Let’s Talk Bad Reviews by Mae Clair

Psst! I’ll tell you a secret. The first review I ever got was three-stars. Now, I don’t necessarily consider three stars a bad review, but I don’t count it as great either. I’ve given a number of three-star reviews and imagine them somewhere middle of the road.

Naturally, as a newly published author, launching my first book, I had dreamed of five stars. There were plenty that followed, but that first one came as an eye-opener. I even had one of my friends give a four-star review and then send an email explaining what I could have done better. I learned from that gentle criticism, as I have done from many others in the past.

female holding up finger arguing wearing glassesI didn’t agree with the reviewer who said I had too many characters or that my plot was too complex, but I do understand that romance readers don’t always like their stories ladled with mystery and multi-tiered plots. Lesson learned. Which is why I’ve made an adjustment to my genre, story-telling, and branding.

It wasn’t until I wrote my fifth book that I received my first two-star review. By then I realized every reader has an opinion and I’m not going to appeal to all of them. I have no problem with someone giving me a negative review, but I had a BIG problem with what the person insinuated. I won’t go into the details, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just say I was upset.

I remember sitting on my back porch, talking to my husband about it. Venting verbally. As an author, I don’t respond to reviews, positive or negative, even though I read every one. An unwritten rule that I learned early in the game. That made accepting that review even harder. I couldn’t defend myself.

During my spat of whining, my husband said something that resonates to this day—basically when you put yourself “out there” you open yourself to criticism, just like any artist. He asked me how many times I had dissed a movie or song, or even a book. Maybe I didn’t post those reviews online but I had an opinion, and everyone was entitled to theirs. If I was going to be a writer, I couldn’t stop people from saying what they wanted to say about my work. It goes with the territory.

Another lesson learned.

By the time I got my first one-star review (and I can’t even tell you what book it was for), I’d adapted a new attitude. I had read a blog post not long before that said something along the lines of “if Stephen King and J.K. Rowling get one-star reviews, why shouldn’t I?” And then it hit me—I’d arrived. I was no longer just getting reviews from friends and other writers I knew online, but readers who had no connection to me. Readers who were rating my work on the same scale they would rate the work of best-selling authors like Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (my favorite writing team). I was in a whole new realm, and although the three, two, and one-stars still crept up occasionally, there were far more four and five-star reviews. Instead of being discouraged by a mediocre review, I now take them in stride as part of my chosen profession.

Reviews are important to an author. Good or bad, we learn from them and they contribute to our growth. If you’ve gotten a bad review you’ve probably felt some of the uncertainty I have. If you haven’t—trust me—it’s just a matter of time. The larger your audience, the more opportunity you have to snag a reader who doesn’t quite get what you’re trying to say. Take it in stride. As my husband told me, when you’re “out there” you expose yourself to the opinions of others.

If you’ve read any of my books, I ask you to leave an honest review. Reviews are the equivalent of gold to an author, and all are greatly appreciated.

If you’re a writer, have you ever felt yourself the target of an unfair review? Has it impacted your love for writing? How do you deal with negative reviews?


36 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bad Reviews by Mae Clair

  1. Ahhh! Reviews…love and hate. I get so excited when I see the number change indicating that I have a new review, then I scroll down with trepidation to read it, as if the thing has high voltage.
    And it does! Sometimes its a good shock and sometimes not. Of course fives make you beam. Some of my favorite reviews are three and four star reviews, when polite. I take what is said seriously and use it constructively. My only one star review was simple and I’m certain true for that reader, but I got a two star and a three star that were downright mean. Both indicated those two individuals were dealing with issues far deeper than my words took them. Hmmm. You just have laugh, sigh, cry and move on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is exciting when those numbers change, isn’t it? I love when an author “gets” something I wrote and when they don’t it’s very helpful to know why, or what didn’t work. But a mean review? They’re not constructive at all. My two-star review was my first exposure to one. I think if that had been the very first review I ever had it would have crushed me and made me wonder what I was doing. It’s a good thing I had developed a thicker skin by then!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, I remember the first mean review I got…I was devastated! They said I wasn’t a writer and they would never read anything by me again all because they didn’t like the ending and wanted more. After I picked myself up, and dusted myself off, I thought well that’s really a good thing right? Then as time went on, I realized that if most of the reviews are good, that’s what really matters. And the bad ones, I ask myself what I might do better. But, the truth is, we can’t please everybody no matter how hard we try! So I’m with you Mae! And, your husband is spot on. We put ourselves out there. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I, like you, don’t respond to reviews, good or bad. Period. Does bad reviews impact my love for writing? In the beginning, it did because let’s face it, we write because we love to write and want people to love what we have to say. We put blood, sweat and tears into a manuscript and when someone stomps on it, it hurts. I too, have adopted the “take it in stride” attitude. If it’s something I can fix or make me a better writer, I’m all for it. But, I won’t cater to a few bad reviews when the majority are good. Here’s a hug to anyone that has had a bad or mean review ever… {{{{hugs}}}}!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You hit it spot on, Tammy, when you said we pour so much effort into our work, and naturally we want others to like it. I’m glad you didn’t let that bad review get you down. We have to remember we can’t please everyone and the way we tell a tale or have our characters face a situation may be entirely different than what someone else would like to see. But, ultimately, it’s our story and our world to play with. Hopefully, in the process a lot of readers find enjoyment in our take on it! 🙂


