C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

About Your Worst Book Reviews

This is a little boost of encouragement to writers who obsess over a few bad reviews. First, here’s a link to a fabulously successful epic fantasy called Assassin: A Dark Epic Fantasy Novel. Look at all those wonderful reviews! Most people are extraordinarily happy with their reading experience. It’s rated 4.3 out of 5 and has over 1500 reviews. Wow!

Now, if you need bother, read a few of the one-star reviews. You’d think it was an utter failure.

Clearly, much to the dismay of a tiny minority, many readers pick up what Andy Peloquin is putting down. Congratulations to Mr. Peloquin! Check out all his books here: http://www.andypeloquin.com. Enjoy.

What This Means for You, the Writer

Too often, I see worried scribes kowtow to their worst critics. They join writing groups (not a bad thing) and write by committee, trying to appease everyone (a terrible idea). Some insist they learn things from their worst reviews. Sometimes, maybe that’s true, especially if you’re a noob. More often, though, you’re giving too much weight to a troll whose hobby is crop dusting negativity.

I learned a lot about writing from working as a journalist and reading excellent novels. These days, I learn most from Gari, my editor (strawnediting.com) and from beta readers. Reader feedback is best found higher up the editorial pipeline, while you’re still in the draft phase and long before you publish. For reviews, the most useful feedback you’re likely to get is what most fans enjoyed about your work, not what a few angry people hate. Hatred is lazy and too easy. I know because it’s so easy to find. I mean, GEE-ZUZZ, just watch the news.

I can already hear the objections. No! Those are all legitimate critiques!

Sometimes they are worth noting. However, if you’ve ever received a disproportionately scathing review, check out that person’s other reviews. Too often, leaving nasty reviews is their sport. You know the type. They go over the top, sometimes even attacking an author personally for daring to think they might entertain someone. I have to wonder, do they bring that same vitriol to everything? “I must defend proper literature and this beach read most people enjoy is the death of all literature! Once I fix that, then I’ll solve the Russian-Ukraine conflict!”

Art is subjective. If you take detractors too seriously, you will become paralyzed and resort to the safest and stupidest path: You will write nothing. Worse, you might even join the ranks of the wannabe writers who love nothing. Don’t become one of those people who hate everything with pedantic zeal. A few make it their unholy mission to proclaim, “Not only did I hate it, it’s impossible anyone else could and all these happy reviews must be fake!” (Notice that they write those reviews as if authors don’t see them, as if they’d bring that same energy if they dared to be in the same room with us. Heh. Silly little rabbits.)

I was once accused of having thirty-five friends leave happy reviews on one of my books. First, ha! As if I have thirty-five friends! This person clearly had no idea how hard it is to get anyone to leave a review. Second, for that same book, that was a few hundred happy reviews ago. That particular objection looks really silly now. Again, ha!

A Note About Your Humanity

If you manage to release all your negativity about nasty reviews, let me know how. The only sure cure is to never read your reviews. That’s one option. For me, I’m prone to anxiety and depression and my happy readers keep me going. Writing a book already feels like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean. That’s lonely business, so I need to read my reviewers, at least those who enjoy my work. One nasty review can make me sad once, but I return again and again to satisfied readers who bring me up and get me back to the keyboard.

You’ll also smell a lot of shit of the bull about “developing a thick skin.” How often have you read that in an article about writing? Unless you have the apathy of a non-artist and the arrogance of a serial killer, that’s all nonsense posturing. Writers are human, too. If you prick us, do we not bleed ink?

Not only do writers fail to separate themselves from their work, readers do that, too. They’ll assume you hold opinions you attributed to a fictional character. If they think the book is bad, they’ll think you’re bad. Once, a reviewer (oozing hatred from every pore) noted that I am Canadian. To his acidic review, he added, “I certainly hope he stays there.” A reasonable response, right? Anyway, no worries, mate! I never leave my blanket fort far beneath the frozen tundra. Also, not for nothing, go fuck yourself gently with a wire brush. Don’t be mad. I did say gently.

Alternatives for the Sweaty Writer

  1. Have someone else read your reviews and pass on the ones that won’t paralyze you. That’s one of the few things agents used to be good for, but any pal who won’t mess with you will do.
  2. If reviews scare you, go with a pen name. Go with five pen names. It’s amazing how calming it is to have a negative review fall on the head of a fictional persona. It gives you distance. “Sure, you think she should abandon her dreams and take up scuba diving in Antarctica, but at least that’s my nom de plume, not me!”
  3. Know that there is a number. The exact count will vary, but at some point, you will get enough happy reviews on a book that the nasty ones will matter much less. They may only ruin your afternoon instead of your whole day.

