Don’t Whine About Bad Reviews

Every writer gets bad reviews at some point or other.  It’s part of the business.

As an author, you learn to live with the reality of bad reviews in different ways.  You can stop reading all reviews entirely to avoid the bad ones.  You can have someone you trust vet the reviews for you and share just the good ones so that you don’t walk around stunned and depressed. You can leave town when your book comes out and stay disconnected.  Hell, you can be perverse and break open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the bad ones.  Why not?

We mystery authors have it easier than other writers, though, because we can kill the reviewer.  Talk about catharsis!  But that’s not the only way to get revenge.  It’s also fun to mine a bad review for a pull-quote.  It’s sometimes hilariously easy to take a reviewer’s words and use them to make yourself look good.

But wallowing in the bad review is not a great idea, and making a spectacle of yourself while you do so is worse.  Salon recently published a piece of close to 3,000 words by an author who does just that, claiming that Janet Maslin killed his novel.  Killed?  No critic has that power.

The Salon piece starts with a scene in which the author has his wife read the bad review to him–a really terrible, masochistic choice.  He describes their tedious exchange over Maslin’s damning adjective “soggy,” and by the time you’re done reading his overlong piece, you might think “soggy” is the best way to describe it.  Ditto his revealing that after Maslin loved his first novel, he began thinking of her as a “ghost friend.”

There are many authors who will never be reviewed in the New York Times, and to his credit, the author admits he’s fortunate.  But you’d think someone who teaches creative writing would set a better example for his students and not whine about a bad review.

I don’t look to reviewers for enlightenment or approbation, though of course I hope they’ll help with publicity. I’ve learned more about my work from other authors through their books, conversations, or lectures that I have from writing students, than I have from any reviewers.

Bad reviews are a fact of the writing life.  Complaining about them doesn’t have to be.


4 Responses

  1. It might be small comfort if you get a less-than-glowing review to remember that very few book buyers actually read reviews. More books, soggy or not, are sold by word of mouth. I’d be more worried about the staff at your local independent bookstore loving your book–andy why wouldn’t they?–than print reviewers. As you suggest, pick a few words out of the review that you can use, and toss the rest. Drinking the champagne was also a good idea, though I prefer a good red.

  2. Tequila!

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