down; that those who could read, didn’t have an Amazon account and thus could not leave a review (and didn’t think of opening an account in order to do so).
    What I considered to be the least of my concerns – reviews – turned out to be a major eye-opener for me. Stinging at the time, but invaluable now that I can look back. Pity little of it had to do with writing, literature or criticism of the writing but everything to do with the psychology of people I thought I knew.
    Which doesn’t say much for my perception either, does it?
    Life continues to be hilarious as long as we don’t take it seriously.
    Kindest regards to all.


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