    Bad news: the measure resets to zero with each new book. Gird your loins and sally forth. I wouldn’t classify writing as heroic duty, but it’s not for cowards, either.
  4. C’mon! Remember? You love to write! And you write for the fans, not for the bastards. You’re not going to hit a home run every time. Keep playing because you love the game.
  5. Go read the reviews on your favorite books. Check out what’s considered high literature and/or the top ten bestsellers of all time. They all have reviews from people who hated their reading experience. Why should your masterpiece be any different?
  6. Any book that has all positive reviews has a small audience. When you start getting people who don’t dig what you do, it doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly done anything wrong. It means you’re expanding your audience and someone who is not your target audience stumbled upon it. After a free promotion, you’ll get one or two who snapped it up because it was free and now they’re sad. It’s the classic, “I don’t read books about unicorns but decided to give this a try, thus reaffirming why I hate unicorn books.” This is the equivalent of suffering celiac disease but gorging on bread because it’s free.
  7. This is all simpler than your worst imaginings. They’re wrong. I have read a couple of reviews of my work where they attributed missing bits to story failures. But there aren’t missing bits. The reviewer’s reading comprehension was poor, or they were too hurried. You can always catch a careless reading when they get basics of the plot wrong. This falls under the category of, “Tell me you’re a dummy without telling me you’re a dummy.” Do not sweat these reviews. We write for readers, not scanners.
  8. What if they’re right? So what? What if your book did have problems? Let’s not be so precious. You didn’t botch a heart transplant. You wrote a book that maybe wasn’t your best. You only get one best and nobody can agree on which one that will be. Somebody will still love it. Authors learn and grow. We have to allow for skill development. Kurt Vonnegut considered himself a failure until Slaughterhouse-Five hit, then everyone agreed just about everything he wrote was genius. (Watch Unstuck in Time, the documentary of Kurt’s life and career. It’s a salve for all your writerly burns.)
  9. Try to keep your energy on those who love you and love what you do. Love yourself more. Daring to put yourself out there, naked and vulnerable, demands a lot of self-love and not a little hubris. Most of those trolls you worry about? The longest thing they will ever write is a few paragraphs of narrow meanness. Even better? What they hated will be the reason someone else will buy and love your work.Too much puppet porn, Amish accountants, and seventeenth-century profanity? Oh, no!(Clicks buy immediately.)
  10. Let’s get practical. You’ve got groceries to buy! Couples often divorce because there isn’t any money coming in! You don’t even have time for people who will never buy another of your books! Write! Rewrite! Produce, goddammit!

Happy Conclusions

My point is not that you should never listen to your critics or dismiss every opinion. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, take it all with a big ole bag of salt. Some will love your work no matter what. Some will hate it no matter what. Most of the world is indifferent. A lot of people don’t even read, so don’t sweat so much. Once you release it to the world, everybody gets a vote on your work, but you always have the deciding vote. You liked it and did your best? Solid.

As for those few reviews that make you question your worth as a human being, please understand what the harshest critics do not:


Not everything is for everybody.

And that’s okay.

Hold on to that.
There’s plenty to enjoy in this world. Go find it. Go make it.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics with heart and killer crime thrillers with muscle. Find all my work on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: publishing, reviews, , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

  1. All of the reviewers are only a temporary replacement for your first and best reader: yourself. At best, they validate your own feelings. At worst?

    If you need more than that, someone will be delighted to give it to you, but that doesn’t make it more valid. Somewhere deep in your gut you will know when it’s good. And you get that feeling only from being the kind of writer YOU want to be.

    Good enough.

    PS It doesn’t have to be everything you write – there’s room to write stuff to pay the bills, or under a pen name.

  2. Much truth here. Relatives don’t read your work and if you do get a review from one, you will wonder if they just skipped to a random chapter so they could mention a name and seem like they read it.

    The reviews that keep me up at night are the ones I can’t quite figure out. If you want a writer to love you, review their book. If you want to really make a writer insane though, add a critique they can’t quite figure out. “Too many notes,” is a perfect example.

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