  3. Wise words from your husband and I agree with him and you, Mae. When I got my first one star review I let people know about it because it was a milestone in my journey as a writer. I know not everyone will like my stories and not everyone will enjoy them. As writers we all have to accept the fact that perfect strangers will offer opinions both good and bad on our work. What upsets me though is when it appears people deliberately want to manipulate a review mechanism so their negativity gets pride of place. I’ve seen that happen more than once. Usually with one word and one star reviews. What is the point of anyone giving a one star and writing one word? I think it says more about them than the books.
    I think the best thing is to take what you can from each review use it to help you grow, or to make you smile, and if it really is poor or filled with venom let it go. I know that’s not easy especially if the criticism refers to something over which you have no control but for the sake of sanity you have to dismiss it.
    I think bad reviews are a bit like rejection letters, they prove one thing alone, if you get either of them you are a writer, because if you weren’t they wouldn’t exist. Happy writing to you all. The joy of creating your next story can’t be stolen from you by anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d forgotten about manipulating bad reviews to rise to the top. I only recently learned that some readers do that. Another blogging friend was talking about it and I was like “huh?” I’d been clueless, assuming people placed their review and that was that. I guess there is a darker side to everything.

      I positively love the last line in your comment: The Joy of creating your next story can’t be stolen from you by anyone.

      How true! And something we need to remind ourselves of on the down days when dealing with rejection. I’ve been writing stories since grade school, and I can’t see myself every stopping!


  4. Oh, yeah. Not on Amazon but on other sites I’ve had two and three (like you said, three isn’t bad, but the first one feels like a punch to the gut). I even had one reviewer get angry because since he doesn’t use 1st POV for his protagonist and 3rd for others, he believed it “wasn’t fair” that I should. I was like, huh? Like you, I was taught never to respond, good or bad. We can’t change anyone’s opinion, so it’s not worth wasting energy on negativity. It’s had no impact on my love for writing. After the initial shock and a rant to my husband, I move on. That doesn’t make them any easier to read, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You sound exactly like me, Sue…an initial shock and a rant to my husband (they do get earfuls don’t they, LOL) and then moving on. There’s nothing else we can do, and even negativity can’t rob the joy from something we love so much. Glad you didn’t let that reviewer slow you down!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The very first thing that comes to my mind regarding a bad review is the Latin maxim : De gustibus non est disputandum, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.”
    Yes, it depends on someone’s taste and not only. A story may find approval and praise and a five star review from someone and then a lot of criticism and a two or even one star review from somebody else. The moment you are putting yourself out there, in the public, you must expect to be criticized. And words do hurt, sometimes even harder than a beating. Words are mightier than sword, someone said.

    Not everyone is going to like our writing style or our characters. A review doesn’t have to display a four or a five star next to it to turn it into something positive; good “remarks” are found in all sorts of reviews. Think about the person who writes the bad review. Is the person who posted the review another aspiring fellow author? So perhaps a bit of jealousy transpired into the review. Or is the reviewer someone who writes only bad reviews? Or someone who tries to catch the attention? Or someone who makes a policy from shredding other people’s work? Ignore the “infamous” review. Don’t let it bother you.
    I am with Daisy, regarding those people who give (on Goodreads especially)1 star reviews and 1 word. It happened to Shadows of the Past, too. All the 5, 4 and 3 stars are joined now by a 1 star review and NO WORD. ODD! I am sure the person never read the story.

    My advice: to soothe your ego, your ruffled feathers, make a file with all five and four stars reviews and read it several times. It will certainly bring back your confidence in yourself. I did it. Take my word, it works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodreads is its own beast and I know a lot of ratings are posted there without reviews. As a reader, if someone gives a book a 1 or 2 star review, I want to know what they didn’t like about it. Posting no review or a single word is not something I’d take seriously if I were looking to purchase the book.

      And you’re right that people write reviews for all kinds of reasons. I always try to make mine helpful and informative for the reader and supportive of the author. I recently left a three star review on a book and quasi-cringed while doing it. With the exceptions of 1 other, all of the reviews were 4 or 5 stars. But there were a lot of problems with the delivery and plot and I just couldn’t truthfully give it anything above 3 stars. At the same time, I felt kind of bad, even though I made the review encouraging.

      BTW, loved the Latin. It’s perfect!


