Responding to Negative Reviews

We’ve all seen them, and all writers had them at one time or another. Negative Reviews can be infuriating and frustrating and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but they always give you a slightly sick feeling, like someone just punched you in the gut.

Being a writer is tough. You sit in a room — by yourself, most likely –and think up stories to tell people. You think they’re wonderful (or at least good) stories, but not everyone else does, and that rejection is hard to deal with if you’re a human being. So how does one deal with negative reviews? How can you show them why their opinions are wrong?

You shouldn’t; let it slide. I was reading a great blog post recently by author Beth Revis — the inspiration for this blog post, in fact (thanks Beth!) – about someone she knows who hates puppies. Not making this up. They don’t like puppies at all – dogs either. Doesn’t seem to be a fear reaction, they just don’t like canids. This illustrates a tremendously important point: not everyone likes everything, and many people don’t like the same things you do. It’s as simple as that. Here’s the link to Beth’s blog: http://bethrevis.blogspot.com/2012/05…

The best thing to do — if you must respond at all, and I recommend that you do not — is to say “Thanks for your review. I’m sorry you didn’t care for my novel/story/poem; I hope you’ll like some of my other work better.”

Period. End of commentary on your part. DO NOT bait them, do not call them names or question their integrity or opinion. Leave it alone. Reviewers with integrity will take another look; maybe they will change their opinion, or find something of yours that they like, but maybe not. Not all reviewers have integrity, and some — as seems to be human nature to a very large degree — are reveling in the power they have and mete out praise or scorn as the see fit. You can’t always tell which type of reviewer you’re dealing with from their review, so don’t push your luck.

I’ve been on both sides of the reviewer coin. I’ve written some lousy reviews in my time to be sure, but I’ve also written some good ones. Not all of them were positive, but they tend to be, because most of the work I review is stuff I’m interested in to begin with, so I’m predisposed to like it. Not all reviewers have that luxury, and sometimes they take it out on the work they are reviewing.

Take reviews with a grain of salt. Revel in the positive ones, and let the negative ones slide off your back as you walk away. If a negative review has valid points to make, consider them carefully, and keep them in mind for the future, but don’t beat yourself up over it; no literary work is perfect, and neither is any writer.

In related news, I quoted an Internet maxim last week: “Don’t Feed The Trolls.” I’ve had significant cause to rethink that advice. Take a look at this essay, written by Caroline Criado-Perez and see if you agree that “Don’t feed the trolls” is not always good advice. (with thanks to author Nora Jemisin for pointing this out:

http://www.newstatesman.com/internet/…

Obviously, Internet trolling is a complicated issue, and again, some people do it simply for the feeling of power it gives them, and also the Internet’s relative anonymity. This example is definitely a case where “Don’t feed the trolls” does NOT apply.

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