You Suck, or How to Handle Bad Reviews

August 8, 2011 | Writing Life, Inspiration | 8 comments

My favorite color is red; it used to be orange. My son’s used to be yellow, and now it is blue. My daughter went from purple to a cerulean blue. My husband…I’m not even sure. He’s kind of neutral on the topic.

And here’s the deal, do I care that none of them like red? Am I insulted?

No, I accept it. I don’t expect everyone to love red like I do–or malamutes or salsa or any of the things that I love, and books are no different.

Even when I write those books.

I know going in not everyone is going to love my books. I know going in that some people are going to hate my books. Some people, quite honestly are going to think I and my books suck.

It’s just a fact of life.

How about clothing?

How are you supposed to wear a baseball hat? Bill over your face, or bill over your neck? Is one wrong and the other right? Maybe in some people’s opinion, but really, the choice is just a matter of style.

And while someone might rant about how ignorant someone looked with their ball cap “backwards” (in their opinion), it is just that…their opinion and that rant only says that the style isn’t for THEM.

I can live with that too. I, frankly, don’t wear a ball cap at all anymore. I wear a visor and only when walking my dogs.

But back to this article…when you get reviews that say your characters are too stupid to live, your writing amateurish, or even, that you don’t know how to use a comma–remember, all of these things are a matter of opinion (yes, even the comma), just like choosing red over blue or baseball cap forward over baseball cap backward.

Books aren’t math. There isn’t a right or a wrong. There is only opinion. (With the exception of typos, etc. of course. And even many of the things people might pick apart as editor misses aren’t really wrong–they’re style.)

Getting upset because someone doesn’t think your book is beautiful makes as much sense as getting in a brawl over pizza versus mac and cheese or coffee versus tea. (Even I can’t state an obvious right choice in those debates.)

Still, at first read, bad reviews, may sting. If they do, try these three steps:

1.) Read the review again–really read it, and see how much it says about your book versus how much it says about the reviewer, because, quite honestly,  most reviews (especially the bad ones) say more about the person writing the review than the book itself.

2.) Go to Amazon and look up your favorite book of all time. Read the reviews. Next, pick a book you hated, one you thought was the worst thing ever written, and once again, read the reviews. Then shake your head at both.

3.) Now for the good part…get yourself a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa–whatever your favorite is–sit down in front of your computer and write your next book. Your readers are waiting for it.

Lori Devoti is the multi-published author of romantic comedy, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Look for her workshops at Write by the Lake (DCS University of Wisconsin), at RWA conferences and meetings, and here at the How To Write Shop. For more information, visit her web site.


  1. Chris

    Good advice, Lori. Thanks for reminding us that if everyone had the same likes and dislikes, only one type of book would ever be written, and the world would be an incredibly dull place in which to live.

    I try to think of opinions as being on a bell curve. For any topic of discussion, book, movie, TV show, whatever, a small percentage of people will love it, a small percentage will hate it, and the rest will occupy the middle ground. If you write to please the haters, you are wasting time on too small of a group. Plus, people tend to be more vocal about what they hate than what they like.

  2. Kathy

    Wonderful advice, Lori. Thanks for the great tools for handling such an emotional issue. Taking a look at bad reviews of (what I think are) great books and vice-versa is a real eye-opener!

  3. Shelly Thacker

    Great tips, Lori! You can’t please all the people all the time. Best to just write the best book you can, and let the reviews fall where they may. Reminds me of an old favorite quotation: “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” ;)

  4. Lori Devoti

    Thanks, guys! I agree with all of you, on the bell curve and love the “your opinion of me” bit. :)
    I think it would be fun to do some kind of Venn diagram of books. If you took 100 people, even 100 people who all read the same type of books, and had them break books into great, okay, stink…how many books would always show in any one of those categories?
    Not many, I’m guessing.
    It is actually kind of amazing how varied opinions are of books, but then for some reason we still expect everyone to love/hate the same things.

  5. Gary V

    Great advice, Lori! Opinions are really just that. everyone has them and critics can be especially…critical? Condemning is more like it. Anyway, it doesn’t matter really what anyone else thinks, even if they are an editor. Every famous author was rejected…multiple times. Criticism doesn’t deter me, it gives me clarity and determination to push through.

  6. Lori Devoti

    Thanks, Gary!I have a bit of a rhino hide myself. :)

  7. Sue Santore

    All very good points. Opinions are just that. Who cares–as long as all the reviews aren’t bad!

    At times I have actually used poor reviews to decide to buy a book. Sometimes readers don’t read the book blurb before buying the book, then complain that: “This is a Christian book. There’s too much praying in it.” or “This is a book about vampires. I hate vampires.”

  8. Lori Devoti

    I’ve done the same thing, Sue. Books are just so much personal preference. It is kind of what makes them great! :)