    • O! M! G! That has got to be the lowest of the lows. I’ve never heard of that happening before, but I would have done exactly what you did and accept the negative review. You called it for exactly what it is–extortion! The person posting the review is a parasite!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting don’t you think, that not only is the Twilight series on the best books of all time list, they are also on the worst. The Harry Potter series has its fair share of haters as well. I don’t think an author can write a book without someone out there saying, “hey, it’s just not my cup of tea…” and that’s all right. Opinions are just that and if we all likes the same books, poetry, music or whatever, they we’d be clones instead of individuals…. (Not that the one and two star reviews make my day, mind you!) Anyway Mae, here’s one reader that LOVES your books!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Debbie *huge grin* I love knowing there are readers who enjoy my stories (and that feeling is mutual btw). Really good point about the Twilight series. A perfect example how a book/series can be loved by some and hated by others. It is good that there is so much diversity for readers to choose from. And reviews are helpful, not only for authors, but readers, too. I check them before making a purchase. Let’s just hope people learn to skip the venom when sharing!


    • Thanks, Staci. DH has been my sounding board through this long writers journey. He knew within a short time of meeting me how important writing is to me and has been with me every step of the way since, I couldn’t do it without him.


  7. Great post, Mae! Reviews can be scary–well, the anticipation of bad ones, anyway, because chances are pretty good there’ll be at least one. The same seems to go for critiques during the revision process. Nothing like getting a critique from someone who doesn’t read your genre: nothing makes sense to them, so everything needs to be fixed. Sigh. Wish my hubby was more helpful re: my writing. I made the mistake of listening to his suggestions on my first chapter. Once. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie, had to chuckle about your husband. Occasionally I’ll get really stuck on something and run it by my hubby. Normally, I’ll get blank looks. He’s much more of a structural thinker than. On the other hand, he’s really helped me some technical stuff I didn’t understand so I guess it’s a wash, LOL.
      And you’re so right about reviews. It’s pretty much guaranteed there will be a bad one in the mix at some point or other!


  8. When I read your first sentence about let’s look at reviews, I thought– uh, let’s don’t. But you’re right in that they can be useful feedback for an author. I haven’t been trolled or targeted like some authors have, thank heaven. Those are uncalled for and scary occurrences better soon forgotten, if possible. I am glad that genuine readers have a way of becoming involved with stories they love or like and a method of putting in their two sterling cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the targeting thing is scary. That hasn’t happened to me either but it’s worrisome that it even goes on. As a reader, I do look at reviews and they influence me to a degree so I think it’s important for an author to receive them and for the reader to be truthful. I love when a reviewer takes the time to share what they enjoyed about my work. It’s like discovering a chocolate covered treat! 🙂


  9. I rarely read my reviews anymore. But I did finally come to the same conclusion you did…if Stephen King got one star reviews, then why shouldn’t I?

    I did have one reviewer say she couldn’t get through but a couple of chapters of one of my books because there was too much “filthy talk”. Which was totally untrue. Those are the kinds of reviews that really make me mad. Luckily, two people commented on the reviews and told her she must have reviewed the wrong book. The bad thing is, even those reviews that aren’t even true bring your average down.

    One thing I’ll say about my review habits. If I can’t give a book either 4 or 5 stars, I just won’t review it. Because I figure it might just be me, and I don’t want to bring someone’s average down.

    Btw, I’m currently listening to a Lincoln Child book on audio. I’m all caught up on the Preston & Child books. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, I’ve got to comment on the Preston and Child books—aren’t they amazing? And I think I’m in love with Aloysius Pendergast, LOL. I’ve also read a number of Linc’s stand-alone stuff (Terminal freeze is my favorite). I’m so glad you’ve discovered them. They’re my favorite author team and the word comes to a screeching grinding halt for me whenever a new Pendergast novel comes out. All else must stop until I devour it! 😀

      As for reviews, I’m totally with you on the untrue ones that get posted. That’s what happened with the two-star one that had me upset. It’s horrible when a reviewer posts something that isn’t the case.

      All that said, I still check my reviews. My publisher is big on obtaining them so I do what I can to garner more. As a reader, I will leave a three-star but nothing below that.


  10. It’s hard not to cringe when you receive a negative review, but you know what? If I click on a book on Amazon or Goodreads that I’m considering buying, if all I see are glowing four and five star reviews, I’m a little cautious about how “wonderful” this book actually could be. Sometimes it’s the the passionate one and two star reviews that sell a book for me. If a story managed to rile someone up so much they spew 250 angry words from their keyboard, that’s a book that’s piqued my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do agree when I see all four or five star reviews it makes me wonder. True, some books are just that good, but usually there is at least a three star in the mix. When I purchase a book, I normally read several of the good reviews and several of the bad, before making a decision. Of course, there are times a review won’t influence me one way or the other, just because I love the author that much!

      Liked by 1 person

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